Soc­cer ace Le­bo­gang Manyama on his new team and life in Turkey

Le­bo­gang Manyama is ready to step up at his new over­seas club – here he talks about the big move and why it’s come at the right time

DRUM - - Contents - BY NICK SAID

NEW coun­try, a dif­fer­ent cul­ture, a strange lan­guage and a whole new style of soc­cer to get used to – all this is on Le­bo­gang Manyama’s plate af­ter he se­cured a move that’s taken him half­way across the world. But he’s tak­ing it all in his stride, the 27-year-old for­mer Cape Town City cap­tain says of his move to Süper Lig club Konyas­por in Turkey.

Manyama took the brave de­ci­sion to leave the on-form Mother City side and head into the un­known af­ter sign­ing a three-year con­tract with Konyas­por.

He went out on a real high: he led City to third place in the league last sea­son and was on a lu­cra­tive four-year deal that would’ve kept him at the club un­til June 2021.

Hav­ing been named Premier Soc­cer League player of the sea­son for 2016/17 and ce­ment­ing a start­ing place with Bafana Bafana, the temp­ta­tion must’ve been strong to see out his time in Cape Town among ador­ing fans in a league where he was al­ready king.

In­stead the am­bi­tious Manyama has cho­sen to put his abil­i­ties to the test in Konya, a city of 2 mil­lion peo­ple in cen­tral Turkey where he must adapt to a to­tally new style of soc­cer in a pres­sure-cooker en­vi­ron­ment.

And the club bosses have shown they have no prob­lem throw­ing him in the deep end ei­ther, hand­ing him his de­but just 48 hours af­ter sign­ing him when he had only a sin­gle train­ing ses­sion be­hind him.

“It came a bit quicker than I thought,” Manyama laugh­ingly ad­mits to DRUM over the line from Turkey. “But I came in and tried my best to help the team. We were al­ready 1-0 down though and ended up los­ing the game.”

Manyama is by no means the only African player in the squad: Konyas­por has play­ers from Nige­ria, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Burk­ina Faso, Congo and Gabon and is one of sev­eral Turk­ish clubs that’s raided the con­ti­nent for tal­ent in re­cent years.

How­ever, there aren’t many South Africans over there – Manyama and fel­low Bafana Bafana star Tokelo Rantie, who plays for Gençler­birligi, are the only two Mzansi play­ers.

Manyama might have had his de­but in Turkey but he has yet to ex­pe­ri­ence the real pas­sion of his new side’s fans. His first game was played at the 42 000seater Konya Buyuk­se­hir Sta­dium to com­pletely empty stands.

This af­ter Konyas­por were or­dered to play five home games be­hind closed doors af­ter their fans bat­tled on the pitch with sup­port­ers of top Is­tan­bul side Be­sik­tas fol­low­ing their vic­tory in the Turk­ish Su­per Cup last month.

“It was very strange, but I have al­ready seen how pas­sion­ate the fans are and it will be ex­cit­ing for me to play in a full

Le­bo­gang Manyama is set­tling in well at his new club in Turkey and says the rate of play is a lot slower than what he was used to in the PSL but “al­lows for more cre­ativ­ity”.

sta­dium,” Manyama says.

“A large num­ber of sup­port­ers came through for our train­ing ses­sion on Fri­day and they were amaz­ing in the way they showed pas­sion for the team – even just at train­ing!”

WITH no wife or chil­dren and sup­port from his fam­ily, the move was easy to make on a per­sonal level for the SA star. He’s in a re­la­tion­ship, Manyama tells DRUM, but doesn’t want to get into much de­tail right now.

“I want set­tle down as quickly as pos­si­ble and make sure I’m sta­ble off the pitch. That’s re­ally im­por­tant to do­ing well on the pitch.

“My fam­ily is quite used to me be­ing away. I’ve pretty much been on the road since I was 19 be­cause of foot­ball,” he says. “It’s also about get­ting used to the food and know­ing what is what, know­ing your way around the city and mak­ing where you stay start to feel like home.” He says that the city of Konya, which is dated some­where be­tween 3 500 and 5 000 years old, is much more re­laxed than bustling Joburg or Cape Town.

“It’s quite chilled and they give away tea for free here, so that’s a bonus! The peo­ple have all been re­ally wel­com­ing and I feel re­laxed here al­ready.”

Right now he’s stay­ing in a ho­tel but will be mov­ing into club ac­com­mo­da­tion near the train­ing ground soon. “I’m look­ing for­ward to it,” he says.

Turkey strad­dles Europe and Asia and the pos­si­bil­i­ties for travel are end­less for Manyama.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to ex­plor­ing when time al­lows,” he says. “There’s so much to see here it’s quite over­whelm­ing in the be­gin­ning.”

Learn­ing the lan­guage is also some­thing he’s look­ing for­ward to. “I know it will take time so I’m just tak­ing one day at a time and pick­ing up what I can.

“The lan­guage is ob­vi­ously a bit of a prob­lem but there are a cou­ple of other African play­ers at the club who speak English and they’ve been help­ing me.”

DE­SPITE the great thing he had go­ing at CT City, he had to try his hand at soc­cer in Europe or be left for­ever won­der­ing what might have been. “There’s no doubt this is a huge step in my ca­reer and I’m re­ally ex­cited to see where it takes me. I know how dif­fi­cult it will be to suc­ceed here but that’s part of the chal­lenge.

“I’m not in any rush – I’m go­ing to try to gel with my team­mates as quickly as pos­si­ble and take it from there. I will be pa­tient with my­self and I know in time I’ll be­come a bet­ter player.”

Manyama’s new coach is Mustafa Re­sit Ak­cay and he says he got the low­down on his new boss from Muhsin Er­tu­gral, the for­mer Kaizer Chiefs, Or­lando Pi­rates, Ajax Cape Town and Mpumalanga Black Aces tac­ti­cian who also hails from Turkey.

“Coach Muhsin told me quite a bit about him and like most Turk­ish guys he’s pas­sion­ate in the way he speaks and acts. That to me is a good thing: I like to see pas­sion in peo­ple be­cause it shows how much they want to win. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how the coach uses me and how the team plays against dif­fer­ent op­po­si­tion.”

The am­bi­tious Manyama has played just 22 min­utes so far and watched a hand­ful of Turk­ish league games on tele­vi­sion, but he draws some in­ter­est­ing con­trasts to the South African game.

“It’s very phys­i­cal from what I’ve seen but not as tight as in the PSL,” he says. “In the PSL you don’t get any space to play and the game is quick. Here you get a lit­tle bit more time on the ball, which is good for cre­ative play­ers like me. “I can see the tech­ni­cal side is a level higher here. You also barely ever see play­ers mak­ing mis­takes, so it’s a huge step up. The con­cen­tra­tion lev­els of the play­ers is also on an­other level.

“And like I said, the phys­i­cal­ity is there. But that is okay for me – I’ve come up against a cou­ple of tough guys back home so I’ll be fine!”

Manyama is treat­ing this as an ad­ven­ture and he’s de­ter­mined to en­joy ev­ery sec­ond of it.

“It’s an ex­cit­ing new chap­ter for me both on and off the pitch.”

ABOVE LEFT: Le­bo­gang Manyama is awarded the 2016/2017 foot­baller of the year award by sports min­is­ter Thu­las Nx­esi. ABOVE RIGHT: Bar­clays Africa Group’s David Wing­field hands over Le­bo­gang’s player’s player of the year award.

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