Jele still has much to of­fer Pi­rates

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - SPORT - NJABULO NGIDI

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.”


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