Tefu’s surprise return
New SuperSport United signing Tefu Mashamaite surprised many with his ‘premature’ return to South Africa following an year-long stint at Swedish side BK Hacken, but the experienced defender tells KICK OFF he had already achieved what he had set out to dur
New SuperSport United defender Tefu Mashamaite explains why his spell in Sweden was so short-lived
The return of Tefu Mashamaite to the Premier Soccer League after a year’s stay in Sweden raised a few eyebrows, not least because the former Kaizer Chiefs defender appeared to have settled well at BK Hacken, despite a lengthy spell on the sidelines due to injury. The former PSL and KICK OFF Footballer of the Season agreed a deal to join SuperSport United at the end of the transfer window, which turned out to be a timely addition to coach Stuart Baxter’s squad given the broken arm sustained by central defender Clayton Daniels. But the International Relations graduate explains that his intention to leave South Africa in the first place differed from his compatriots, and felt there was nothing left for him to achieve in the Swedish Allsvenskan. “I’m 31, what did you expect?” Mashamaite says. “We are living in a globalised world. If we as South Africans believe we are one of the ‘developed’ countries, why can’t our players come back and ply their trade here? “I’m just talking as an International Relations student now. In as much as I can live in Sweden, which is one of the most developed countries, and play in a European league, why can’t I come back and play in the PSL – one of the most accomplished leagues in Africa that can financially match up to the European second tier leagues? “I went there to experience a different environment and just get away from the South African scene. Sometimes getting away – seeing things from an outsider’s perspective – helps in paving the way you look at things. “My idea was to be in Europe and look at the situation in the South African league and their approach – how do they compare? And I feel like I got what I wanted. Whether it took two years or 10 years, or even just some months, ultimately I think I saw what I wanted to see. It was basically for research purposes.” ‘Masha’ further argues that his time in Sweden proved much more experiential than many would feel inclined to think. Although conceding that the structure of the Swedish top-flight may be of a higher standard than the PSL, he suggests that the amount of talent unearthed here far outweighs that of a country like Sweden, even though they’ve produced the likes of former Barcelona striker Henrik Larsson and current Manchester United star Zlatan Ibrahimovic. “In terms of operations, there is definitely a difference. But you can’t really compare and say the PSL is a better league than in Sweden, and you can’t say Sweden has a better league than ours,” he says. “In Sweden the kids are prepared at an earlier stage in their lives than South African kids. The league is also more organised in their technical and tactical approach to the game. “For example, the players compete by showing more technical and/or tactical ability than the next. Also, there were twins in my team, and it was clear that the one was more gifted than the other, but they both made it as professionals. “Whereas in South Africa, if you and your brother were put in that space, chances are one of you would be discouraged and the other would make it. Ultimately, it would be trivial to the South African eye or mentality, but in Sweden they push you even if you’re not the most talented. So is it possible to compare the two countries? It becomes a bit difficult.” Having returned home despite having a year left on his contract at Hacken, the former Bidvest Wits captain insists his decision was not for financial gain, but rather the fact that he felt his experience was adequate, and says the fact that his former Chiefs coach Baxter still saw interest in him was reason enough to convince him that the Tshwane club would be a good fit. “It was never about money for me. It’s about the process of life and what I’ll gain from life. I come from Kaizer Chiefs, and before that I was at Bidvest Wits, and before that I was a student, so for me it was about the experience,” he says. “I’ve built a name for myself playing football so I can always make money when I’m done playing. But it’s unfair to paint me with the same brush as those who play football for the sole purpose of making money. “I decided to come back and didn’t join Chiefs or Mamelodi Sundowns or Orlando Pirates – the teams that are seen as having ‘big financial guns’.
“WHY CAN’T OUR PLAYERS COME BACK?”
I wanted to join SuperSport, and obviously Stuart Baxter had a lot to do with my decision. “I always ask myself, ‘What am I putting into football and what am I getting out of it? If I have maximum happiness in training then I know I’m going to be happy in a game.” Mashamaite says he was also lured by the quality of the players around him. “The coach also boasted of players like Jeremy Brockie, Dean Furman and many others, and I decided, ‘OK, there is a possibility here’. It’s better than joining a bandwagon – a situation where you’re already guaranteed to win – because the pleasure sometimes is in the journey, whether you win or lose,” he says. “Winning is also not about being in the media or occupying a national space; for me, winning is if I can connect with a youngster from Bethlehem or Limpopo and teach him something – such small achievements. “The coach told me I’ve got the leadership qualities and I can bring that up into what he’s trying to build. He asked if I’m willing to do that, and I said yes. At my age, my ambition is to guide youngsters, so that’s the role I’ve been brought in to fulfil.”