Yan­nick Zakri

Fit­ting in at Mamelodi Sundowns has not been easy

Kick Off - - INSIDE - BY LOVE­MORE MOYO

As Yan­nick Zakri en­dured a long wait to in­tro­duc­ing him­self with a goal to the “Ka Bo Yel­low” na­tion, he also found him­self hav­ing to deal with the harsh re­al­ity of fac­ing up to trig­ger happy fans. Through that hor­ror spell, Zakri was cru­ci­fied, butchered and pi­geon­holed as a waste of money by plenty and when he fi­nally got the scor­ing mon­key off his back, with five games re­main­ing be­fore the end of the pre­vi­ous sea­son, the emo­tion told in his celebration. “It was re­lief,” he re­calls of that May 4 night at Lu­cas Moripe Sta­dium against Plat­inum Stars when he scored a 90th minute goal that kept The Brazil­ians’ ti­tle chase alive. “I was des­per­ate for that goal to come. I re­ally needed that first goal. So I am sure you un­der­stand what I mean when I say it was a feel­ing of re­lief for me to score my first goal. To have to wait for so long to score your first goal can be so emo­tion­ally drain­ing. That celebration was a way of me sig­nalling that the bad mo­ment is fin­ished now. I was wip­ing my hands on my shirt and shorts to show that all the bad is done now. I felt like we can play foot­ball [freely],” he ex­plains. As he re­counts the chal­lenges he faced through his ar­rival in the coun­try, he also makes note of the in­jury along with the support that he got within the yel­low high walls sur­round­ing Downs’ Chloorkop train­ing base. “Are you aware that just two months into my time here in South Africa I had a groin in­jury?” he asks. “Then I was out for like three to four months. I know that peo­ple al­ways talk, you can­not con­trol what peo­ple say about you be­cause it is their choice to talk. I also heard some peo­ple say­ing ‘Zakri this and Zakri that’ but what I knew was im­por­tant was lis­ten­ing to the coach [Pitso Mosi­mane]. The coach told me he un­der­stands my sit­u­a­tion and

knows too well that my time is com­ing and all that I should do is just keep on work­ing very hard.”

With his maiden goal in the pocket,

Zakri would even­tu­ally end the month of May with five. It flushed away the voices of dis­con­tent that had ac­com­pa­nied any men­tion of his name. It sud­denly felt as if he had got­ten to the end of his long walk to free­dom and, a year into his ar­rival in the coun­try, he is able to pro­vide a sober re­flec­tion. Zakri says: “I am feel­ing well now. It is like be­ing lib­er­ated from the strug­gle, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing how dif­fi­cult it was for me when I first ar­rived. Right now all is well, all is good. “I am still work­ing my way up be­cause I am still learn­ing a lot of things. I want to do bet­ter than I have done be­fore and that means I will have to get my­self up. My con­fi­dence is by far much bet­ter now but to be hon­est I am yet to achieve what I re­ally want. You know that as a striker it is im­por­tant to have your con­fi­dence up all the time so I am glad I have that con­fi­dence in place now,” he em­pha­sises. Zakri doesn’t mince his words when talk­ing about how dif­fi­cult the switch from Ivory Coast to South Africa was for him. It was a time when peo­ple back home were not even ap­pre­cia­tive of the fact that he wasn’t head­ing out on the tra­di­tional route to Europe. Then there was the French ver­sus English lan­guage bar­rier. “You have to un­der­stand that this was all a new ex­pe­ri­ence for me. It was my first time play­ing out­side of Cote d’Ivoire, so it meant there were so many things that were new to me. New coun­try, new men­tal­ity, new lan­guage, new food, new club, new coach, new foot­ball and so for a soc­cer player it is not so easy to ad­just fast. But now I am feel­ing bet­ter be­cause I can un­der­stand my team­mates and all other peo­ple around the club, which is great. I feel like I am out of prison now. It is all these lit­tle things that peo­ple on the out­side don’t know that make dif­fer­ence to a foot­baller,” he high­lights with his com­mand of the Queen’s lan­guage so vastly im­proved that he even walks the streets alone nowa­days.

It then goes with­out say­ing that

ex­pec­ta­tions for his sec­ond sea­son with Sundowns will now spike. “For my sec­ond sea­son I want to do more than I did in my first year,” he ac­knowl­edges. What about more goals? “I am not talk­ing about just scor­ing goals but I want to help the team in many ways to­wards suc­cess,” Zakri says. “I don’t want to be scor­ing goals and the team is not do­ing well. I am not a foot­ball player who feels more im­por­tant in the team.” Though Zakri al­ready has the CAF Cham­pi­ons League and the CAF Su­per Cup Win­ner’s medals in his locker, he knows too well about his limited con­tri­bu­tion. In last year’s pre­mier African club com­pe­ti­tion, he was cup-tied, hav­ing fea­tured for ASEC in the same com­pe­ti­tion ear­lier in the sea­son and he was omit­ted from the match day squad for the one­off Su­per Cup against TP Mazembe. “Ev­ery player in this squad now has the ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing in the Cham­pi­ons League. Though I didn’t play for the club in this com­pe­ti­tion last year I also have the ex­pe­ri­ence and have the same high am­bi­tions that we will ul­ti­mately keep the tro­phy,” he con­cludes.

“NEW COUN­TRY, NEW MEN­TAL­ITY, NEW LAN­GUAGE, NEW FOOD, NEW CLUB, NEW COACH, NEW FOOT­BALL … IT IS NOT SO EASY TO AD­JUST FAST.”

(Be­low) Yan­nick Zakri fires a shot at goal against Baroka FC at Lof­tus Vers­feld.

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