The self-proclaimed “soul healer” who is looking to work his magic for the Ghost this season gets animated when he talks about his love for Orlando Pirates.
Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic regards himself first and foremost as a Pirates fan, then only as the club’s coach. He turned down a lucrative deal from Egyptian club Zamalek to join his beloved Bucs in August last year, after they sunk to their lowest-ever finish on the PSL table in the 2016/17 season. The Serbian coach said he couldn’t bear to watch as one of South Africa’s oldest and most esteemed football clubs were hammered by rivals and upstarts alike in a season from hell.
Since Sredojevic’s arrival, the Sea Robbers’ fortunes have taken a dramatic turn, having finished the 2017/18 season a close second behind Mamelodi Sundowns. They might not have won the Absa Premiership last season, but the ailing souls of the Ghost were somewhat healed by their club’s rapid transformation, which led to them qualifying for the CAF Champions League.
“My love for the club is eternal and immeasurable,” Sredojevic says, “The love I have for Orlando Pirates makes me not feel any kind of pressure in managing this team, instead it makes me extremely responsible because I know that this is a club loved by millions with a rich history. Every morning I wake up and pray that I give my all wholeheartedly to the club as a selfless servant.”
Sredojevic won the players over on his first day with a simple gesture – he knew all of their names and, more importantly, he knew their stories. This was easy for him because he never stopped following Pirates since his brief stint with the club in 2006.
“I knew about Orlando Pirates even before coming to coach in Africa as my former country Yugoslavia had special relations with this continent. I had a chance to follow football in the continent deeper after my arrival in Africa in 2001 and I fell in love with Pirates from a distance.
I was magnetically attracted to this holy jersey.
“I was magnetically attracted to this holy jersey. Once I became the club’s coach in 2006, I got to properly know the club’s culture, tradition, style of life and philosophy. We reached the CAF Champions League semifinal in 2006, and I purely became fan. And you know what they say: ‘Once a Pirate, always a Pirate,’ so in the 10 years I spent away from the club I always had a dream of coming back here. Now I am living my dream, as a supporter and coach.”
The 10 years he spent away from the Bucs helped Sredojevic grow as a coach, with stints in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda. His biggest achievement, beyond the numerous titles he’s won, was guiding the Cranes of Uganda to their first appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations in almost 40 years. He is revered for this feat in Uganda, with many believing that they would have qualified for the 2018 World Cup if the Serbian hadn’t left to go to South Africa. But the 48-year-old is not only loved in Uganda. It seems he’s left a mark everywhere he’s coached.
My main goal is to ensure that I give the supporters soul food and happiness through good football.
“I am fortunate that since I have arrived in Africa as a coach I have managed to be successful in the clubs and countries that I have coached, thanks to our teamwork,” he says. “Wherever I have worked, success was part of the final product after hard work, which is my personal fuel and generator of positive energy. My main goal is to ensure that I give the supporters soul food and happiness through good football and success to ensure that they have a safe space to get away from all the hardship and bitterness they suffer in their daily lives. That’s why I get love and genuine respect everywhere I have coached.”
The Ghost love and respect the Serbian for the positive energy he has injected in their team. But that love comes with one condition – winning. The Buccaneers haven’t won a trophy since lifting the Nedbank Cup in 2014, when they were led by another Serbian in Vladimir Vermezovic. The minimum requirement for Sredojevic this season is to finish with a trophy, improve on last season’s second place finish in the league and reach the group stage of the CAF Champions League.
The fight for the 2018/19 premiership title will be an all-out war, with Sundowns looking to defend their title; Kaizer Chiefs, SuperSport United and Bidvest Wits looking to make amends for their past disappointments; and Cape Town City, Free State Stars and Maritzburg United seeking to build on their good showings in recent history.
It’s a good thing, then, that war is something Sredojevic is used to. Apart from having grown up in the war-torn former Yugoslavia, Sredojevic’s grandfather was a World War One hero. “I know everything about my grandfather Milutin, with whom I share not only a name but the values he fought for as member of the Iron Regiment, the most awarded Serbian army unit in history,” says Sredojevic.
“That unit’s glorious flag was used to bury King Peter I. As a passionate reader of history books, I know many things about my grandfather that makes me proud of who I am. I will remain a Serbian wolf, diligently serving African football.”