|Super sub: Julio Leal with Benni McCarthy|
South Africa’s all-conquering Orlando Pirates face a dressing room revolt over their Brazilian boss Julio Leal BEFORE they travel to Angola this weekend for the second leg of their African Champions League clash with Recreativo Desportivo do Libolo.
While their Bafana Bafana colleagues prepare to take on Senegal in Durban tomorrow night, the Buccaneers – excused international call-up for the friendly as they prepare to overcome a 3-1 first leg deficit against the Angolans on Saturday – are reported to be in a “players-only” meeting where problems with their coach will be thrashed out.
Rumours that Leal had “lost the dressing room” emerged a fortnight ago, belying the club’s current status as the holders of all the domestic trophies on offer in South Africa. Under Leal, the reigning League champions have already won the Telkom Knock-out and MTN Super Eight titles this season.
Yesterday, the popular Soccer Laduma site reported the players don’t want Leal to accompany them on the tough trip to Angola, where they require a 3-0 win to overcome the away goal. They quote an anonymous player as saying: “Most of us have lost faith in the guy and even feel he shouldn’t be taking us to Angola if we are to have any chance of turning the tie around.”
Goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs is alleged to have voiced the squad’s complaints to the club’s powerful chairman Irvin Khosa, the “Iron Duke” who has immense influence in South African football.
A second Buccaneer is quoted saying: “Don’t be fooled by the recent good results, it doesn’t mean everything is okay with the team. With the quality squad we have, we should be doing better.”
Pirates won the treble in South Africa last season and are currently third in the South African Premier League, level on points with Soweto neighbours Kaizer Chiefs and just three points adrift of big-spending leaders Mamelodi Sundowns.
But their League position belies a series of problems in the Pirates camp, which came to a head on Sunday when Leal, surprisingly brought in to replace the highly successful Dutchman Ruud Krol at the start of the season, admitted the fans had persuaded him to bring on match-winner Benni McCarthy.
With his side held goalless for 70 minutes by lowly Martizburg United, Leal had already made two impactless substitutions when he brought on former West Ham United striker McCarthy. Three minutes later Bafana Bafana’s record goal-scorer, now 34 and fined for being too fat at Upton Park, produced an acrobatic overhead kick to win the game.
Haunted by the Ghost – the name given to skull-and-crossbone clad Bucaneer faithful - Leal confessed: "I know very well the Orlando Pirates supporters. They were in a hurry. They asked for Benni by chanting his name. They were right and I was right to make the change."
Amid suggestions that the Ghost had frightened the Brazilian into a response, Leal said: "I respect that, but this is not mathematics or science. This is an art and it comes with emotions.”
Leal’s season has not been easy despite his trophy-winning exploits. Stepping in to Krol’s shoes after wins in three competitions – league, cup and top eight - was never going to be comfortable. Matters were complicated when his popular assistant coach Joao da Silva returned to Latin America, apparently annoyed over Leal’s methods.
Leal, whose younger brother Jairo is Pitso Mosimane’s backroom assistant with the international squad, struggles to speak fluent English in post-match interviews and looked embarrassed after the dreadful 3-1 defeat to Recreativo in Port Elizabeth. Analysts suggest little homework had been done to find out exactly who the Angolan dangermen were.
After seeing his side move back in to title contention with two squeaky League wins since the eight-week Christmas break, Leal confesses: “Pressure? Well, I hear people talk. They say a lot of things that I’m under pressure, that I’m taking a lot of stress.”
And he says of the trip to Angola: “We scored four against Platinum Stars two weeks ago. We can do it again.”
But he made no mention of the three goals conceded at the Bafokeng Sports Palace – or the last-gasp Josephs save needed to secure the win.