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
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.