27 February 2018

Uganda: Micho Backs Desabre

opinion

Johannesburg — An afternoon that saw this writer and former Cranes coach Micho Sredojevic stop by Naturena, the Kaizer Chiefs Sports Complex, before proceeding to Orlando Stadium in Soweto had ended at Johannesburg's Monte Casino, where punters reveled in their heavens.

At Naturena, where Micho was picking his VIP match tickets for Chiefs game against Cape Town City - who Orlando Pirates face in the Nedbank Cup on March 14; a Bucaneers fan jumped out of the taxi he was driving and met the coach's Ford at the exit for a picture moment.

"Are we taking the league?" asked, looking in Micho's face, the Pirates fan, "But we should take the Nedbank Cup, coach." Micho smiled: "We shall do our best."

The derby atmosphere between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates can be fierce on the pitch, but the strong personal and business relationships between respective club proprietors, Kaizer Motaung and ‎Irvin Khoza, make for a respectful environment even beyond the game.

At the 40,000-seater Orlando Stadium, some 14 kilometres from Naturena, a small indulgence in the club's merchandise shop occurred before a call to Cranes captain and Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Denis Onyango was put through to remind him to link up with us at the Monte Casino for dinner.

Over dinner, Micho and Onyango - opponents on the pitch but affectionate off it - spoke about Uganda, new Cranes coach Sebastien Desabre, Pirates, Chiefs and Sundowns.

Micho, who left Cranes for Pirates last August, admitted to not knowing his successor Desabre beyond the realms of the profession, but wished the Frenchman and Uganda the best.

"With due respect to my colleague," said Micho at a table shared with this writer and Onyango, "I believe he got a good product that is much better than the product that was rock bottom in the World Cup qualifiers in 2013 when I took over.

"I believe that we have done some good job in between that you are having a recognized man (Micho) that is feared and respected playing against any team on the continent. "I just wish the federation gives you the best possible support, that supporters give you the best possible support, that all the coaches in Uganda - technical people give you necessary support, that players are doing their the best.

"I have no doubt that you as a person that is coming from the French football school with talented players, you will do a good job.

"As your colleague, and a supporter, this time, of Uganda Cranes, I wish you best. May the Almighty God bless you. For God and My Country."

Onyango agreed with Micho. "Yes, we said as senior players we will obviously support the coach and try and help the young players to do the right thing. "Of course it's not easy to adapt easily from one coach to another but we will do our best to try and get the results.

"As time goes on we shall see how it goes, and try and get the team back to the Nations Cup, hopefully in Cameroon next year, and do much better (than Uganda did in Gabon)."

Micho's name will remain etched in Uganda's history books for helping end a four-decade absence from the Nations Cup when Cranes qualified for the 2017 edition.

"There are certain aspects that I miss," he said, "There are certain aspects that I'm happy that am not around. But Uganda is leading in my soul and you are inside my dear heart and will stay there.

"You will probably forget what has happened when we have been together but you will never forget the way Uganda Cranes made you feel that 9th of September night 2016 when we qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations (beating Comoros 1-0).

"Good memories, again, are still inside of us all but memories are there to remind you about past times, you can't sit back, and we are looking forward with really good memories."

Despite the feat, Micho left in acrimonious circumstances, accusing Fufa of not clearing some of his wages. "Look, I'm a person who cannot keep grudges inside.

"Whatever was negative, I have already buried behind me, whatever was positive, I keep inside myself, and that is the fuel that drives me. So I want to keep positive energy and look at things in a positive way. "We remain in touch with Fufa and everything will be okay."

Pirates, Chiefs, Sundowns trident

Micho has since helped Pirates, who flirted with relegation last season, into silverware contention.

"We are a work in progress," he said, "We are developing, and happy the way things are going on the point of performances.

"We are happy the way individuals have done good for the team. But we are still far away from where we are supposed to be.

"Our strategic task is to qualify to play on the continent next year. If anything comes as a chance beyond that, we are happy.

"Of course as a sportsman we are always in respect of history and badge that we are carrying on, so we are doing our best.

"But I believe that Sundowns are favourites and runaway leaders and are just looking for crowning."

As Micho dropped that last line, Onyango was fighting hard to suffocate a laughter. We asked the Sundowns and Africa's number one goalkeeper whether Micho's allegations that they are runaway leaders carried weight.

"He is playing mind games," said Onyango, laughing. Micho, in the meantime, coiled in a withdrawn wry, canny smile of his own.

"They (Orlando Pirates) are still in the race," added Onyango, "Nine to 10 games to go, anything is possible. We know that they are pushing us to the last game of the season." True to Onyango's word, Micho's men have since reduced Sundowns lead from five to four points with eight matches to go, the latter having also played their game in hand.

"It's good that we have already played them (Pirates); and they still have to play the Soweto derby which goes either way. But we are really enjoying the run at the moment and we are happy to be on top of the log."

Interestingly, Onyango and Sundowns marched to Orlando Stadium and beat Micho and Pirates 3-1 and the latter posted the same scoreline at Loftus Versfeld.

Micho's next match is the Soweto derby on Saturday when Pirates face Chiefs at the FNB Stadium, the reverse fixture having ended goalless.

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