PLAYER OF THE YEAR
LEBOGANG MANYAMA’S JOURNEY TO THE TOP
“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.