Rifts happen often in this game. Two Orlando Pirates legends, one a player and the other a coach, once experienced a major clash during a training session.
FORMER ORLANDO PIRATES SUPERSTAR TAUGHT HUMILITY
The former Bafana Bafana coach earned a well-deserved move to Soweto after lifting the Premier Soccer League title with Manning Rangers.
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Upon his arrival at Orlando Pirates, Igesund’s leadership and authority were tested by the former attacking midfield wizard Steve “Chippa” Lekeolea.
“Before the session was about to start, I saw a player on the other side of the field, dressed in our training kit, while reading a Soccer Laduma and I asked the guys, “who is that?”
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“They then told me it was Steve Lekoelea, arguably the most naturally skilled player in the league at the time. I called Steve over and he said, “Just wait, I’ll be there as soon as I was done reading my paper,” the former coach added.
“A few of the senior players were looking at me earnestly, waiting to see how I would react to Steve’s behaviour – it was something they had grown used to. I knew then my reaction with the club’s star player would set the precedent for how the rest of our season would go.”
STEVE WAS EXCLUDED FROM THE TEAM
The four-time league champion took a brave decision to freeze out Lekoelea from the team before going on to succeed without him.
“When he did eventually make his way over, I was honest with Steve. In front of his teammates, I told him, “I don’t care who you are, but training starts at the same time for all players.
“I find it disrespectful to your teammates that you are reading a paper while they are preparing for the new season.” I also made a decision that day that Steve Lekoelea would not form any part of my plans until he changed his attitude.
Despite taking the huge risk of excluding the best player in Mzansi and upsetting the fans, Igesund’s Orlando Pirates did well without the superstar before Lekoelea eventually swallowed his pride.
“At the time, the country was swooning over him, he had a few Kwaito songs written about him, so ostracising the darling of the Orlando Pirates faithful could have been detrimental to me before my season even began – but the important thing is that I gained the respect of the group by making that tough decision.
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“Senior players came up to me and commended me for putting my foot down. We had opened a sizeable lead at the top of the table.
“It was at this point, Lekoelea came to my office and told me ‘Coach, I want to be part of the team again,’ to which I agreed. He was an amazing talent who had come to his senses and realized that his theatrics were causing more harm than good and that he was letting his teammates down.
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“I opted for a moderate approach in phasing him back into the team, five minutes here and 10 minutes there. He ended up playing considerably more in the last seven games or so. We went on the lift the PSL trophy that season, beating Kaizer Chiefs by a single point. It was the second of my four PSL titles.
“We also won the BP Top 8 and finished runners up in the Rothmans cup.
“None of it would have been possible though had I not taken a tough decision on my first day, where I sacrificed one player for the greater good of the group,” the Durban-born coach concluded.
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