Last chance sa­loon

Play­maker Mark Mayambela is con­fi­dent he has learnt from his past mis­takes as he looks to re­build his ca­reer at new club Ajax Cape Town. “I DON’T RE­GRET ANY­THING THAT HAS HAP­PENED IN MY CA­REER.”

Kick Off - - Contents - BY FABIO DE DOMINICIS

Mark Mayambela knows what’s at stake af­ter join­ing home­town club Ajax Cape Town

Awide smile beams across the face of Mark Mayambela as he drops his bags into his mod­est car parked at Ajax Cape Town’s train­ing fa­cil­ity Ikamva, be­fore head­ing into the can­teen to join his new team­mates for lunch af­ter an in­tense train­ing ses­sion. He hap­pily greets club staff mem­bers, shar­ing a joke as he joins the team at ta­ble, por­tray­ing a re­laxed, cheer­ful and optimistic im­age as he set­tles into his new sur­round­ings. Mayambela’s sketchy past has been well-doc­u­mented in me­dia cir­cles, as re­ports of ill-dis­ci­pline, lack of com­mit­ment and al­co­hol abuse hin­dered his foot­balling ca­reer as he failed to live up to his po­ten­tial at any of his seven pre­vi­ous clubs. “I don’t re­ally know what hap­pened,” the new Ur­ban War­riors re­cruit says of his fail­ure to make his mark in the past. “As much as there were some is­sues which I couldn’t han­dle, and po­lit­i­cal is­sues be­hind the scenes with man­age­ment, I won’t point fin­gers to that. “At times I was also partly to blame. Maybe it was the way I played, the way I walked or did things … it was more of a col­lec­tive thing. “But I don’t re­gret any­thing that has hap­pened in my ca­reer, good or bad. I be­lieve it all pre­pared me and made me into the per­son and player I am now. In all the trou­ble and neg­a­tive things that were said, I never gave up and kept on go­ing.” His per­se­ver­ance – fol­low­ing his re­lease by Su­per­Sport United in April – saw him hire a per­sonal fit­ness trainer to keep up his match sharp­ness as he went in search of a new club. Fol­low­ing lengthy dis­cus­sions with former coach at Or­lando Pi­rates Roger de Sa, com­bined with a short trial pe­riod, Mayambela was handed a two-year con­tract with the Cape club at the end of Au­gust. “I worked with Mark at Pi­rates for a year, and he was good when I was there,” De Sa says. “His at­ti­tude was very good, and the way he played was fan­tas­tic. He’s a guy that’s hun­gry and wants to get his ca­reer back on track.” De Sa feels it is risky sign­ing the un­pre­dictable mid­fielder, yet is con­fi­dent the now 29-year-old has ma­tured from the player he once was. “I think in ev­ery player there’s a risk, but af­ter hav­ing a good con­ver­sa­tion with him, he knows the risks and crit­i­cism he is fac­ing, and I was very clear with him and open about it,” the Ajax men­tor says. “He’s on par with what I’m say­ing, and he un­der­stands it – he’s an adult now, and knows this is his chance, and I be­lieve he will turn it around. “One thing about Mark: he’s very

hon­est. When I asked about his past, he was very open about it: he knows what he’s done, and what he has to do. You can’t be young all your life: you get to a stage where you have to grow up, and I think Mark has reached that stage now.” Mayambela him­self feels he has ma­tured, and feels he still has a lot to of­fer his new club. “I had a good con­ver­sa­tion with the team boss and the coach, and they don’t just see me as a player here, but some­one who can be a role-model to the younger play­ers,” he says. “I’m one of the se­nior play­ers and lead­ers in the team now, so I have to live up to that, both on and off the field. “I be­lieve I can help the young­sters grow, teach them about things that hap­pen in the game and try help them reach their goals and be­yond. But I’m still a player, and still have my du­ties on the pitch: to help the team achieve its goals and am­bi­tions.” Many feel this may be Mayambela’s last chance to re­deem his ca­reer, yet the well-trav­elled fan-favourite in­sists oth­er­wise. “Foot­ball is a game of opin­ions,” he says. “I can’t worry about things I can­not con­trol. There will al­ways be crit­ics, but I don’t worry about them much. There is con­struc­tive crit­i­cism that helps, and I will lis­ten, as there’s al­ways some­thing to learn. Even if some­one is swear­ing at you, there will be that one sen­tence in there, some­where, that will help you. It’s not easy, but I can fall back on my ex­pe­ri­ence to man­age those sit­u­a­tions.” The Khayelit­sha-born player is thrilled to be back home, es­pe­cially af­ter hav­ing missed the for­ma­tive years of his young son’s up­bring­ing. “It’s great to be back!” he smiles. “I al­ways wanted to fin­ish my ca­reer else­where and then come back to Cape Town and rest … but it’s great to be home. I have a three-year-old son here, and when I was away I missed a lot of spe­cial mo­ments of him grow­ing up – it hurt just see­ing him in pic­tures.” Known for his flair and skil­ful play, Mayambela has promised Ajax fans more of the same. And with that very skill a mea­sure of a player’s con­fi­dence, the pre­vi­ous ‘bad-boy’ of South African foot­ball feels he will slowly re-build his ca­reer in his home­town. “Skil­ful play­ers are play­ers of con­fi­dence – peo­ple of­ten mis­take it with ar­ro­gance,” he says. “But us skil­ful play­ers al­ways need con­fi­dence, and need to know we’re im­por­tant in the team. And I feel that con­fi­dence build­ing for me here at Ajax, bit by bit.”

Mayambela has re­united with former Or­lando Pi­rates coach Roger de Sa

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