Siphelele Nt­shangase

The mid­fielder looks re­born in the num­ber 10 jersey this sea­son and is tipped to en­joy a suc­cess­ful sea­son, with the player him­self ac­knowl­edg­ing what he has to do to achieve just that.

Kick Off - - INSIDE - to hap­pen. If he is se­ri­ous and keeps tak­ing his job se­ri­ously, then he will achieve what I am say­ing.” Papic is adamant that Nt­shangase is des­tined for even greater heights. “I said many years ago that he is go­ing to be a su­per star,” he says. “Every­thin

Siphelele “Stash” Nt­shangase was signed amid great ex­pec­ta­tion by Kaizer Chiefs in Jan­uary, but fell some­what short of his billing in his first six months at Na­turena, where he was re­stricted to a host of sub­sti­tute ap­pear­ances. Now play­ing reg­u­larly un­der a new coach in a dif­fer­ent sys­tem, will the play­maker prove to be the miss­ing cog Amakhosi have long­ingly yearned for in the mid­dle of the park? Love­more Moyo in­ves­ti­gates.

The creative cen­tral mid­field chal­lenges Kaizer Chiefs have faced since the de­par­ture of Reneilwe Let­sholonyane could fi­nally be over­come fol­low­ing the emer­gence, or rather the util­i­sa­tion, of Siphelele Nt­shangase this cam­paign. Nt­shangase can­not be de­scribed as “new” at Chiefs, hav­ing ar­rived at the be­gin­ning of the year after a short stint at Baroka, who he had joined from Black Leop­ards. What has how­ever been dif­fer­ent to his plight at Chiefs is his sud­den change of for­tune this term, where he has be­come a prom­i­nent fig­ure un­der new coach Gio­vanni Soli­nas as op­posed to his nu­mer­ous cameo ap­pear­ances as a mere sec­ond-half sub­sti­tute un­der pre­vi­ous coach Steve Kom­phela. The 25-year-old started ev­ery game Chiefs played up un­til the Septem­ber Fifa in­ter­na­tional break, prov­ing his qual­i­ties in his new role as the fetch-and-carry man in mid­field who pro­vides the link be­tween the de­fen­sive unit and strike­force of the team. He has played with flair, pro­vid­ing the pen­e­tra­tive balls that pop­u­larly be­came known as “cham­pagne passes” last sea­son, while still as­sist­ing de­fen­sively, track­ing back with­out the ball when needed. “I think it is all about con­fi­dence be­cause in foot­ball, the more you play, the more you gain con­fi­dence,” he re­sponds when quizzed about the dif­fer­ence in his play from the sea­son past. His new role means that while still fa­mil­iaris­ing him­self with mark­ing and know­ing how to keep the team’s shape, he re­mains the man car­ry­ing the pot from which he must feed Leonardo Cas­tro and Khama Bil­liat. Yet de­spite his much-im­proved per­for­mances, the Chiefs num­ber 10 feels he still has a lot more to give. “If you look at the num­bers, I had only two as­sists in the first five games,” he notes. “For me that is not nor­mal. If you had said five games and four as­sists, then I’d have been happy. When I go to train­ing, I al­ways want to im­prove. I en­joy my new role, but to ad­just has not been easy – when the coach told me to play as a num­ber eight, it was dif­fi­cult for me in the be­gin­ning, but I am now en­joy­ing it be­cause I can mark and I can at­tack which is some­thing that wasn’t there in my game be­fore. What was lack­ing in my game be­fore was my abil­ity to mark, so I think I have im­proved in that re­gard, and I am hop­ing to fix my fin­ish­ing as well.” Nt­shangase then de­tails his role fur­ther, high­light­ing how his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties have been made eas­ier by the con­tri­bu­tions of his team­mates. “When I play foot­ball there is never any pres­sure be­cause I know all the im­por­tant things I have to do,” he says.

"WHEN I PLAY FOOT­BALL THERE IS NEVER ANY PRES­SURE BE­CAUSE I KNOW ALL THE IM­POR­TANT THINGS I HAVE TO DO

“If we don’t have the ball, I have to de­fend and when we have it, I have to play. In terms of keep­ing the shape, some­times you will find that I am not in the right po­si­tion, so that is what I re­ally need to im­prove on. I am hop­ing that day by day I will im­prove. Cas­tro and Bil­liat make my job eas­ier be­cause ev­ery time I have the ball, both are al­ways avail­able to re­ceive it. The most im­por­tant thing for me is that when Wil­lard Kat­sande wins the ball, I must al­ways be there to pick up the sec­ond ball. My first op­tion from there then be­comes ei­ther Khama or Cas­tro, so it is that easy.” It is ev­i­dent that Soli­nas has been charmed by Nt­shangase, judg­ing by the be­lief he has shown in the former Leop­ards star by pluck­ing him off the bench and mould­ing him into a reg­u­lar starter. “Nt­shangase is a very good player, and we needed a mid­field player who could play in that po­si­tion. But he still needs to learn the de­fen­sive move­ments and needs to also fo­cus on his de­fen­sive job while play­ing closer to Kat­sande. I am sat­is­fied be­cause he has per­formed very well,” says the Ital­ian coach, who is also well aware of the need to prac­tice some level of pa­tience. “Last sea­son Nt­shangase was not play­ing and he was not an im­por­tant player for Kaizer Chiefs. This sea­son he is play­ing and play­ing well, very well for that mat­ter. He is a young player who has come from the First Di­vi­sion – the First Di­vi­sion is not the PSL. Kaizer Chiefs is an­other en­vi­ron­ment and an­other di­men­sion. He is a tal­ent, a good passer who is good cre­atively, so I am happy. The goal is com­ing for Nt­shangase – I am very sure about that.”

Al­most giv­ing up on foot­ball

Now a prom­i­nent name fea­tur­ing for one of the big­gest clubs on the con­ti­nent, it be­comes al­most in­ex­pli­ca­ble to re­call a time when Nt­shangase nearly gave up on foot­ball fol­low­ing his fail­ure to make it through the Mamelodi Sundowns de­vel­op­ment ranks. Worse was to fol­low as he then failed to win a con­tract at nei­ther Golden Ar­rows nor Thanda Royal Zulu, only to be res­cued by Kosta Papic fol­low­ing tri­als at then First Di­vi­sion side Black Leop­ards in Jan­uary 2014. Papic needed just half an hour to be con­vinced that he had found a gem. “He came for tri­als and I took him off after a few min­utes just so that I could ex­plain to him what was ex­pected of him should he go ahead and sign a con­tract with Leop­ards,” the Ser­bian coach, who was most re­cently at An­golan club Kabus­corp SC, re­calls. “He said, ‘No prob­lem coach, I will do that.’ “For me he is one of best tal­ents in South Africa at the mo­ment. The way he plays now and the way he re­sponded to my style of foot­ball is the rea­son why I rate him so highly. In my opin­ion he should have joined one of the ‘big five’ a lot ear­lier than he did.” For all his tal­ent though, Nt­shangase would still play three-and-a-half years in the NFD be­fore break­ing into South Africa’s top tier. “You know it is a dif­fer­ent story when you are play­ing for Black Leop­ards after hav­ing come from nowhere, and then you be­come a big star,” Papic con­tin­ues. “If you re­mem­ber cor­rectly, he only signed for us in Jan­uary and in June he was play­ing for the na­tional Un­der-23 team which is an amaz­ing achieve­ment. I al­ways said that it would have been good for him to have moved ear­lier. When I heard that he had signed for Chiefs, I told one of my friends that he is the next su­per star in South Africa, and it is still go­ing

WHEN I LOOK AT HIS GAMES KNOW­ING WHAT HE IS CA­PA­BLE OF DO­ING HE IS FAR FROM HIS BEST

THERE IS NO DOUBT HE WILL REACH SU­PER STAR STA­TUS, HE CAN STILL GO AND PLAY IN EUROPE

Chiefs stag­na­tion

The coach who then worked with “Stash” in the sea­son he ended up break­ing into Bafana Bafana in March 2015 was Zeca Mar­ques. The former Leop­ards, Moroka Swal­lows and San­tos coach says he found a tal­ent merely wait­ing to be un­locked in a sea­son in which the stylish mid­fielder reached dou­ble fig­ures on the scor­ing charts. “I saw a player with huge po­ten­tial, a player that with the right di­rec­tion, right vi­sion and right hu­man con­nec­tion, I re­alised could be able to trans­form,” Mar­ques says. “In him I also found a player who was ea­ger to learn to get to the next stage in his ca­reer. So when I went there [to Leop­ards] I was able to un­lock the tal­ent that he had. “Abil­ity-wise he al­ways had that X-fac­tor, with the plus be­ing that he was dis­ci­plined, hard­work­ing, al­ways ea­ger to try new things and above ev­ery­thing else, al­ways ea­ger to play for the team.” In his hon­est opin­ion, how­ever, Mar­ques feels the Chiefs mid­fielder has slowed down in his progress. “I think he has stag­nated,” his former coach says. “I don’t work with him ev­ery day so it is dif­fi­cult for me to say why. Hav­ing watched him play for Baroka and Chiefs, he is far from the player he was at Leop­ards. Play­ers like him need to be emo­tion­ally chal­lenged on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. When I look at his games know­ing what he is ca­pa­ble of do­ing, he is far from his best. I can­not blame him be­cause as a coach, you must take play­ers to the next level and if you don’t do that, then they will stag­nate. “The en­vi­ron­ment at Leop­ards was con­ducive for him to per­form well. Leop­ards had good chem­istry within the team and there was hum­ble­ness in that team. The en­vi­ron­ment that you play in makes a big dif­fer­ence and I think that is why he flour­ished at Leop­ards where he was sur­rounded by col­leagues who were hum­ble, ea­ger to work and who had a com­mon vi­sion. No one was ar­ro­gant. No one was above the team and he thrived in that en­vi­ron­ment be­cause ev­ery­one had a com­mon vi­sion. He has now en­tered a big­ger en­vi­ron­ment where there are plenty fish big­ger than him. The en­vi­ron­ment is a key in­gre­di­ent to suc­cess.” The over­bear­ing ques­tion on the Amakhosi faith­ful’s minds is whether or not the tal­ented mid­fielder will live up to his ex­pec­ta­tions at Na­turena. And an­other former coach be­lieves he’s on the right track. “He al­ways wants to buy into the in­struc­tions he is given and if he is go­ing to add his own in­put, he will first ask you as a coach. He is al­ways keen to come up with so­lu­tions when­ever there are prob­lems,” says Nt­shangase’s former coach Sello Chokoe, who is now in charge of Lim­popo-based First Di­vi­sion club Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila. “The best thing about him is that he loves foot­ball and en­joys play­ing his nat­u­ral foot­ball. He is a player who you might not al­ways get the best out of be­cause he likes to try take a lot of ini­tia­tive him­self. I think Chiefs is play­ing him in the right po­si­tion, con­sid­er­ing he is not the most mo­bile of play­ers. Some coaches pre­fer a num­ber 10 who will run around, yet Nt­shangase is more of a good passer who will feed the strik­ers. When he comes from deep, he is the kind of player who can make the team play. “It will help them dom­i­nate games when he plays where he is be­ing played now. You need play­ers like Nt­shangase to make play move flu­ently when you are start­ing from the back be­cause he is al­ways im­me­di­ately avail­able in mid­field, so it doesn’t take long to get into the at­tack­ing third. When played deep he can still pro­vide the clever passes from range and when he joins late, he is still key in mak­ing the fi­nal passes to open up op­po­nents. His vi­sion is ex­cep­tional. Don’t ex­pect him to score goals be­cause he is more of a provider, but he does that in­tel­li­gently.” The pres­sure and ex­pec­ta­tions at a club such as Chiefs is some­thing Nt­shangase would not have ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore, yet Chokoe feels the mid­fielder has what it takes to thrive. “It is ex­pected that when you play for a team of Chiefs’ cal­i­bre, this pres­sure will come nat­u­rally un­for­tu­nately,” he says. “But he has all the abil­ity to cope with what­ever is ex­pected of him to make the team tick. With time he will ex­cel and what needs to be un­der­stood is that since there is a new coach, this will be a process. I think he will live up to ex­pec­ta­tions. Nt­shangase is suited to Chiefs be­cause this is a club that al­ways en­joys pos­ses­sion which then al­lows him to play his nat­u­ral game. Where he is now suits him bet­ter be­cause this is a team that at­tacks more tthan it de­fends. I have also been im­pressed by his hard work in drop­ping deep to de­fend when the team loses pos­ses­sion. I think he will def­i­nitely be one of the best play­ers in the league – it is just a mat­ter of time.”

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