How Jose Riveiro’s Buccaneers can turn cup dominance into PSL glory

By Joel Oliver

Orlando Pirates are still basking in the glory of their Nedbank Cup victory following a come from behind 2-1 victory against Mamelodi Sundowns.

Pirates survived pressure from the PSL champions to secure victory when Patrick Maswanganyi’s penalty and substitute Relebohile Mofokeng’s last-minute goal cancelled out Themba Zwane’s strike to defend their crown.

It completed another domestic cup double for the Sea Robbers, who also claimed the MTN8 early in the season, beating Sundowns once again, making it four trophies in two seasons for their Spanish coach Jose Riveiro.

However, while Riveiro and Pirates celebrate cup glory, the league title still appears out of reach.

Sundowns yet again strolled to the title in 2023-24, making it nine straight league triumphs, with Pirates second for a second successive season.

The Soweto giants finished 17 points behind Sundowns in the just-concluded campaign after coming 16 points short in 2022-23 and heading into 2024-25, they will need a good strategy to close the gap.

Pirates last won the league title 12 years ago and need s proper plan to knock Sundowns off their perch. So, how can they do it?

Good recruitment

Pirates have always fallen short in the recruitment department as they bring in players who can hardly match Sundowns’ quality.

Most of the signings in recent years have failed to live up to expectations, leading to poor performances, and they will need to find players who have the right quality, attitude and can handle the weight of the Pirates shirt. 

Granted, Sundowns have a bigger budget than everyone else, Pirates will need to be smart in the market and look for quality but affordable players who can help them compete with the champions.

There have been reports that the club plans to offload up to seven players to reduce their bloated squad and with 10 of them coming to the end of their contracts this month, big decisions will need to be made. 

Riveiro and his technical team would have by now submitted a list of their targets plus the areas that need strengthening and reinforcements in midfield and attack should be a priority. 

Consistency

Pirates’ major undoing has been their inability to put together a winning run that would see them go toe-to-toe with Sundowns.

While Rhulani Mokwena’s men started the just-concluded season with a 12-match winning run, Pirates could hardly win three in a row which means by December, they were already way behind.

It is something that must change and Riveiro admitted as much ahead of the Nedbank Cup triumph. 

“For me, it’s a clear symptom that things are going well at Pirates as a collective. You don’t find yourself in four finals in a row because you have a good day,” Riveiro said in the pre-match press conference.

“Now, we can discuss the difference between cups and the league. It is about consistency. Still, the team is showing that we have the capacity on the day to not only beat any team.”

Getting consistency will mean bringing in quality players who are able to challenge on multiple fronts while there will be a like for like replacement whenever injuries or suspensions occur.

Lean squad

Pirates have the most bloated squad in the PSL with 37 players on their books.

This had made it difficult for Riveiro to get his message across since it limits him from having individual sessions while it is not easy to achieve team harmony when there are many unhappy players within the squad.

Pirates’ big squad has limited opportunities for a number of their recent recruits such as Katlego Otladisa, Lesedi Kapinga, Karim Kimvuidi and Siphelo Baloni while the likes of Souaibou Marou, Kermit Erasmus and Thabang Monare hardly get a look in.

It is not easy for Riveiro to keep everybody happy when he has so many to choose from and he would be better off with less numbers who offer him the necessary quality and depth to compete. 

With the likes of Erasmus, Monare, Olisa Ndah, Richard Ofori, Siyabonga Mpontshane, Tshegofatso Mabasa, Fortune Makaringe, Deon Hotto and Makhehlene Makhaula coming to the end of their deals, it will be an opportunity for Pirates to let go of those they cannot guarantee playing time while also freeing the wage bill for new signings.

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Joel Oliver

Joel Oliver is a seasoned multimedia sports journalist with a rich background in covering diverse football stories and events in South Africa and beyond.

His extensive coverage spans subjects touching on the PSL, with a focus on the Big Three (Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs & Mamelodi Sundowns), Bafana Bafana and Banyana Banyana.