Downs recruit European stalwart
Anele Ngcongca has been lu red home by the desire to be closer to his family and the promise of success at Mamelodi Sun downs. He offers an explanation as to why South African players are returning from Europe to play in the Premier Soccer League.
After nine years abroad, Anele Ngcongca brings heaps of experience to a star-studded Mamelodi Sundowns side
KICK OFF: How does it feel being back home to play in the PSL for the first time after nine years in Europe?
ANELE NGCONGCA: It feels strange because when I left in 2007 I had only played in the National First Division. It feels odd coming back to start playing in the PSL, but the moment I started seeing all the familiar faces I know from the national team, I realised I was back home. I noticed on my first day at training that the pace was faster than what I used to in Europe, but as a footballer you just have to adjust.
How did this move come about?
I had been talking to coach Pitso Mosimane since last year when I started having problems with the coach at Genk [Peter Maes], but I couldn’t come right away due to the package. The only option was for me to then go on loan, which is why I moved to French Ligue 1 side Troyes last year. Once I had my issues sorted out with Genk, where I still had two years remaining on my contract, I knew I would be coming here because it was not nice to be training with Genk’s second team in Belgium. There was also interest from Russia and Turkey, but I felt the time was right for me to come home. My mom is not well and I have never really been with my daughter, who is now six. I also spoke to coach Pitso, who made me understand what Sundowns wants and what they are building for, and he wanted me to be part of this journey. He told me he wants to make history with this team and I would love to be part of that.
Why did you choose Sundowns over Kaizer Chiefs?
It was the coach … and I saw the team winning the league last season, and everybody wants to be associated with champions. Chiefs also showed interest, but it was Sundowns who pressed ahead with their intentions. I had been in communication with coach Pitso and I know him from the national team.
South African players have been criticised for choosing the comfortable route of coming back home from Europe early …
[Cuts in] It is the mentality and the attitudes. If you go overseas, I know from my experience that you will struggle initially and you need to be strong and mix with the local guys from Europe. However, some of us don’t want to mingle and instead choose to stick around with Africans only. In Europe they see those small things and it becomes a problem for them because you are not gelling with the team.
But why do West Africans stay longer and seem to become more of a success?
They don’t have the option of going back home like us. I talk about South African players who I believe live in luxury and have the good life because they earn decent money here. However, if you go to the west of Africa it is more difficult, so they have the hunger because they know too well about the poor background that they came from where there are no lights on the streets. To go to Europe for them is like heaven. Even if his contract has been terminated, a West African will stick around there and play in the second division. The desire and will between us South Africans and the West Africans is different. For me, it’s not a bad thing to come back home now. I think priority should be on exporting 1923 year-olds. But the return of guys like me makes the PSL stronger.
Having played in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, how vital will that experience be for you here at Sundowns?
It is going to help for sure because the Champions League is the same tempo that I have felt while playing here at Sundowns, where the ball moves quick – very quick. In Europe,
we would control the pace of the game ourselves with the way we play. We knew when to attack at pace and then still be able to control how we track back. Here everything is done at pace, be it attacking or defending.
You are able to play at right-back and centre-back. In a league where you say the pace is faster, where will you be more comfortable playing?
I am a team player, so I will play wherever the coach asks me to play. If he feels he needs me to do a specific job in midfield I will do it, even though I have mostly played as a right-back. What I can promise is that I will do my best in the job that I am asked to do and try to catch up.
Shifting focus, how does Bafana Bafana’s failure to qualify for the 2017 AFCON finals sit with you?
We only have ourselves to blame for failing to qualify because we threw away games like Gambia at home [0-0] and the match away to Mauritania [1-3]. You don’t expect to go to the Nations Cup when you cannot win those kinds of games. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done if World Cup qualification is to become a reality. Instead of looking at the bigger picture of going to the World Cup, we need to look at the bottom where it all starts. We need to wake up as a nation. The football association needs to smell the coffee because we now have this disease of only wanting to host tournaments, which is not good. We really need to work hard to bring back the glory days of South African football and emulate the team of 1996. We can only do that by working hard and stop mumbling and thinking that going to the World Cup is going to be a walk in the park, yet we failed to even go to the Nations Cup.
“I COULDN’T GO AGAINST THE WILL OF ALL THE PEOPLE HERE.”