Siphiwe Tsha­bal­ala

Still lead­ing from the front af­ter all these years …

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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.

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