Riveiro says best is yet to come at Bucs

In an exclusive interview, Bucs coach reveals his plans and his thoughts about how to take his side to the top of the PSL




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Sport | Soccer

● When Jose Riveiro closed an eight-year chapter coaching in Finland, he had “seven or eight months” to ponder where next to sail to and pitch his tent. He had heard and read about Orlando Pirates and when the Sea Robbers approached him to become their next coach, the Spaniard fell for them hook, line and sinker. “I don’t have an agent. I represent myself,” he said this week in his first exclusive interview since arriving in South Africa in June last year. “The opportunity came straight to me and the first contact was from Pirates people, the ones who are in charge of this responsibility. I’m not going to lie and say I was following the South African league, but you know the big clubs in the country. Pirates are one of them — if not the biggest one. It’s an attractive club because of the name, the brand, the badge, the tradition and history. And because of the Soweto derby not only here but also in Europe, it is one of the biggest games.” A pleasing debut season Riveiro smiles and his eyes widen, attentively listening to the questions. He sits with his arms folded almost all the time. Now and then he pauses, trying to find the right words. In his first season, Riveiro is pleased by how Pirates players have responded to his ways. He points out that he is not a “know-itall European” here to impose how to play the game. “No absolutely not,” he emphasises. “I think football is universal. It’s just different with the specific things that people are used to here. But I was not the person who was coming to change any kind of history or culture around the game. I’m trying to help my team, help my players to look better and to get good results. It’s not something like when you say ‘hey guys come and this is the way because I’m coming from Europe and I know everything’. That’s not the approach.” But the Bucs ship, though looking like it is heading to calmer waters, has not had plain sailing. Under Riveiro, Pirates are ending an 11th season without winning a league title. And for the first time in a single season, Pirates lost home and away against champions Mamelodi Sundowns and Chiefs. Those losses contributed to 36 points Pirates failed to capture in the league (ahead of the last fixture against AmaZulu yesterday) if you include four other losses against Chippa United, Maritzburg United, Sekhukhune United and Cape Town City. There were also six lamentable draws against Sekhukhune, AmaZulu, Stellenbosch, SuperSport United, Richards Bay and Royal AM. Sundowns’ in their own league Riveiro agreed Sundowns were miles ahead of them in the league and says Pirates will have to improve a lot next season to challenge them. “What Sundowns did from December until they got the trophy was exceptional,” he conceded. “They won something like 14 games in a row, something we could not attain. There were different key moments in the season. “Early in the season we had a couple of draws with AmaZulu and Richards Bay and dropped four points in games we should have won. We started the league again after the World Cup break, we played Sundowns in December and January. Those were six points gone. At that moment, our aspirations to win the league became impossible. We had a couple more disappointing results in Cape Town and in the derby. After that we managed to find consistency.” However, there are lots of positives Riveiro can take from his debut season with Pirates. He had to guide Pirates past Sundowns in the semifinals on his way to win the MTN8. The same happened in the Nedbank Cup where Pirates beat Chiefs to book a ticket to the final against Sekhukhune next Saturday. Though there many games Pirates lost after beating Sundowns 3-0 on their way to winning the MTN8, Riveiro says the two matches they played against Sundowns in the semifinal gave them a belief that they could do better this season. A turning point “The game (the first leg of the semifinal) we played in Orlando in the first leg (0-0) ... I think that game made us realise that we’re doing something and we’re going somewhere with this,” said a beaming Riveiro. “I think our game in Orlando was much better than the game we played in Polokwane. But it was 0-0, but in a way the feeling after that game, in the group, in the coaching staff, was that we can do it. “We felt we’re at the right level and we can fight against any team. We did well in the second leg, but not as well as in the first leg in my opinion. But it was better because we managed to get an early lead and then we defended very well. In that moment of the season we were very strong defensively and then we managed to catch them in a couple of transitions when they were chasing the ball. “The result was a fantastic one but in terms of football, I think the first leg was much better. What we did show in the second leg is that we can be competitive in different scenarios. From there we had the fantastic trip to the final and we all know what happened there.” Ncikazi’s influence Riveiro credits Mandla Ncikazi, who led Pirates to the Caf Confederation Cup final in a caretaker capacity, for the crucial role he’s played in helping him, second assistant Sergio Almenara and his support staff understand the lay of the South African football land. “Obviously, we’re in a highperformance environment and everybody has a different opinion in discussions but from that friction we produce the diamonds, let’s say.” Speaking of diamonds ... one that is shining is Terrence Dzvukamanja. At the beginning of the season the Zimbabwean striker was transfer listed, didn’t feature in the squad on the march to claim the MTN crown and was not considered for the first 15 DStv Premiership matches. What did Riveiro and his coaching staff do with Dzvukamanja? Because the turnaround has been spectacular — seven goals in the DStv Premiership, most with his head, in nine games. “It didn’t work out so well for him, not even being in the [match day] squad. [But] his attitude to the group was special. Little by little he started to convince us in the training field. His last touch is amazing, and the results look fantastic.” Pirates have showed some improvement in defence and much of that is due to the centre-backs Tapelo Xoki and Nkosinathi Sibisi. Riveiro describes the duo, former captains of AmaZulu and Golden Arrows, as being receptive to his methods. “You’re mentioning the special ones,” said Riveiro of his regular central pairing. “Tapelo is an exceptional human being at every level. The same level as Sibisi. Experienced players ... and it’s very easy to coach them because they understand, they are receptive even though they have the experience. They’re humble enough to understand that there’s room for improvement, they’re leaders, all of them.” Special breeds “Players like Tapelo and Nkosinathi are doing a fantastic job in helping Sandile (Mthethwa, a fellow central defender) to understand everything better, train better and be more confident. When you have the support of those players you feel more comfortable. “Mthethwa has been in a long period of loans and coming back but not having opportunities to show in the first team that he has levels to be a Pirates player. Every time we need him he is giving us a hundred percent in the right moment and location to contribute those important moments.” Paseka Mako’s versatility is a vital cog in the Pirates arsenal. For his 10 league goals, Monnapule Saleng owes a lot to Mako, “a very special and important player in the group because of his character”. “He can play in almost every position on the left side. But now he is helping us on the right in a moment when we have some instability in that position with Thabiso [Monyane] and Bandile [Shandu] and [Craig] Martin having frequent minor injuries. “We decided to try [to fill the gap] with Mako, understanding that there will be some limitations for the guy playing in that position; but he is smart and skilful and works to find solutions. He is giving us a different dimension sometimes, helping as a third midfielder, and gives us balance with his surveillance of the ball. When you play Mako you know what you’ve got no matter what position he plays.” Ofori future Ghana international gloveman Richard Ofori missed the 2022 World Cup due to injury. His contract with Pirates, and that of fellow keeper Siyabonga Mpotshane, ends in June. Riveiro would not be drawn to discuss their future. “We are focusing on the last two finals which are important for us [yesterday’s match against AmaZulu and the cup final against Sekhukhune]. The contract situation of players and all of us will be decided at the end of the season. Right now, every player and member of the coaching staff is aligned with the same objective ... fighting to lift one more trophy, hopefully next week,” says Riveiro. TS Galaxy goalkeeper Melusi Buthelezi has been linked with a move to Bucs who currently have Sipho Chaine manning the sticks. Asked if he had eyes on Buthelezi, Riverio said: “I have eyes on every player in our opposition. It is our obligation as coaches to analyse everyone. But you’re talking about a TS Galaxy player — maybe we’ll talk about him next season.” Sekhukhune drew 1-1 with Pirates in a league tie in Orlando last week. Brendan Truter’s men have the potential to be party poopers. “They are one of the three teams we didn’t beat in the league. I know they will put every effort on the field to make it. We know how important it is for our fans to see us win one more trophy.”