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.

Kick Off - - Contents - BY LOVE­MORE MOYO

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.”

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