Ayanda Patosi

Back home and ready to make a big im­pact for Cape Town City

Kick Off - - INSIDE - BY FABIO DE DOMINICIS Twit­ter: @fabiode­doms

“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.

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