PLAYER OF THE YEAR

LE­BO­GANG MANYAMA’S JOUR­NEY TO THE TOP

Kick Off - - Front Page - BY LOVEMORE MOYO | Twit­ter: @kick­offff­magazine

“I DIDN’T THINK I WAS GOOD ENOUGH FOR THE PSL” “I WILL NOT SAY ANY­THING BAD ABOUT KAIZER CHIEFS”

Le­bo­gang Manyama Le­bo­gang Manyama can claim to have been the best player over the 2016/17 Pre­mier Soc­cer League cam­paign, dur­ing which he cap­tained rook­ies Cape Town City to an as­ton­ish­ing first sea­son at the top. How­ever, things weren’t all rosy for the man from “Go­mor­rah”. Here, he sits down with Lovemore Moyo and talks about his jour­ney to the top and whether we’ll see the big-money move to a Gaut­eng club that many peo­ple have been cu­ri­ous about. Be­hold, your KICK OFF Player of the Year …

The frank­ness writ­ten on Le­bo­gang Manyama’s face as he re­veals how he never thought of him­self be­ing good enough to play in the Pre­mier Soc­cer League, let alone end a sea­son as the best player in the coun­try, draws your at­ten­tion at first glance. It’s quite a star­tling rev­e­la­tion for a boy born in Tem­bisa, Jo­han­nes­burg, and then brought up in an­other town­ship – Alexan­dra – where foot­ball is what but­ters ev­ery lit­tle boy’s slice of bread. For all the magic that Manyama pro­vided this sea­son, light­ing up the PSL in the colours of Cape Town City, this is a stage he sur­pris­ingly dis­closes he felt was a step too high for him through­out his teenage years. “Do you know that I used to play in the Sun­day league matches at the hos­tels in Alexan­dra around 2009? I was there ev­ery week­end,” he says. “At that time I never imag­ined my­self play­ing in the PSL; I thought it was just way too far for me. I thought the PSL was an­other world and I would never make it. I didn’t think I was good enough to play there.”

All that he knew was that he loved

foot­ball, hav­ing played the sport Pele fa­mously chris­tened “The Beau­ti­ful Game” through­out his up­bring­ing on 15th Av­enue in “Alex”. “I have played all my life and the peo­ple that saw me as a kid will tell you that all l ever did was play foot­ball,” he says. “I played in all the chal­lenge matches found ekasi, from the streets, taxi ranks, parks … ev­ery­where where there was foot­ball, I was there. I never imag­ined I would even­tu­ally get to where I am now.” Spells as a ju­nior at Alex United and Bal­four Park FC de­fined his de­vel­op­ment, though he tem­po­rar­ily had to take the ac­cel­er­a­tor off a bit to com­plete his ma­tric at the in­sis­tence of his par­ents – both of whom have since passed away.

It was only when he met re­tired

mid­fielder Maimane Phiri that his foot­ball ca­reer even­tu­ally shaped up. “It was around Septem­ber 2009 that I got re­ally close to Maimane. A cou­ple of my friends who I had played with at the hos­tels were al­ready play­ing for his [Phiri’s] new team. So they came to ask my par­ents if I could join that new team (FC Alexan­dra) and my par­ents said they had no prob­lem with it. But I went on to play at FC Alex for just five months,” he says paus­ing as he takes a huge breath in be­tween. “One Mon­day while ar­riv­ing for train­ing in Fe­bru­ary 2010 I was told to pack my bags be­cause I was go­ing to Cape Town. I was like ‘What am I go­ing to do in Cape Town?’ They told me I was go­ing to Ajax Cape Town.” FC Alex was play­ing in the SAB League at the time, mean­ing Manyama was due to jump from the fourth tier straight into the PSL. “The next thing they said was, ‘You are leav­ing to­mor­row’. Even when telling my par­ents later on that day I couldn’t be­lieve it my­self, de­spite the fact that they were re­ally happy for me,” he says with a wry smile. That Ur­ban War­riors team had Thu­lani Serero, Ge­orge Maluleka, Wil­lard Kat­sande, Nazeer Al­lie, Clay­ton Daniels, Khama Bil­liat and Thu­lani Hlatshwayo, all of whom have ex­celled in their ca­reers. From the de­spair the boy from “Go­mor­rah” had known, he was now be­gin­ning the path to up­lift­ing him­self from the de­cay, poverty and crime that sur­rounded him grow­ing up. He has charmed the stub­born, swayed the doubters and pro­vided the spark that has livened up the birth and amaz­ing rise of the new fran­chise owned by John Comi­tis.

Any­one who would have pre­dicted

a year ago that Manyama would close off the past cam­paign as the best player in the league would have been con­sid­ered in­sane and ad­mit­ted to a men­tal asy­lum. Manyama spent the last half of the pre­vi­ous sea­son at Mpumalanga Black Aces bat­tling with a foot in­jury and just as he was com­plet­ing his re­cov­ery, the Aces fran­chise was then sold to Comi­tis who re­lo­cated to Cape Town. Manyama was part of the 14 play­ers – who had helped Aces fin­ish fourth the pre­vi­ous sea­son un­der Muhsin Er­tu­gral – who then made the switch to the Mother City, which saw him make a re­turn to the coastal city that handed him his PSL break­through seven years ago. The club got off to a great start, reach­ing the MTN8 semi-fi­nals. But no one could have ever imag­ined they would go on to close the sea­son with Telkom Knock­out hon­ours and a third place fin­ish in the league. The City cap­tain has been the con­duc­tor of the orches­tra through­out. “I think my con­sis­tency is what has made the dif­fer­ence,” he beams. “Then the hard work that I put in off the field – go­ing to the gym a lot more to make my­self stronger so as to avoid in­juries – also helped. What made me in­con­sis­tent be­fore was

that I was in­jured most of the time. It was only when I broke my foot that I re­alised I wasn’t strong enough to play at a level that I wanted to play at, so I had to push my­self. Many peo­ple don’t even be­lieve that I never trained with the other guys in pre-sea­son – I was in the gym twice a day as I was still in­jured. “You need to un­der­stand that it is easy to think that you can play be­cause you have the tal­ent, but if you don’t take care of your­self then ev­ery year you get older your body be­comes more sus­cep­ti­ble to in­juries. So if you don’t take care of your­self then it be­comes a prob­lem. At least I have taught my­self that.” The lev­els Manyama reached last sea­son mean the stan­dards he has now set for him­self are also that much higher. And the test that plenty foot­ballers be­fore him have failed is stay­ing up there.

Manyama says: “What­ever bril­liance

and all the good things that I have done, I have still re­mained the very same hum­ble per­son. It doesn’t get to my head. Once I do it now, to­mor­row it is for­got­ten. Ob­vi­ously, I will be proud about it and en­joy the mo­ment, but I don’t stick it up my head longer than that. For me what mat­ters is what hap­pens next be­cause the next level is my tar­get.” Was his suc­cess this past sea­son made eas­ier by the fact that it came un­ex­pected with a fran­chise that had changed hands and re­lo­cated, one with mod­est ex­pec­ta­tions? “The prob­lem with South African foot­ball is that we tend to for­get quickly,” he says can­didly. “If you look at the team that we had at Aces, we came fourth. This sea­son we re­mained very united and never wor­ried about what peo­ple thought about us. We only wor­ried about what we thought of our­selves be­cause we all knew what we were ca­pa­ble of. All we needed to do was to push in one di­rec­tion, which we did quickly. From there it was all a roller­coaster ride, though we un­for­tu­nately couldn’t win the league. “Yet if you asked us a year ago if we thought we would be in the top three we would have hon­estly said no, but we are proud and hope­fully we can bet­ter that next sea­son.” It would be an in­jus­tice if the name Aubrey Ngoma was not men­tioned amongst all the rav­ings about the sea­son that his skip­per Manyama en­joyed. Ngoma [A KICK OFF Player of the Year nom­i­nee] was the shoul­der that pro­vided the sup­port through the cam­paign. “Me and Aubrey shined be­cause a lot of guys did a lot of work for us and gave us the free­dom to go look­ing for goals. It worked out well be­cause ev­ery­one un­der­stood their roles in the team and there weren’t many times when we were dis­con­nected. Ev­ery­one did what they had to do,” Manyama notes.

Hav­ing a splen­did sea­son with a

club of City’s tiny stature and one con­sid­ered un­fash­ion­able, it is nor­mal that the big clubs in Gaut­eng will take in­ter­est by dan­gling tele­phone fig­ure pack­ages. Manyama ac­knowl­edges that this is stan­dard. “Such things hap­pen all over the world, but what mat­ters is that I do

my job on my field. I have seen this be­fore,” he says. His “sup­posed” de­ci­sion to turn down Kaizer Chiefs three years ago when he left Ajax caused a furore, which left him la­belled nasty names. It could be de­ci­sion time yet again with Chiefs said to be still in­ter­ested while Mamelodi Sun­downs have also been sniff­ing around. “In life, when you make a de­ci­sion, not ev­ery­one is go­ing to be happy with it, but you have to stand by it and make sure that when you take such a de­ci­sion you haven’t burnt any bridges with any­body,” he says. “Just make sure that ev­ery­thing has been done in a re­spect­ful way. I don’t be­lieve in burn­ing bridges and that’s why when John bought the team he per­son­ally came to Jo­han­nes­burg to speak to me be­cause of the kind of re­la­tion­ship we had at Ajax. In life you never know what to­mor­row holds.” Crit­i­cised for shy­ing away from that Amakhosi chal­lenge, is he ready for a move to Gaut­eng this time? “I have al­ways been ready, but it has to be done in a re­spect­ful and well-man­nered way,” he says. “Every­body con­cerned has to be in­volved. You can’t come to me and tell me that you have agreed to sell me to some­body with­out me know­ing – that doesn’t show re­spect. All par­ties con­cerned have to be in­volved in a trans­fer so that I leave with an open heart rather than be forced to make a move just be­cause some­body de­cided to do some­thing with­out telling me. “I like chal­lenges. If the op­por­tu­nity comes and the team has ben­e­fited then it’s all good. If a move doesn’t hap­pen, I have no prob­lem be­cause I am very happy at Cape Town City. I am close to ev­ery­one here in­clud­ing the guys who work at the of­fice. But this is foot­ball ... we can­not stay in one place for­ever be­cause at the end of the day it ends in some sort of way at some point, whether it takes 20 years or one year,” he con­tin­ues yet drib­bling past the Chiefs is­sue that I in­sist he an­swers. “I have moved on from that [Chiefs] sit­u­a­tion and the peo­ple that were in con­trol know what hap­pened. One day I will give a de­tailed an­swer af­ter which those peo­ple in­volved will tell you that is ex­actly what hap­pened.

“Not many peo­ple know what

hap­pened and I was the one that had to be the scape­goat be­cause they said I turned so-and-so down. “I took it all and con­tin­ued with life be­cause I am not a per­son who wants to burn bridges, which is why I will not say any­thing bad about Chiefs, Ajax and all the peo­ple that were in­volved. At that point it didn’t hap­pen but you never know what could hap­pen to­mor­row, so that is why I say you have to be mind­ful with such things. It hap­pened and it is over and now we have to move on. It is life,” he con­cludes. The next chal­lenge, which he might en­joy, is re­main­ing in the Bafana Bafana set-up. “Ob­vi­ously when you come to the na­tional team it is be­cause you did well at club level. When you get there then you have to know that you are amongst the best and have to make sure you are on top of your game from day one. There is no pres­sure for me; I just have to en­joy my­self.”

(Be­low) The City skip­per cel­e­brates his goal against Soweto giants Or­lando Pi­rates.

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