After three seasons of getting close to ending their league trophy drought, Orlando Pirates are hoping to finally get their hands on the big prize term after some shrewd transfer business. Can Josef Zinnbauer help Bucs to finally deliver the full season of consistent performances and results that league champions need to produce?
Pirates have had an impressive and decisive transfer window. After interest spanning many years, Thulani Hlatshwayo has arrived at the club he supported as a boy. Though nearly 31, that deal feels like one designed to improve the side’s immediate defensive record (whilst adding some much-needed goals from set plays too). Also arriving is the outstanding Deon Hotto. He will add an enormous amount of end product to the attack. He can also play on either flank or as a left wingback.
Another addition is the vastly underrated Terrence Dzvukamanja, a clever and versatile left-footer who can score goals. He is suited to playing in tight spaces in support of the main striker or coming in off the right. He already has a good understanding with Hotto and both players should hit the ground running. Collins Makgaka has also joined from Baroka and Wayde Jooste from (the club formerly known as) Highlands Park. Both were squad players in their previous teams and look to be decent depth additions for Pirates.
Eight senior players were released (with more to come) but none will prove any real loss. Richard Ofori has just been confirmed as a Pirates player coming from Maritzburg United. That deal is done and will transform the backline should he settle quickly and cut out some inconsistency from his game. He has played under Fadlu Davids before and was more than capable at playing out from the back under him.
The club also moved to sign Thabang Monare as he secured his release from TTM. He will bring even more quality to an already outstanding midfield unit. His range of passing and strong defensive work should complement either Ben Motshwari or Fortune Makaringe in a double pivot. The side can also use three midfielders to free up Siphesihle Ndlovu and Makaringe to attack more.
Perhaps the thing Bucs will most need to find is consistency in their results and performances. In each of the last two seasons, Pirates started the season slowly and took time to find a formula that worked regularly. Flexibility in formation and depth in many positions (particularly at fullback and in central midfield) led to a high number of changes from game to game. They eventually settled on a stable structure and side.
After the disruption at the start of last season where Milutin Sredojevic resigned after two games. He was replaced by assistant Rhulani Mokwena. He delivered good performances amid a wrath of missed chances and set play goals conceded before being demoted. The side hit top form under Zinnbauer only to fall away after the restart. In typical fashion, they finished the season strongly. Every dip is followed by a strong upturn in results, which is then followed by another dip.
Intensity Uber Alles
Last season, Pirates looked at their best when using four attacking players with Luvuyo Memela pulling the strings between the lines in a 4-2-3-1. He may not have contributed a great deal out of possession, but he was the side’s only reliable option at number ten and assisted much more frequently than anyone else. Whenever he was missing, the creative burden fell on Vincent Pule and Thembinkosi Lorch. With the duo flattering to deceive largely due to terrible shot location selection – often shooting from miles out in the case of Pule or from ridiculous angles in the case of Lorch – Bucs failed to score in 10 of their 30 league matches.
Memela has now departed though as Pirates change philosophy to a style favouring intensity in all phases of play. The playmaker simply no longer had the legs to thrive in that style. His creativity will be missed though.
With the additions of Ofori and Hlatshwayo, Pirates should be more consistent at the back. They were unbelievable after the appointment of Zinnbauer, leaking just nine goals in 17 matches. But they conceded 20 in 13 before that. With consistency defensively, the coach should be able to field more attacking lineups without leaving his side exposed.
The arrival of Dzvukamanja’s goalscoring and Hotto’s outstanding crossing, freekicks and shooting from range means Bucs should be able to score more goals and not fail to even register in a third of their matches again.
In some games, Pirates are likely to use a back three with Innocent Maela and Hlatshwayo perfectly suited to side centre back roles. This could work with Jooste a specialist right wingback and Hotto or Paseka Mako playing on the left. Should Hotto be at wingback, it keeps the side with four real goal threats but allows a spare man to build up against a front two. In Bucs’ opening game, Hotto covered at fullback due to suspensions and illness.
Orlando Pirates Depth Chart
Pirates’ squad looks very strong this season but also more streamlined and less overstocked. Where Mokwena had trouble trying to involve everyone, Zinnbauer and Fadlu Davids focused more on building partnerships and understanding. Several fringe players have departed including an angry Justin Shonga to DSTV Premiership new boys TTM.
In goal, Ofori makes that department much stronger with Joris Delle gone and Siyabonga Mpontshane very much an emergency backup. The defence looks strong at left-back and centre-back. Especially if Paseka Mako is used as a fullback only (as he doesn’t offer enough playing further forward). Although right-back is still a bit of a concern. Jooste is probably more suited to being a wingback whilst the same may applies to Thabiso Monyane, who is still inexperienced and raw. Abel Mabaso is a safe option to call upon and could provide cover for a back three too, whilst Mthokozisi Dube has been loaned out to Golden Arrows.
In attack, there is a big onus on the excellent Gabadinho Mhango. His pressing, movement and varied finishing is crucial and he needs to ensure he delivers again. His last top performances for Bidvest Wits in 2016-17 were followed by a poor campaign. Beyond him, there is Tshegofatso Mabasa who excelled under Mokwena but was barely used by Zinnbauer. This was seemingly due to his lack of pressing intensity or ability to make runs to open space for teammates. As a pure finisher though, he would likely score a lot of goals with the added service of Hotto.
The one question mark is Lorch. Can he focus himself on football after off-field problems? His head was clearly turned by overseas (and perhaps even local) interest. He was sent off once, should have been sent off a second time, broke covid-19 protocols and recently had other problems with the law with a domestic violence arrest. Getting the player to focus on his job at Pirates and to work hard in the team’s more demanding defensive structure under the current coach is a big task.
Pirates have finished the last three seasons in second, second and third spots in the table. In those three years, they were five, two and seven points off the eventual champions. They have been close to the big prize but it was always felt that genuine top class arrivals in goal and in central defence would be needed to go all the way. And should the Ofori move be completed as expected, then Bucs have addressed those issues.
With the high-quality reinforcements in the attacking midfield areas, goalscoring should be improved. With Fadlu Davids so adept at periodisation and keeping the squad fully fit and playing at a breakneck intensity, they should be able to build strong team chemistry and non-verbal communication. After all the signings made before last season and in January, those additions should now be fully settled and ready to have big seasons. This especially goes for Fortune Makaringe and Siphesihle Ndlovu.
Also, Kaizer Chiefs have a new coach and could have a transfer ban upheld, Cape Town City have lost Kermit Erasmus, SuperSport United are yet to fully replace Dean Furman, and Mamelodi Sundowns saw Pitso Mosimane depart and have a host of new signings and a new coaching structure. Another title challenger in Bidvest Wits no longer exists too! This is really the ideal time for a settled Bucs side to win the title again. If they do, the old cliché of “attacking wins games, defences wins titles” is likely to apply.