Did Milutin Sredojevic use his mother’s sickness as a way out of Orlando Pirates and on to a new job?
This is the question many supporters are asking themselves after the Serb’s sudden resignation for personal reasons on Friday night.
Micho – as Sredojevic is fondly known in football circles locally and on the continent – has since been linked with a move to Egyptian giants Zamalek, where he is expected to sign today, despite telling TimesLive that the rumour was nonsense.
“He is in Istanbul, Turkey, on his way to Serbia, but he is expected in Egypt in the new week,” said a City Press contact in Egypt.
Micho confirmed yesterday that he was indeed on his way home to see his sick mother, who is seriously ill with breast cancer.
But his departure set social media abuzz, with some labelling him a traitor for abandoning the Pirates’ ship on the eve of a crucial MTN8 quarterfinal clash against Highlands Park last night.
Even Pirates did not see Sredojevic’s sudden exit coming, the club’s senior administrator Floyd Mbele told City Press yesterday.
“We didn’t see this coming because Micho has been employed by the club. He had a contract with us,” said Mbele.
“He requested a meeting with the chairperson [Irvin Khoza] on Friday and they met. What came out of that meeting was that the coach had resigned. That’s why the club later issued a statement.
“It shocked us as much as everyone, but you can’t control it, especially when someone cites personal problems as the reason for leaving.”
In a brief statement, Pirates said the decision was made “unilaterally”, and that “it was the management’s decision to allow Sredojevic to vacate his position based on reasons he has presented, which are of a personal nature”.
Rulani Mokwena was immediately confirmed as the team’s caretaker coach, and the 36-year-old will be assisted by Fadlu Davids and Franck Plaine in the mean time.
Mbele said the club’s management team would discuss the details around the vacant coaching post this week.
Prior to his resignation, Sredojevic had guided Bucs to just three games in all competitions this season.
Bizarrely, by the time his resignation became known, Micho was already out of the country and was in transit in Istanbul yesterday morning.
The question is: When did he book his flight or know that he was leaving?
The signs were there
City Press observed something was amiss about Sredojevic last week.
The Serbian tactician appeared to be a bit withdrawn and pensive at the MTN8 prematch conference at the PSL offices on Thursday.
It looked to be more than just the pain of a 3-0 bashing by SuperSport United the previous night or the 1-0 loss to Green Eagles of Zambia in the CAF Champions League preliminaries last weekend.
This was unlike the normally media-friendly “Wolf of Serbia”, who generally gets tickled by football conversation, especially when it is about African football.
It was also unlike Sredojevic to not be active on his official Twitter account – bar retweets – in the past four days. He last wrote a post on August 8.
Micho got irritated when he was confronted about the rumour that he was heading to Zamalek.
He also rebutted claims by the Cairo club’s chairperson, Mortada Mansour, that he would take over the reigns.
Efforts to reach Sredojevic were unsuccessful.
Micho’s exit means Pirates venturing into the market will be a two-pronged mission as they have already indicated that they are in search of an experienced defender to strengthen their rearguard.
The club’s former captain Lucky Lekgwathi has urged Bucs to spare no cost to land Bafana Bafana and Bidvest Wits captain Thulani Hlatshwayo.
Lekgwathi, the last captain to lift silverware with Pirates back in 2014, has identified the heart of Bucs defence as their Achilles heel. And he believes the only solution is to acquire the services of the 29-year-old Hlatshwayo, who has hinted that he is ready for a move.
Hlatshwayo dropped hints this week that he was up for “a new challenge” and that “the [transfer] window is still open, so anything can still happen”.
Lekgwathi says Pirates should not think twice and must snap him up quickly.
“He is young and ready to walk into the team and lead them. He is the only defender who can solve our problems, and the club must go for him,” said Lekgwathi.
“He reads the game very well, is very comfortable on the ball and rarely makes mistakes. He is a proven leader and is also a huge threat in the opposition’s box judging by the goals he has scored for Wits [from set play].”
In recent times, the Pirates technical team had to chop and change the back four, especially the centre backs, as they tried to stabilise the team, but the results have remained unchanged.