Back home and ready to make a big impact for Cape Town City
“I WISH I HAD STAYED IN EUROPE LONGER, BUT DUE TO MY SITUATION I HAD TO COME BACK.”
Ahoard of excited youngsters smile uncontrollably at the camera, singing happily and dancing as the cameraman makes his way through the hallways of the famed ASD academy. The next scene depicts the group of talented young footballers, mostly from underprivileged backgrounds, bubbling with excitement, kitted in ASDblue and hands raised aloft as they celebrate after yet another victory on the pitch. Mike Steptoe, principal and founder of ASD Cape Town, has referred me to an archive video documenting the academy’s heyday.
Six minutes in, the cameras are set up inside a modest home in Khayelitsha, as 16-year-old prodigy Ayanda Patosi is being interviewed alongside his mother, who is extremely proud of her son. “I’m very happy. I’ve always supported Ayanda in playing soccer, and I’m very happy he’s joined the academy,” Patosi’s mother beams on camera. The academy – founded in 2008 – housed, schooled and trained 19 budding footballers in Claremont, Cape Town, with the hope of helping the stars of tomorrow realise their footballing dreams. Amongst these uncut gems was a certain stand-out teenager. “Our scout Cecil Ntebi brought two skinny little kids to the first day of trials – Ayanda Patosi and Sive Phekezela,” Steptoe tells KICK OFF. “It was obvious from day one that Ayanda had immense talent, developed as a result of years of [playing] street soccer in Khayelitsha. “He was a quiet and humble boy keen to learn all he could from our coaches. It soon became apparent that he was obsessed with becoming a professional player in Europe. He preferred to be called ‘Deco’ after his idol who played for Barcelona, and carried that nickname throughout his time at ASD.”
Described by the academy’s
founder as a “versatile, tactically intelligent and creative midfielder with excellent vision and technical ability”, Patosi progressed at a rapid rate at the academy, helping his side reach the Under-19 Metropolitan Premier Cup Final in 2011, which earned him a place in the ASD squad leaving for a Belgium tour the following week. The European tour was a resounding success, with ASD impressing with 4-0 and 4-1 wins over local clubs Mechelen and Anderlecht respectively, as Patosi shone in midfield. Interest in the young prodigy was relentless, and two years after joining the academy, ASD helped the youngster achieve his European dream. “I spent most of the weeks following our tour meeting with potential buyers,” Steptoe says. “Anderlecht were prepared to pay €500 000 for Ayanda (R7.8million in today’s rate), but we all favoured Lokeren, who wanted both Ayanda and (now Cape Town City teammate) Ebrahim Seedat. It was clear that they would both get first team opportunities on merit rather than have to wait. They both signed contracts for Lokeren in June 2011 and ASD received €30 000 (R469, 000) for Ayanda. The players themselves received initial packages worth €80 000 (R1.25-million) per annum, which was the minimum wage for non-European players in Belgium.”
At 18 years old, Patosi was plying his trade
in the Belgian top-flight. The South African starlet made 26 appearances in his first season in the Jupiler Pro League, quickly integrating himself into the Lokeren team and making the most of the opportunity handed to him. “It was all about enjoying football at that age, and I moved there for football only, forgetting that football is also about business,” he says. “I was there, enjoying the football, and it was really, really nice. It was great meeting new people, and I could adapt easily as from my academy
days, I was used to being away from home.” Despite securing the “dream move” to Europe, Patosi admits it wasn’t all fine and dandy, with many personal difficulties and challenges to face that were often overshadowed by the limelight of being depicted as one of the South Africans who had “made it” abroad. “It’s not easy that side, especially when you go at such a young age,” he confesses. “You go there not knowing anyone, you don’t know the language, and the winter there is much harsher than in South Africa. It would snow everyday in winter, but you still have to go to training. Soon after securing a maiden Belgian Cup in 2012, things went pear-shaped for Patosi as the blossoming star suffered a ruptured cruciate ligament injury in January 2013, forcing him to miss the remainder of that season. Those nine months on the sidelines, he says, were the worst of his career so far. “The nine months I was out injured … that killed me,” he recalls. “I was alone – I had no family that side, so I would stay alone at home. It was hard. But I kept telling myself that I still wanted to play and achieve things in Europe.”
Just a month after his return, Patosi
picked up a knee injury that ruled him out for a further two months, and despite returning as a Lokeren regular thereafter and winning a second Belgian Cup, the South African star was never quite the same. “It was extremely hard to get back to where I was again,” he says. “I do think I could have done better if I didn’t get injured. Lokeren was a good team, I was happy but I wish I had moved to a bigger team while I was there. Maybe my career would have panned out better than it has up until now, I don’t know …” Having been told he was destined for greatness from his academy days, yet believing his wings were clipped in Belgium, Patosi’s frustrations grew as he entered into the last year of his contract last year. He refused to sign a new deal, as his six years in Belgium reached a tumultuous end. “In the last six months, when I was free to sign with any club I wanted, things started getting worse as they asked me to sign a new contract, but I refused,” he said. “They then didn’t select me for the team, and not even the 18-man squad – I had to watch games from home. But I guess this is football.” That’s when ambitious Absa Premiership outfit Cape Town City started coaxing the restrained talent. “I knew John Comitis from before I went to Europe – I used to play fivea-side football with his son when I was younger,” Patosi reveals. “From that time he used to tell me, ‘You are so good, how come Ajax Cape Town don’t recognise you?’ And I replied, ‘You must ask your scouts, they aren’t doing their jobs!’” Having invited him to a few Cape Town City home games in the second half of last season, Comitis kept trying to lure the Bafana Bafana attacker back home. Patosi liked what he saw, bought into the project, and after six years, 161 matches and 24 goals in Belgium,
“I PERSONALLY FEEL HIS MOVE BACK TO SOUTH AFRICA IS A BAD MOVE.”
“I KNOW THERE ARE BIGGER CLUBS IN SOUTH AFRICA, BUT IT WAS EASY TO CHOOSE CAPE TOWN CITY.”
signed on the dotted line for City on 1 June. “It was an easy decision,” he says. “I know there are bigger clubs in South Africa, but it was easy to choose Cape Town City, not only because I’m back in my hometown. Cape Town City is going to become one of the big teams if we keep the same way we are. You can see the signings the club has made, and the things we’ve done; we just have to try keep it there, and make Cape Town football grow.”
Having proven himself abroad,
albeit in a smaller European league, Patosi was living many a South African’s dream, playing in the Europa League, winning titles and mixing it with the best on the continent. However, having noted his talent and drive as one of the most talented 16-year-old’s he had ever seen, Patosi’s former academy principal is somewhat disappointed in the player’s decision to return home. “I personally feel his move back to South Africa is a bad move for a player who could have been the new Deco,” Steptoe says. “He never truly fulfilled his potential in Europe. There is no comparison between the standard of the PSL compared to any of the major European leagues. The game is much faster in Europe and requires a greater level of fitness and discipline.” Patosi, though, feels it is not a step backwards in his career, but merely a stepping-stone forward, openly admitting he is eyeing a return to Europe as soon as possible. “I don’t see it as a failure,” he says. “I chose Cape Town City – they are an ambitious club, and I am 100-percent sure that if I do well here, I can still go back to Europe. I’m only 24 years old.
One good season here and I could be back in Europe next season. And I know John won’t stand in my way and hold me back. I know if I do well here, I will go back.”
(Below) Ayanda and his mother getting filmed for a documentary on his son’s fledgling career.
(Below) The world at their feet: Ayanda Patosi (second row, firstf from left) wuth his teammates and coaches at the ASD Academy.
(Above) Ayanda Patosi in action for Belgian side Lokeren.
(Below) Ayanda Patosi is looking to regain his Bafana Bafana jersey.