December 6, 2021

Orlando Pirates’ strength in depth proving key in bid to end Mamelodi Sundowns’ supremacy

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Goal explains why the Buccaneers have built a squad which could recreate Bucs’ glory days

Orlando Pirates maintained their fine start to the 2020/21 season with a come-from-behind victory over SuperSport United on Saturday evening.

It was the Soweto giants’ fourth successive victory across all competitions and they are also enjoying a 10-match unbeaten run which sees them in joint second place on the PSL standings – two points behind leaders Mamelodi Sundowns.

Pirates are on cloud nine at the moment having also booked their place in their first MTN8 final since 2014 which also the last time they won a major trophy, when they clinched the Nedbank Cup in Durban. 

Over the last few years, Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza has watched on as Sundowns dominated the transfer market by signing top-class players and it has paid off as the Tshwane giants have enjoyed a lot of success.

They remain the team to beat in South African football. 

The veteran football administrator has whipped out the cheque-book in the current transfer window and ensured that the Buccaneers bolstered their squad with top-class players such as Thulani Hlatshwayo and Deon Hotto, who are known to have rejected Sundowns to join Pirates.

The Houghton-based giants’ strength in depth has been key to the team’s brilliant form this term under their German coach Josef Zinnbauer, who has assembled a powerful squad full of top players and match winners.

The team’s ability to cope without some of their key players has already been tested with key players such as Thembinkosi Lorch and Frank Mhango out injured, and those who have come in to replace them have flourished.

Goal takes a look at Pirates’ current squad depth for what is expected to be a gruelling 2020/21 season which will see the Soweto giants compete in the PSL, MTN8, Nedbank Cup as well as Caf Confederation Cup: 

Goalkeepers 

The Bucs goalkeeping department boasts three quality goalkeepers with international experience in Richard Ofori, Wayne Sandilands and Siyabonga Mpontshane.

The forgotten Mpontshane is one of the most underrated shot-stoppers in the PSL having played a key role in helping the now-defunct Platinum Stars clinch the MTN8 and Telkom Knockout Cup and he has been part of the Bafana Bafana squad.

Sandilands, who won two PSL titles and Caf Champions League trophy with Mamelodi Sundowns, has been relegated to second-choice keeper following the arrival of Ofori, but the 2011/12 PSL Goalkeeper of the Season remains one of the top shot-stoppers in the country.

Only the reigning PSL Goalkeeper of the Season, Ronwen Williams of SuperSport United, kept more clean sheets than former Bafana international Sandilands last term and he will be working hard to reclaim Pirates’ number one shirt.

Ofori has hit the ground running at Pirates with the current Ghana first-choice keeper having kept three clean sheets from five competitive matches and the team is yet to lose with him between the sticks. 

Defence

The arrival of Wayde Jooste and Thulani Hlatshwayo has strengthened the Bucs defence which needed beefing up after conceding the most goals among the top five teams on last season’s PSL log.

Pirates can now even afford to leave their inspirational captain Happy Jele on the bench despite the accomplished centre-back having been the team’s best defender in the last three seasons.

His place has in the starting line-up has been taken by arguably the best centre-back in the country, Hlatshwayo, who led Bidvest Wits to PSL title, Telkom Knockout Cup and MTN8 as club captain, and the 2016/17 PSL Defender of the Season has brought experience, leadership and stability to the Bucs defence.

Ntsikelelo Nyauza has been Pirates’ best central defender thus far this term having produced consistent performances whether he is partnered with Hlatshwayo or Jele, while former Sundowns defender Abel Mabaso is also an option in central defence for Zinnbauer.

Furthermore, Jooste has been outstanding in the right-back position after joining the club from the now-defunct Highlands Park and his exploits have kept highly-rated South Africa under-23 international Thabiso Monyane on the bench.

While Innocent Maela, who is undoubtedly among the top left-backs in the country, is a key figure in the Bucs defence and he is competing with South Africa under-23 international Bongani Sam, while utility player Paseka Mako is also a good option in this position. 

Midfield

Pirates moved swiftly to snap up Thabang Monare, Deon Hotto and Terrence Dzvukamanja from perennial PSL title contenders Wits after the club sold its top-flight status to Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (TTM).

Monare was one of the most-sought-after midfielders during the current transfer window and he has been added to Bucs’ star-studded midfield which is overflowing with quality and variety.

Two-time PSL Midfielder of the Season nominee Monare has reunited with Ben Motshwari with the duo having been influential for Wits as the team clinched the PSL title, Telkom Knockout Cup and MTN8 between 2016 and 2017.

They have begun rekindling their special midfield partnership which is showing promising signs at Pirates. They are competing with the likes of Linda Mntambo, Siphesihle Ndlovu, Fortune Makaringe and Nkanyiso Zungu, who are quality midfielders ready to contribute to the team’s hunt for silverware.

Namibia international Hotto and Zimbabwe international Dzvukamanja have already proved their quality in the PSL as versatile attacking midfielders and they have given Zinnbauer more options in this department which also boasts exciting players such as Mako, Kabelo Dlamini and 2019 Zambian Footballer of the Year Austin Muwowo. 

Pirates’ embarrassment of riches in this department gives Zinnbauer the luxury set of dilemmas with 2018/19 PSL Footballer of the Season Thembinkosi Lorch and Bafana international Vincent Pule being among the best wingers in the country, if not the best. 

Attack

The Buccaneers have also reinforced their striking department with the signing of proven goalscorer Jean-Marc Makusu Mundele on loan from Congolese giants AS Vita Club.

The team will bank on his international experience and goalscoring exploits as they embark on their Confederation Cup campaign. The 28-year-old striker finished as a runner-up in the race for the Confederation Cup Golden Boot as Vita were narrowly defeated by Morocco‘s Raja Casablanca in the 2018 final.

Zinnbauer will be hoping that the 2016 African Nations Championship (Chan) title champion with DR Congo forms a great strike partnership with last season’s PSL Golden Boot winner Frank Mhango, who is among the top players in the country.

With Mhango out injured, Pirates have looked to Zakhele Lepasa and the new South Africa under-23 international has not disappointed having netted twice in six matches. The 23-year-old marksman, who inspired TS Galaxy to the 2019 Nedbank Cup triumph, has been touted as a possible future Bafana Bafana first-choice striker. 

There is also Tshegofatso Mabasa with the centre forward having caught the eye as a back-up for Mhango last season by scoring seven goals in the league and he marked his first appearance this season with the winning goal against SuperSport over the weekend.

Having taken huge positives from the 2019/20 campaign in which they revived Pirates, Zinnbauer and his experienced assistant Fadlu Davids have a formidable squad at their disposal and it is time for them to end the club’s trophy drought.