Jele still has much to offer Pirates
HAPP JELE has been at Orlando Pirates so long some of his teammates weren’t even at school when he was handed his debut 12 years ago, but he doesn’t like being called grootman.
Lyle Foster was just four years old when Micho Sredojevic, in his first stint, gave Jele his first team debut at Pirates in 2006. Since then Jele has gone from an upstart to a leader, a multiple-cup winner and finalist of the Caf Champions League and Confederation Cup. The 31-year-old was just starting out when Sredojevic led the Buccaneers to the semifinals of the 2006 Champions League.
“I have spent a long time here but don’t call me grootman. The coach went and came back and he found me still here. There’s a lot different with him. They say with more years, the more you grow as a person. He has grown in football. There are a lot of things he is teaching us. He and Rhulani (Mokwena) have been doing great things for the team,” Jele said.
The Serbian coach masterminded the Buccaneers’ turnaround from chumps to potential champions last season. Pirates started slow but once the players understood what Sredojevic wanted from them they fired from all cylinders and challenged Sundowns for the Premiership. Pirates eventually finished in second place and return to the Champions League for the first time since losing the final in 2013.
Jele and Sredojevic have unfinished business in that tournament. The Serbian could only take the Soweto giant to the semifinals, while Jele was in the stands when they lost to Al-Ahly in the final.
“It was sad because I wanted to play but couldn’t because of suspension,” Jele said. “I wished I could help the team. I think the guys did their best that day and they were just unlucky not to win. We are going there and we have to fight again. Pirates is a big team and deserves to be in the Champions League. We have to be in the final again. Reaching the final was a highlight of my career, so was winning back-toback trebles.”
Jele has lifted just one trophy since those trebles in the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons. That’s the 2014 Nedbank Cup under Vladimir Vermezovic. There is a big drive to end that long wait for silverware by building on last season’s bright showing. The lad from Middelburg would love to end the drought in the upcoming season to repay the faith the club has shown in him.
Last week at the club’s prize-giving ceremony he received the chairman’s award from Irvin Khoza, who praised Jele’s longevity at Pirates and the leadership qualities which see him wear the armband.
“I am honoured to be playing for such a team this long. I am blessed. I don’t have a lot of words for it,” Jele said. “To play for a big team for 12 years is big. I haven’t even thought of retiring. I just want to continue repaying this team for all they have done for me. They’ve been there for me through through my hard times. They have helped me a lot so they deserve to get more trophies through my effort.”