Former Bafana Bafana captain on who is to blame for his past troubles
Mbulelo Mabizela has withdrawn from the public eye and barely utters anything in public. Attempts in the past by a range of reporters from around the country have come up short. The reason for this passiveaggressive public withdrawal may lie in his dim view of the media, who he says contributed to his demise. The former Bafana Bafana captain says the media was too harsh on him during some of the more turbulent times of his career – which, in all fairness, was often. During the Siyabonga Sangweni Mayoral Sport Day, held in July, the 36-year-old shunned the Orlando Pirates TV crew who were capturing legends participating in the Sangweni Select XI, which played against Umfolozi Legends XI.
Instead Bheka Phakathi, who also
played for Pirates with Mabizela, was the one who was able to give them the interview. While other players were also lapping up the media attention, ‘’Old John’’ was uncomfortable with the media lens. It just showed how much the man continues to suffer when the spotlight is fixed in his direction, even at this juncture where he has called time on his playing career. ‘’My career was on another level that others failed to reach. But all the memories I have in football, you guys [the media] destroyed it; you guys just destroyed everything,’’ reveals a visibly scorned Mabizela. ‘’In my life I was destroyed and the media spoilt everything of mine. I can’t even pick out what the biggest highlight of my football career was. I don’t even want to talk about it because it is very difficult to do so. ‘’When it comes to the media, I’m fine without it. I had the right to turn Pirates’ TV crew down. It is part of the reason why I don’t want to be involved in coaching. I’m not interested. ‘’There are so many things I can do, but not coaching. I can help
“ALL THE MEMORIES I HAVE IN FOOTBALL, YOU GUYS [THE MEDIA] DESTROYED IT; YOU GUYS JUST DESTROYED EVERYTHING.’’ (Main) Mabizela was the youngestever captain for Bafana Bafana.
here and there. I’m enjoying my life after football – why should I stress about it? Life goes on. “My football career is finished and it is why I don’t even want to go back there and talk about my life. My career is finished, but I enjoyed it and the whole world enjoyed it too.’’ ‘’OJ’’ also says he cannot fault his parents and friends for a possible lack of guidance, regarding how his career turned out. He insists he was not aware how talented he was, but says he was not supposed to be mistreated for the mistakes he made. ‘’Proper guidance was there at home, but it’s just that I met the wrong people and things in this world. Unfortunately no one in life is immune to making mistakes,’’ he says. “Those mistakes are mine and they will remain mine. I’ve sorted some of them out. Of course there are some mistakes that cost me my career, but there’s no need for me moan about it. ‘’Joining Tottenham Hotspur was not something I was expecting. It happened very fast and there was no reason to say no to the opportunity. ‘’Things happened so quickly: from Maritzburg City it was Pirates. At Pirates I didn’t play long enough before the Spurs opportunity came, so things were flowing. It was not the life I had planned. I was just playing my own football and then things happened.’’
The former AmaZulu defender says
being named Bafana Bafana captain had its own challenges and it was more difficult when they lost games. He says the media would exaggerate things to make them look worse than they actually were. It was tough to deal with, he says. ‘’My first game for Bafana was against Egypt in 2001,’’ Mabizela says. ‘’I think being the youngest captain of the national team opened a lot of doors for me. I won’t say I was excited because it was a big role on my shoulders and a challenging one too. At that time it was hard to cope. ‘’When we came away with the loss, the media made it appear absolutely bad in the papers. You guys made our lives difficult. I didn’t envisage that it would happen to me so soon.” Mabizela feels the media was on his case even more upon his return from Europe to join Mamelodi Sundowns in the 2006/07 season, and things spiraled downhill from there. ‘’When I went to Europe after leaving Pirates, I’m not saying there were no challenges, but it was worse when I returned,’’ he admitted. ‘’When I returned to South Africa, the worst was still to come. I had
“JOINING TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR WAS NOT SOMETHING I WAS EXPECTING. IT HAPPENED VERY FAST AND THERE WAS NO REASON TO SAY NO TO THE OPPORTUNITY.”
huge problems and it was mostly with the media’s involvement. I’ll not say the media killed me, because journalists didn’t only do that to me – it happened to other players as well. ‘’But the media treated me as the perfect person who was not supposed to make mistakes. It felt like I was not supposed to drink, be at night clubs, not allowed to have a girlfriend, all of that. ‘’I’m not going to give you exact answers, because all these things happened long ago, and it is very hard to recall all of them because there are so many things.’’
Mabizela also hit out at South
African football and says there’s nothing that interests him in the local football scene. Even teams like Sundowns, who won the CAF Champions League last year, don’t impress him. “I don’t watch much football, but it’s not that I don’t like it anymore,’’ he says. ‘’But tell me, what really impresses you about our football? Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs, Sundowns? If it’s Sundowns, what really impresses you when you watching them? I’m telling you the truth. Am I wrong by telling the truth? ‘’Our football standards have dropped badly. How many South African players are leaving for Europe nowadays? How many, tell me? ‘’I’ll tell you something – I had a helping hand in Bongani Khumalo going to Spurs (in 2010). “I’m not so sure if we are going to play at the World Cup next year, or the Nations Cup in 2019.”
The talented defender added that
he’s not bitter because of how he was released by AmaZulu. He feels he did his job, although it was not enough to prevent the Durban-based outfit from being demoted to the National First Division during the 2014/15 season. He joined Usuthu in 2015 after he was released by then Mpumalanga Black Aces in October 2014 for unknown reasons, after management decided to terminate his contract. He scored four goals in 12 league appearances for Usuthu, finishing as one of the top scorers, while also being sent off twice during that period. ‘’I will not say seeing AmaZulu suffering relegation cut short my career in the PSL. I did well at AmaZulu,’’ added Mabizela, who then played for Royal Eagles in the NFD after leaving Usuthu. ‘’I did well there. What I was brought to do I did, and I played 90-percent of their games in the second half of the season. I won’t blame for them for deciding to release me.’’
“OUR FOOTBALL STANDARDS HAVE DROPPED BADLY. HOW MANY SOUTH AFRICAN PLAYERS ARE LEAVING FOR EUROPE NOWADAYS? HOW MANY, TELL ME?”
Muhammad Ali,Ali back when he was still Cassius Marcellus Clay,Clay used to have a testy, tetchy relationship with them. Recorded history says that Ali told them after he beat Sonny, “Eat your words!” Even Alex Ferguson, the great former Manchester United manager, sometimes had a sticky relationship with them. Them, in this scenario, refers to “the media”. And now Mbulelo “Old John” Mabizela has put the blame for his fallen career squarely at the door of the media. In this EXCLUSIVE interview with Robin-Duke Madlala, Mabizela confirms his retirement from the game, admits to “making mistakes” and tells KICK OFF that the media hounded him down from the top.
(Above left) OJ captaining Orlando Pirates at a young age.
(Left) OJ turning out for AmaZulu before retiring.
(Right) Coming up against Cristiano Ronaldo in England.