The new Ajax Cape Town captain talks about his new role, and how his forgetful debut Bafana Bafana call-up helped shape who he is today
Ahead of his sixth season in the Ajax Cape Town first team, former Urban Warriors youth player Mosa Lebusa was handed the captain’s armband – a prestigious honour very few achieve across their professional careers. Speaking to KICK OFF’s Fabio De Dominicis, the talented defender speaks about his new role, while opening up about some of the difficulties he has overcome which has made him the leader he is today.
During their Grade 11 school holidays in 2009, two young and excited Dinonyana FC footballers decided to take the lengthy 1 200km journey from Welkom to Cape Town in an attempt to follow their footballing dreams. Ajax Cape Town were hosting open trials, with the duo not letting a day’s travel across the country deter them from pursuing their goals. One of those youngsters was a certain Mosa Lebusa. “I remember we stayed in Cape Town with a friend from back home,” the 24-year-old recalls. “We trialled, after which they said I should come back again for a second time. So I returned a month later, and when they saw me the second time, they said I had to stay for a week. For that week I came alone, so it was a bit different.” Lebusa’s talent was evident from the start, and after just two days of training, the 16-year-old was signed by the Cape club. Fast forward eight years, five first team seasons and 112 official starts later, and the soft-spoken, level-headed defender was unveiled as the new club captain at the start of the 2017/18 campaign. Lebusa describes how his announcement came about. “The coach called me into his office during pre-season and asked me how I would feel if he made me captain,” he reveals. “I replied saying I didn’t know as I had never given it much thought, and that was it. “A few days later he called me into a meeting, told me he wanted to make me captain and asked if I was up for it. I said yes. There was a lot going through my mind at that point, knowing I was now captain and now had to lead the team, take responsibility and be an example, but I accepted it. “It means a lot to me. It’s a challenge, but I’m ready for it. I know it won’t be easy, it’ll be tough, but I am hoping everything will go well as captain, and I hope the team will do well.” Lebusa admits the new role has taken some getting used to as he tries to keep his troops in check, while simultaneously cleaning up his act as well. “In this team we have a lot of loose cannons,” he laughs. “In previous seasons I was even one of them! Now it’s a different ball game, and I have to control some of those loose cannons. Some of the guys don’t understand it though, and tell me, ‘Dude, come on! Just last year you were also doing this, now you’re on the other side!’. So that’s a bit of a challenge for me, but once we step onto the field it’s different, and everyone knows what work they have to do.” But the 24-year-old insists he is not a changed man since donning the armband as he remains determined to stay true to himself. “I’m a quiet guy, and not that outspoken,” he acknowledges. “If I see someone doing something wrong, I will take them to the side and talk to them personally instead of standing in front of everyone and making a noise about it. I don’t think I’ve changed in my new role – I’m still myself. “I try not to think about being captain when I’m on the pitch – as much as I know I am, I try to put it out my mind and play my normal game, which will make me a better player.” Taking up a role of authority often leads to estranged relationships with former friends, but the new skipper is happy to report that this has not been the case so far at Ikamva. “My teammates are still the same, and treat me the same way they did before,” he says. “When they see me, I feel they don’t look at me as ‘captain’ but as a teammate. I wouldn’t want them to see me any other way.” The role however means Lebusa cannot only think for himself on the pitch, but his ten teammates as well, who he has to manage, instruct and motivate the whole
game – an aspect which he admits has been challenging so far. “During the game when chips are down and the team is not doing well, you have to get the guys’ spirits up, which is very difficult if you are not having a good game yourself,” he says. “As a captain you have to dig deep and keep motivating your teammates and yourself as well, which is quite hard. “Luckily the guys understand their roles on the pitch, so as much as I have to try control all of them, they also know it’s not just me that will have to tell them something – they also take responsibility. We are all captains, the only difference is that only one is allowed to wear the armband.” The talented left-back draws strength in such situations from a difficult personal experience where he had to bounce back after a disastrous debut call-up for the national team.
A consistent performer for Ajax, and on the back of winning the 2015 MTN8 title – his only piece of silverware to date – Lebusa was included in the Bafana Bafana squad for two international friendlies against Costa Rica and Honduras. After a shaky debut against the Costa Ricans, in which he featured for 60 minutes before making way for Mzikayise Mashaba, the then 23-year-old started against the Hondurans five days later. A nervy start, coupled with an error that led to Erick Andino’s equaliser to cancel out Erick Mathoho’s eighth minute opener, resulted in coach Shakes Mashaba hauling the left-back off after just 16 minutes, ending a forgettable debut tour to Central America. “Luckily it happened away from home in a different time zone, so most people were asleep and not watching the game,” a subdued Lebusa reflects. “The toughest part was when I had to explain it to my family, when they asked me what happened. At that time I was not in a good space.” Lebusa admits it lead to a difficult period in his young career, which took a while to bounce back from, but chooses to look at the positives from his only two international appearances to date. “I’ve moved away from that now,
“THE TOUGHEST PART WAS WHEN I HAD TO EXPLAIN IT TO MY FAMILY, WHEN THEY ASKED ME WHAT HAPPENED.”
and put it past me,” he says. “It’s beyond me now … it was a good experience – well, the first game obviously. Being there was a good experience, and then the second game … it happens. It took me a while to forget about it, but now I am over it. “It was nice – you get to play with the best players in the country, and weigh yourself against international players. It was an amazing experience, and one I’d love to get again. Should it happen, I’ll grab the opportunity with both hands.” ha Having not received a call up since, Lebusa is d diplomatic in his reasons for being shunned, while insisting there is no bad blood between himself and then-coach Mashaba. “I think everyone who has been called up since did extremely well at their respective clubs and deserved it,” he states. “From my side, my team hasn’t been doing too well, so I don’td feel it was harsh not getting called up. “I’ve got nothing against coach Shakes. He did what he had to – at that time he felt like he needed to take me off, and he did. There was nothing I could do about it. “But I’d love to return to Bafana Bafana, and if it happens I’d grab the opportunity.” After some introspection following his calamitous call-up, Lebusa acknowledged he may have to re-think his approach to dealing with problems now that he has a whole club squad to look after. “I don’t like talking about my problems to others … so I think the reason why it took a while to get over was because I kept it to myself,” he reveals. “I didn’t really look for help, but just kept it all to myself and hoped it would disappear on its own. “I’m the type of person that likes to deal with my own problems, and don’t like passing my problems on. But maybe I will learn to change that as time goes on.”
Lebusa poses during an Ajax Cape Town press conference at Cape Town Stadium.