Still leading from the front after all these years …
Even at the age of 32, with a long list of accolades, “Shabba” is still inspired to achieve more in his career – the same way Henry did at English Premier League club Arsenal and later at Spanish La Liga giants Barcelona. Tshabalala, like the World Cupwinning Henry, is a winner but what’s even more special about him is that he has never walked around thinking he was a star or that he was bigger than the Chiefs brand. It never ends well for anyone who does. You’d just have to go back to the Carling Black Label Cup against Orlando Pirates in July when, about an hour before the match, Tshabalala waved and acknowledged the Amakhosi supporters seated all around the FNB Stadium during the traditional pitch inspection, while some of his teammates had their headphones on listening to music and others took “selfies”. He was not even part of the match day squad because of injury, but he felt it necessary to go out with the team on the pitch to greet supporters, as if to say “we will bounce back this season”.
At the Chiefs awards in May,
Tshabalala accepted his player of the season gong and made a promise to chairman Kaizer Motaung that they would deliver a title this season. He’s like the Steven Gerrard of Kaizer Chiefs – he is all about representing the name in front of the jersey. It’s one of the many reasons he is adored by the Amakhosi faithful, because he is not just a Chiefs player, but a die-hard fan who feels the pain of the club’s followers when things are not going well. “Playing football is a special gift and you don’t just play football for the fun of it. You must get there, make a name for yourself, you must win trophies with the club and then there’s individual awards. But most importantly, you must touch lives. I want to have an impact, without even talking. “I am still the same Siphiwe who was raised in Phiri [Soweto] with respect. I have been with Chiefs for over 10 years, but I am still not used to the environment. I respect the environment, I respect everyone including the chairman.”
It says a lot about Tshabalala that,
even though Amakhosi ended a second straight season without a trophy to put in the cabinet last term, he walked away with quite a number of individual awards, including the Chiefs player of the year, their top scorer for the season as well as Absa Premiership goal of the season for his stunner against Free State Stars. That’s been the story of Tshabalala
throughout his whole time at Chiefs, giving his best in the good and bad times. In fact, there are some Amakhosi supporters who are already calling him a legend, but it’s an honour he feels he does not deserve yet. “I don’t want to be better alone. I want to be better with the team. I’m still hungry. The only time I will relax is when I am done playing football. That will be the day when I can say ‘I gave my best’, but until I am done, I will keep going. I can play until I am 40 because this is what I love. This is a calling. I eat well and I live a healthy life. “I will only accept legendary status once I have retired. Even Henry said I am a legend. It was great to hear a person of that stature saying that to me. But I still want to push, win trophies and help others. I am not a legend yet.” There’ll be a lot of pressure on Chiefs this season and supporters will not accept any excuses for a third consecutive campaign without a trophy to brag about to rival supporters. This is, after all, what supporters live for, to get an opportunity to brag at the office, at the gym or at a local car wash about their team’s success.
And as Amakhosi take on the
challenge of winning silverware, they know that they’ve got a lot of people relying on them to end the pain of the last two seasons. It’s actually quite strange for Tshabalala that Chiefs have gone two season without a trophy. It’s the longest he has gone without silverware at the club and he misses that feeling of lifting a trophy in front of thousands of supporters. Shabba says: “We need to work hard, show unity, show commitment, win games and mostly important win trophies. If my memory serves me well, this is the longest I have gone without a trophy. “Just recently I was talking about that when I had my [Siphiwe Tshabalala Foundation] tournament. When I handed over the trophy to the captain of the winning team, I said ‘that’s the best moment in football’. It can be the Maize Cup, the Carling Black Label or amateur level, but that’s the best feeling. “We have learnt from the past seasons and this is another opportunity for us. We cannot say we are targeting one [trophy]. We have to compete for everything that’s on offer.”
Chiefs have not been as ruthless as
their title rivals Mamelodi Sundowns and Bidvest Wits in the transfer market. Sundowns brought in Oupa Manyisa, George Lebese and Ghana’s number one goalkeeper Razak Brimah, while Wits have acquired the services of former Bafana Bafana captain Steven Pienaar as well as Daylon Claasen. Chiefs signed Philani Zulu, Teenage Hadebe, Dumisani Zuma and Bhongolwethu Jayiya. “We can [win the league],” Tshabalala says. “We have a good team. We have good signings and there’s good competition in the team, but we must play as a team. Jayiya had a great season with Cape Town City. He’s experienced, so he will add value. Philani Zulu was one of the key players at Maritzburg. We believe he will help us. Teenage Hadebe trained with us and you could see from the first day that the commitment and hunger is there.” What let Chiefs down last season was their inconsistency. They let themselves down in matches they should have won, conceding late goals as they dropped valuable points towards the end of the season.
This season, Tshabalala says,
Chiefs need to be ruthless in front of goal and be as tight at the back as they were when they last won the league in 2014/2015. During that season under the tutelage of now Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter, veteran defender Tefu Mashamaite was solid at the back and provided proper guidance
to Mulomowandau Mathoho, who also had a fantastic season. Since Mashamaite’s departure, Chiefs have struggled at the back and need to make major improvements to have a shot of dethroning Wits as league champions. Upfront, Gustavo Paez (see page 12) has showed promise and many of the Amakhosi faithful are hoping he can be the man to bang in those goals to lead them to success. “We need to be ruthless and convert those chances,” he says. “We play good football, but if you play good football and don’t win games, then there’s no justice there. We had a bad season and we learnt the hard way last season, so we need to convert chances and score as many goals as we can. “Also, we need to concede less at the back. We need to have a strong defence. As they say, a strong attack wins you games and a strong defence wins you championships.”
(Below) Tshabalala makes a run for Chiefs against SuperSport United during the MTN8 quarter-final.