The former Orlando Pirates captain reveals all about the difficult last few months at Mayfair, and what he’s looking forward to most at new club Mamelodi Sundowns
Oupa Manyisa doesn’t mince his words when admitting joining Mamelodi Sundowns was necessitated by his desire to avoid sinking deeper into the comfort zone he had become sucked into at Orlando Pirates where game-time was always guaranteed. The midfielder insists he is up to all the challenges that are now facing him at Sundowns – breaking into the first team, raising his game to levels previously reached after a rough ride at the tail end of his Bucs stay, winning trophies and getting back to Bafana Bafana. KICK OFF: Oupa, you have continued to defy your family’s choices by joining Mamelodi Sundowns, which must be irritating for them ... Oupa Manyisa:
[Laughing] At home no one supports Sundowns or Pirates. They all support Chiefs. It is like I am fighting against them, but I told them that this is part of life. They cannot choose where I should go. The people at home ask me why I didn’t go to Chiefs, but I told them I am fine where I am. They keep asking why I keep going to all the rival teams they don’t like, and in response I tell them to keep supporting the team they like while I do a job where I am employed. This is a job.
Does it feel a bit awkward having made this move after nine years at Orlando Pirates? We still remember the day you made your debut against Golden Arrows on August 30, 2008 ...
I am very happy to be doing what I love, which is playing. A lot of things have happened since then, both good and bad, yet the only thing that keeps me going is my family. They always keep encouraging me because they love me unconditionally. I grew up in a family that plays football, so this game is in my blood.
Since your debut, you worked under eleven different coaches at club level. How was that for you, and what have you learnt?
It is all about listening to the coaches, because I have never behaved like a person who knows everything. I am the kind of person who wants to learn every day. I first worked under Owen [Da Gama] and up to now I am still learning. Owen is a coach that loves football and loves players that work very hard. With him it was all about hard work and that principle has stuck with me up to this day.
Part of your growth included playing as a right-back during your early days in the PSL. How did you feel about that positional change?
That was the time when Ruud Krol was the coach at Pirates. He told me straight to my face that yes, I could play football, but there was something lacking in my game, which was defending. He then switched me to right-back. I took it as a learning process because I knew I was a player who only wanted to play when I had the ball at my feet. I didn’t want to track back at all. After he played me at right-back I could feel the changes in my game, and I am glad to say it was an experience that benefited me.
You joined Pirates from the Africa Sport Youth Development Academy as a teenager at the beginning of 2008. How did it feel leaving Pirates after so long?
It was emotional, but I told myself that this is part of football and I needed to go somewhere and work. How could I not be emotional about leaving Pirates when I had spent my entire professional career there? It is like I had spent all my life there. I came there as a young boy and they taught me a lot of things about football and life in general.
Why did you leave Pirates?
I wanted to go somewhere and compete because I felt like I was sinking into a comfort zone at Pirates. I was too comfortable and needed a new challenge because in life you must constantly challenge yourself to gauge your true progress and how far you can go. Coming to Sundowns was the challenge I needed because I was too comfortable at Pirates.
So you were comfortable at Pirates in the sense that you knew you were going to play?
Something like that! How do you deal with knowing that yes, I am going to training and come weekend, I am guaranteed to play? Where does the motivation then come from? For me it wasn’t that nice because at the end of the day I could see that there
were other guys coming behind me wanting to play. I then sat down and told myself that maybe it was time I go and compete elsewhere and give some other guys the chance to play.
You are no longer in that comfort zone here at Sundowns?
No, not anymore. I have to work for my place.
Do you feel that you are being challenged to bring out your best yet again?
Most definitely! I feel I am being challenged yet again.
This move to Sundowns was initially on the cards at the beginning of 2015 and came as a shocker when it finally happened now with Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza making the surprise announcement on the day he also confirmed Milutin Sredojevic as the new coach…
This one happened between the two club presidents [Irvin Khoza and Patrice Motsepe]. Those are the only two people that knew what happened behind closed doors. Some things in life you don’t have control over.
What really happened Oupa? You should have already had some kind of discussions with the Iron Duke about the possibility of leaving ...
As I said, it was a meeting between the two club presidents. I think the chairman [Khoza] saw that there was something I needed in life and I also told him that I needed a challenge … so that is how everything went. I never approached the chairman to ask him to let me go. We were always talking, as a father and child speak, which is when I made him aware that I needed a new challenge. As you know, he is a good man. He loves protecting his players and so when I told him, I think he went back home and thought about it. You need to understand that he and I were always talking. It is not like we spoke on that one particular occasion and then ‘boom’, it led to this. If ever there was something which didn’t sit well with me I was always able to go and see him. I hope you understand this father-and-son kind of chat.
What has been the response from the Pirates fans considering the kind of jibes they threw at you towards the end of your stay at the club?
Most of them keep asking me why I left and I always tell them the truth, that in life you have to challenge yourself and that you must never ever get too comfortable where you are because you will never know what might happen the following day. Some of them are fine it while some pretend as if they are fine. But there is nothing more I can do now because life goes on.
How different is the vibe here at Sundowns in comparison to Pirates?
There is not much of a difference because I know most of the guys as we played against each other before, while I have been with others in the national team. To be honest, there has not been much of a difference and it hasn’t been difficult for me.
You mean being at a different club for the first time in your professional career hasn’t felt awkward?
There is nothing you can do when this happens. You cannot be attached to the past when there is still so much to work for. You can’t be complaining and comparing when you still have to wake up the next day and go to work. A job is a job at the end of the day.
What has Pitso Mosimane told you, considering he has wanted you at Chloorkop for a while now?
The coach told me that I have to come and play football. He said I need to be free because football is something that I love. What most people don’t know is that he was the first coach to take me to Bafana Bafana, which is important to me. It shows he has been tracking my career all along. I really don’t know what happened on the previous occasions. What I heard was that the two clubs were talking to each other, and I don’t know what happened in the end. So I stayed and it didn’t affect me in any way.
You are turning 30 next year … how much did that influence your decision in
“I FELT LIKE I WAS SINKING INTO A COMFORT ZONE AT PIRATES.”
“I HAVEN’T FINISHED WHAT I STARTED.”
making this big move?
Age is just a number, as long as you are taking care of your body and you know what you want in life.
You won every domestic trophy during your time at Pirates, but then missed out on both the Champions League and Confederation Cup. Do you feel you had reached the ceiling at Pirates in terms of local trophies?
There was still something to achieve at Pirates because you never get satisfied of winning trophies as a footballer. Every game we played, we still wanted to win it. Football is not about what you won in the past, but rather what is still there to be won. I am glad I now have this challenge of pushing to win again here at a different club. I still want to win all the trophies I won with Pirates here at Sundowns. As footballers we always dream about winning trophies and I am no different; the reason we wake up and come to training is because we want to win trophies.
Describe the challenge of captaining Pirates through the difficult period the club went through over the last year?
It wasn’t a nice feeling, but the only thing that we told ourselves was to keep soldiering on. It wasn’t a nice feeling because most of the guys were looking up to me for solutions and would come to me and ask ‘what is happening?’. I would then tell them that this is all part of football so they need to be strong as everything will eventually come right.
Had the load of also being captain at Pirates become too heavy to carry for you?
Personally my performance wasn’t really affected. Wearing the armband was a way of showing that on the field I was the one who had to talk to the referee. For me I considered all of us on the field as captains because we were all playing.
The negative criticism that rained on you towards the end of your stay at Pirates cannot be ignored. What was really happening?
I was prepared t take those bullets for the sake of the team. I am never one to shy away from taking responsibility. I was never bothered about the criticism because I took it on the chin. My teammates used to ask me how I managed to wake up in the morning and still go to training when people were talking like that. I would tell my teammates that I would take the bullets for them all because this is football. One day it will be someone else who must also do the same thing as a leader. If you are a leader, you cannot chicken out and say you are not going to the game because people are criticising you. That would be wrong. What about the other guys? How are they going to react if you show signs of giving in?
Did you feel your game had dropped from the standards that you had set at your peak, having made 196 appearances in five years at Pirates?
The fans forgot that I got injured for about a year, yet they still expected me to then come back and give them even more. I tried my best and was coming back slowly, but people wanted to see the same person that they had seen before. So psychologically it can mess your mind up if you allow it. Mind-set is very crucial in football, but luckily for me, when I arrived at Pirates, I fell into the hands of Joseph Makhanya and Gerald Modabi who both told me I needed to be strong in football. They told me I shouldn’t show my weaknesses because people will jump on my back, but rather keep pushing to give a better performance until I came right.
How do you feel about the way your international career has progressed since you broke into the senior team six years ago?
What can I say really? I am fine. For now I am okay, but I haven’t finished what I started. I will still be going back. I am not done yet with the national team. I will still be doing more for the national team but for nownow, just let me work here t the club first. I will be back.
Above: KICK OFF journalist, Lovemore Moyo, speaks to Manyisa after a Sundowns training session.
MANYISA’S ORLANDO PIRATES CAREER: 234 starts, 30 goals HONOURS: 2010/11, 2011/12 Premier Soccer League champion; 2011, 2014 Nedbank Cup winner; 2011 MTN8 winner; 2011 Telkom Knockout winner