Monday, 21 May 2012

Lucky Lekgwathi exclusive: How Orlando Pirates made history

NEO MONYETSANE, eTV Sunrise's news reader and sports editor, is the man I have to thank this morning. Not only did Neo and his flat-mate Sephiri Molusi entertain the gang royally on Saturday night, Neo also managed to sneak in a text to Orlando Pirates between their epic title defence and Chelsea's streaky Champions League win.
As a result, when I turned up to do Classic Play in the pre-dawn darkness, Neo came rushing over: "Lucky Lekgwathi is coming in!"
And that was it. After over a year of great broadcasting with the Sunrise crew, we were off to our best Monday morning ever. The first South African broadcaster to interview the champions' captain with the coveted trophy.
The 35-year-old Bucca-Bucca hero was superb. Quietly spoken, modest, knowledgeable, frank.
Our session with Stacey Holland and Lenn Moleko on Classic Play oozed inside information and from-the-horse's-mouth detail.
Lucky, scorer of the first goal in Saturday's 4-2 win over Golden Arrows at a packed Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban, told us: "When we went 2-1 down, we didn't panic. We were nervous but we knew we had to concentrate on our game. We knew a win would see us retain the title. We showed character, we have that at Pirates. We did the job."
Did they. After Lekgwathi's diving header - a classic in reading the game before the defenders - Pirates goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs blundered to let Dylan Sheppard's soft effort under his body, then former Buccaneer Katlego Mashego curled home a beauty to blow the South African title race wide open, just as I'd hoped for the past seven weeks.
Pirates responded through the excellent Siyabonga Sangweni and we were level at half-time. Lucky recalled: "We knew what we had to do. Go out and win it in the second half. For the family, for the fans."
Ironically, as Moroka Swallows desperately sought the winner at the Harry Gwala stadium against Maritzburg United 40 minutes away, Benni McCarthy was beginning to tire. Just like that other 34-year-old Didier Drogba in Munich a few hours later, Benni looked finished.
But then, just as Swallows produced the Lefa Tutsulupa goal that would have won them the title on goal difference, McCarthy got his head on a long throw to put Pirates in front. Stunning.
But still, Pirates were one accurate Arrow from disaster. Until Benni struck again, his tenth goal of the season, this time another stunning free-kick. Game over. Title over. Season over.
Gordon Igesund, who will be named ABSA coach of the season this week, and 20-goal top scorer Siyabonga Nomvethe, who will be named player of the season, both slumped when the news filtered through. Like Manchester City's epic title triumph over old rivals United the week before, Swallows had to accept the runners-up spot. Not bad for a side of rejects, alcoholics and veterans who narrowly avoided relegation last season.
For Lekgwathi and pals, McCarthy had sealed a sixth trophy in less than two years. Lucky, born in Ga-Rankuwa north of Pretoria, grinned: "When I joined Pirates in 2002 Augusto Palacios was my first coach. We didn't win a trophy for nine years. Now my arms are tired from lifting the cups!"
And what of McCarthy, the hero of the hour while his former club West Ham were propelling themselves back in to the Premier League? He arrived in South Africa at the start of the season with Upton Park's chairwoman Karren Brady calling him a fat failure. Has there ever been a more complete recovery?
Lekgwathi grinned: "Benni has been an inspiration since he arrived. He motivates on the pitch. And he still scores goals. He's been brilliant for us."
For Lekgwathi, at 35, there is talk of retirement. I pointed out Ryan Giggs is still going at 40. Lucky smiled: "I will try to do that. I'm still in good shape. There are more seasons left in these legs."
Throughout the two appearances on eTV and eNews, we were plagued by eager workers trying to get a picture of the Pirates skipper and the silverware he lifts with such panache. He never shirked a fan, never stopped smiling.
The man is a giant. His last-gasp goal against SuperSport United was the strike that scuppered my prediction that Moroka Swallows would come from nowhere to snatch the title. Yet, as I pointed out last week here, his name appears nowhere on the list of ABSA nominations.
My player of the season? Lehlohonolo “Lucky” Lekgwathi. But he can't win it if he hasn't been nominated, so Nomvethe will sweep the boards with his epic 20 goals for Swallows.
And on the thorny question of caretaker boss Augusto Palacios remaining in charge next season? Can Pirates really send him back to coach the juniors after firing championship-winning Ruud Krol last season? For the answer to that, you'll have to read my Neal & Pray column in tomorrow. It's not long to wait...


  1. neal sometimes i don't understand you before your player of the season was david mathebula or bhele nomvethe and now yu praising palacios do i need to remind you about your column on him when he took over from leal but i don't need to. as a happy person of pirates i feel that palacios shpuld go back to the development and be our good man sam guy if any future coach stuff up like leal. i don't think that he is the right man for the job period. i wish they could give moloi a chance or somebody like gordon igesund, ruud krol not palacios. football is something else to think that we almost release lekgwathi few seasons ago wow!. great stuff neal thankyou very much by the way i enjoy your analysis with your columns.

  2. Hahahahaha, Neal you adding a lot to South African football. Keep it up. Abshai