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Young Bucs promoted to first mates

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For us as coaches, it’s not a question about young or old. The question that we ask is whether he’s good enough for us.

Azola Tshobeni of Orlando Pirates during their league game with TS Galaxy. Picture: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – Coach Josef Zinnbauer says he’ll continue to play academy graduates at Orlando Pirates on a regular basis as long as he feels they are good enough, following the seamless adaptation of Azola Tshobeni and Thabiso Sesane.

Rewind to seven years ago during the inception of the reserve league, the DStv Diski Challenge. Pirates was the first club from the big three to prove the worth of the feeder league through the promotion of Menzi Masuku.

The then 21-year-old forward, who had impressed after a few matches, scored a thunderbolt, which was voted as Absa-lutely Awesome Goal of the Season, in his debut season in a league clash against SuperSport United.

Fast track to five seasons later, Augustine Mahlonoko was only the second youth graduate at Pirates to be drafted into the senior team, promoted by astute players’ coach Micho Sredojevic and assistant Rhulani Mokwena.

However, the side effects of continuing with professional football under the coronavirus enforced protocols, which has seen the introduction of five substitutions and timeless registration of youth graduates to ease off any eventualities, has brought a silver lining to Pirates’ duo Tshobeni and Sesane.

Tshobeni, 18, who’s since made three senior team appearances, made his debut against Maritzburg United late last month, while Sesane, 19, made a domestic campaign starting debut for the Buccaneers during their 1-0 win over Uthongathi FC in the Nedbank Cup last 32 at home on Saturday.

“In the last games, you saw that it was Azola (who was introduced) and now it’s ’Pepe’. I am happy when we have players of our own club come and improve us (as the senior team) in the training ground and understand what we want,” Zinnbauer said.

“If we have more players of this quality, then give me the players. We’ll work and improve the players. I am happy to get youngsters. For us as coaches, it’s not a question about young or old. The question that we ask is whether he’s good enough for us.”

Sesane’s original position is at centre-back. But with the team forced into a corner at right back against Uthongathi – following injuries to Thabiso Monyane, Abel Mabaso and Wayde Jooste – Sesane was deployed to the wider role in Pirates’ defensive line.

“Pepe” made a good performance for me. He’s a young player and he played in a position that he’s not used to. The focus was to give him more minutes because we didn’t have other players to cover in that position,” the 50-year-old coach said.

“But at the end, you can see that his conditioning was not at 100% for 90 minutes before he sustained an injury. But I am happy that he was able to stay for so long on the field, despite the poor conditions, and I think he made a good performance.”

Pirates’ opponents in the Nedbank Cup last-16 will be confirmed this evening. However, they’ll be hoping to take their momentum to the league campaign when they clash against Cape Town City at home, the Orlando Stadium, tomorrow afternoon (5pm kick-off).