Fitting in at Mamelodi Sundowns has not been easy
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.