How the hard-working Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder rose to the top
From idolising the likes of Surprise Moriri, Lebohang Mokoena and Teko Modise to playing alongside them at Mamelodi Sundowns, Themba Zwane’s journey to the top has been inspiring. Here, the midfielder shares his story of how he never gave up as he waited for his opportunity to be a key member of the The Brazilians’ all-conquering team. The story of Zwane doesn’t end there: his hard work also scored him a new endorsed car this year after signing a deal with Volkswagen South Africa to be their brand ambassador.
KICK OFF: Most footballers don’t start their professional football careers playing for a big team like Mamelodi Sundowns, but you did. How do you feel about it, looking back on it today?
THEMBA ZWANE: I was very lucky to start my career at Mamelodi Sundowns. It was a blessing for me because when I started, I played with the likes of Surprise [Moriri], Teko [Modise], “Cheeseboy” [Lebohang Mokoena] and [Elias] Pelembe, and I’ve learnt a lot from them. As time went by, it was easy for me to adjust in terms of being a professional player. Although the competition was tough, I was patient enough to wait and learn from them. I was fortunate to play with those guys and I really appreciate the opportunity I was given.
What challenges did you face while trying to break into the starting line-up?
I faced a lot of challenges. For example, the pace of the game and the thinking was different. My pace and thinking was very slow in comparison. As a professional player, you need to think fast, you need to know where you are going to pass the ball before it even comes to you. You need to know what is happening behind you so that you can make decisions quicker. Those are some of the challenges I faced when I started.
Which players did you look up to before you became a regular?
Surprise, Cheeseboy, Pelembe and Papi Zothwane – those were the players that I looked up to because I was playing as a Number 10, and as a right winger. I would watch them all the time so that I could learn from them and make things easier for myself when I went onto the field.
are now a CAF Champions League and CAF Super Cup champion ...
Life is full of surprises! It was very hard to win those cups, but we did it. It was a very long journey and we had to work hard for it. But it was very exciting; it showed that hard work pays off and as a team, we did very well. It was very hard because most of the time we were not at home as we were travelling, so we needed to show character. We needed to adjust as a team in all the countries we played in and I’m very thrilled to be a part of history and a part of the team that won both the Champions League and Super Cup.
Do you think finishing second in the league last season was a good effort?
Remember, we didn’t have an off season break like all the other 15 teams we faced in the Premiership, so yes, I think we did well last season in the league. If you review the games we lost or drew, we were the better team on that day and we created more chances, but we didn’t take them. If you don’t take your chances, you will suffer. This shows that this season we need to work even harder on taking our chances.
Is it safe to say that Downs will be under less pressure this season as all eyes will be on Bidvest Wits?
No, no, no! We will still be under pressure because we are Mamelodi Sundowns. We are expected to win every cup, so we need to push and bring those cups home. We need the Nedbank Cup ... actually, we need all the cups.
Describe playing with the likes of Hlompho Kekana and Tiyani Mabunda in midfield?
It’s very exciting because they have experience and have been in this game for long. They are always positive and always talk to me, teaching me what to do in the midfield. They make things much easier, and I learn a lot from all the older guys.
Do you have dreams of playing overseas now?
It’s any player’s dream to play overseas. So yes, I do dream of playing overseas. I want to go to France or Portugal or Spain. Those are some of the leagues I want to see myself playing in, including Belgium or Germany.
What can we expect from Themba Zwane this season?
People can expect to see a player that is giving his 100-percent and scoring goals for the team.
What do you want to say to upand-coming youngsters, if they want to achieve what you have?
If you want to be a professional player, you need to focus on football. You need to work hard and be prepared to sacrifice a lot. There are a lot of things that happen in the locations, but you can’t do all those things if you want to become a professional soccer player. You need to go the extra mile, be positive and, most importantly, you need to wait for your chance because God’s timing is always right.