Siphiwe Tsha­bal­ala

The Kaizer Chiefs stal­wart has fi­nally earned a move abroad, and opens up about the sur­pris­ing switch and the dif­fi­cult end to his ca­reer at Na­turena.

Kick Off - - INSIDE -

When Siphiwe Tsha­bal­ala’s pro­posed move to Not­ting­ham For­rest in 2011 fell through, many thought the player’s dream of play­ing in Europe was over. But at the age of 33, the mid­fielder caught al­most ev­ery­one by sur­prise when he signed a two-year con­tract with newly-pro­moted Turk­ish Premier League side BB Erzu­rum­spor. Speak­ing to KICK OFF’s Zola Doda from Turkey, “Shabba” talks about his ar­rival in his new sur­round­ings while re­flect­ing on the highs and lows at Kaizer Chiefs.

KICK OFF: Shabba, thanks a lot for tak­ing time out of your busy sched­ule to talk to us. How are things at your new home in Turkey?

Siphiwe Tsha­bal­ala: Ev­ery­thing is sharp my man, even the weather is good. When I ar­rived here, I re­ceived such a nice re­cep­tion. Ever since there was in­ter­est from Turkey, when­ever I opened my phone I used to get mes­sages from sup­port­ers from Erzu­rum­spor beg­ging me to come this side. They used to ask me to come to Turkey all the time, so I knew that when I fi­nally ar­rived, they would be wait­ing at the air­port. The day I ar­rived, they gave me a big wel­come and even fol­lowed our car from the air­port to the train­ing cen­tre. It was crazy – they were driv­ing along­side our car, and it looked al­most like a wed­ding be­cause there was a mas­sive con­voy. They were even hang­ing out­side their car win­dows – it was un­be­liev­able.

This hap­pened im­me­di­ately after you landed?

Yes. I knew the club fans were ex­pect­ing me be­cause they were very ex­cited. They used to check what was go­ing on in terms of de­vel­op­ments and if I was still com­ing or not. That’s how they cre­ated the hype.

This move to Europe hap­pened very late in your ca­reer though ...

I feel great my man, it’s a bless­ing. It’s a dream come true and I’m just grate­ful my dream has fi­nally been re­alised. What I ap­pre­ci­ate the most is that there was re­spect shown in this move, in a sense that the club val­ued me. They showed re­spect to Kaizer Chiefs, as they wanted me and were will­ing to sign me im­me­di­ately with­out a trial, and there was a trans­fer [fee] as well. So it was a big deal. It showed they were se­ri­ous. At times [busi­ness man­ager] Jazzman [Mahlak­gane] would be on his phone at 1am, mak­ing con­fer­ence calls and talk­ing to them. I think Jazzman de­serves a lot of credit for pulling this one off. He re­ally de­serves it, hav­ing pulled off some­thing so great for one of his play­ers.

When your move to Europe didn’t hap­pen after the 2010 World Cup, did you ever ex­pect an op­por­tu­nity like this would ever come up again in your ca­reer?

After the 2010 World Cup I was ex­cited, pos­i­tive and hope­ful that a move to Europe would def­i­nitely hap­pen be­cause there were plenty of of­fers. I re­mem­ber one time

my­self and Itume­leng Khune were do­ing a pho­to­shoot in Sand­ton and we bumped into then Arse­nal coach Arsene Wenger. We had a good chat with him, he com­ple­mented us about the great tour­na­ment and the goal I scored against Mex­ico and wished me well. He told me that he be­lieved there was in­ter­est from Paris Saint-Ger­main in France, say­ing it was a good club. There was an­other of­fer from Turkey and many oth­ers too, but noth­ing hap­pened in the end. I was dis­ap­pointed, but I didn’t blame any­one, and just car­ried on play­ing while re­main­ing fo­cused on my job. In 2011 I went to Not­ting­ham For­est in Eng­land and had a good trial there. Ev­ery­one at the club knew who I was and the play­ers were happy to see me. After one train­ing ses­sion they were al­ready ask­ing if I was sign­ing. After my sec­ond train­ing ses­sion, three or four play­ers wanted to give me a lift to my ho­tel. It showed how much they wanted me, but again noth­ing hap­pened there.

Were you dis­ap­pointed that noth­ing hap­pened?

Yes, I was dis­ap­pointed, but on the other hand I was happy be­cause I was still play­ing for a big team like Kaizer Chiefs – it’s not as if I was club-less. I was play­ing for a team that ap­pre­ci­ated me and I was part of the na­tional team. That did not break me. I went to Crys­tal Palace and the same thing hap­pened, and even Kag­isho [Dik­ga­coi] who was there at the time can at­test to the fact that I had a good trial. I was told the coach wanted me, but the bud­get was tight. I was then asked if I was keen to sign a pre-con­tract for X-amount be­cause it was Jan­uary and I had six months left on my con­tract with Chiefs. I had a choice to make, but I de­cided I could not be­tray Chiefs. I told Crys­tal Palace that if they se­ri­ously wanted me, they should talk to Chiefs and pay a fee, and then I would join. I couldn’t sign a pre-con­tract be­hind Chiefs’ back. I went back home, and I had a chat with the chair­man [Kaizer Mo­taung] and I re­newed my con­tract with Chiefs.

After those deals fell through, how did you mo­ti­vate your­self to keep go­ing?

I prayed and worked hard. I’m a be­liever and I vi­su­alise things. My faith kept me go­ing. I came to a point in my life and ca­reer where I felt it would be great if it hap­pened, but if it didn’t, I would still be happy. I would still be at Chiefs. I would still be grate­ful that God gave an op­por­tu­nity to do what I love and em­power peo­ple through my tal­ent.

What is the most chal­leng­ing thing about play­ing for the same club for 12 years?

It’s not easy. Peo­ple think when you stay at one club for a long time you are guar­an­teed a place, but that is not the case. In my 12 years at Kaizer Chiefs I worked with about four to five dif­fer­ent coaches and I was al­ways pro­fes­sional and gave my best at train­ing. I knew I was a top player at the club and if I didn’t work hard, it would have been dis­re­spect­ful to those who looked up to me. In train­ing and even in friendly games I had to do my best. I never missed train­ing at Chiefs or Free State Stars, ex­cept for when I had a bad in­jury or we were given a day off. It was never be­cause I was tired or I over-slept, never. I was al­ways there.

Were you scared you would lose your place in the team if you didn’t pull your weight?

To be frank with you, I know this ca­reer can make or break you. To­day you can be a su­per­star and to­mor­row a statis­tic, hence I was al­ways at my best. I wanted the club to bring in qual­ity play­ers so that there was al­ways com­pe­ti­tion and I could up my game. I’m proud to say that when­ever things were go­ing well or not go­ing well, I was the first to go and speak to Bobby [Mo­taung] and ask him, ‘Hey boss, what do you think about that player from that club? Don’t you think he can help us?’ I did that with the likes of Tsepo Masilela, Bernard Parker and Mor­gan Gould, and some who shared the same po­si­tion as me. I wouldn’t just ask Bobby to sign de­fend­ers and goal­keep­ers be­cause they were not play­ing in the same po­si­tion as me. I even spoke to him and Jazzman about [Siphelele] Nt­shangase com­ing to Chiefs when he was still at Black Leop­ards. I told Jazzman that this boy had to come to Chiefs, and he did. There are lots of play­ers play­ing for Chiefs be­cause I pushed and saw their po­ten­tial of ad­ding value to the club.

You were also good friends with Reneilwe Let­sholonyane. How tough was it when he joined Su­per­Sport United?

My­self and “Yeye” have come a long way; I think in 2002 we played at the KwaMahlobo Games when he was at PJ Stars, and that is where I met him. He was the best player

in his team and I was the best player in my team. When I later joined Free State Stars, he went to Jomo Cos­mos and later on we went to Chiefs. We had a great com­bi­na­tion, and be­came good friends. Even now we are still best friends and busi­ness part­ners. I was sad to see him leave for Su­per­Sport, but I re­spected his de­ci­sion and sup­ported him as a friend and a brother. But I want him to come back to Chiefs. That’s his home. He left the club on good terms and the club gave him their bless­ing, so he is still one of us.

Dur­ing the pe­riod with Stu­art Bax­ter, what made Chiefs so suc­cess­ful com­pared to now?

Be­fore Stu­art’s ar­rival, we were strug­gling a bit. When he came, that’s when guys like Erick Mathoho joined, and Tsepo and Tefu Mashamaite stepped up. Bax­ter brought about a cer­tain struc­ture and iden­tity, and when­ever we played, you could see that a team was play­ing. His struc­ture and prin­ci­ples were there, and we had to just add our own in­di­vid­ual bril­liance to help the team. That is how we were suc­cess­ful and won lots of tro­phies.

What is your best mo­ment with Kaizer Chiefs?

I have so many great mo­ments. It was al­ways my dream to join Kaizer Chiefs, and I could have joined them the first time I suf­fered rel­e­ga­tion with Free State Stars as Bobby kept call­ing me. But at that time I felt I was not ready, so I went down with Stars to the NFD in­stead. After the first half of that sea­son, I had a meet­ing with the chair­man of Free State Stars [Mike Mokoena] and he thanked me for my con­tri­bu­tion and told me it was time I went to a big­ger team in Joburg. I ac­tu­ally could have joined Bid­vest Wits – I went there for a meet­ing with Jazzman, but I wanted to go to Chiefs. The meet­ing didn’t go well, and Jazzman called Stars to tell them we couldn’t agree per­sonal terms with Wits. But later that day Jazzman told me that Mokoena had agreed a deal with Chiefs, and I was so happy be­cause that is what I wanted – whether Chiefs gave me R1 000 or R5 000, I was just happy to be go­ing there. We went to Na­turena, and they showed me the con­tract and I was happy. That was in the morn­ing, but I didn’t sign im­me­di­ately be­cause I wanted to speak to my par­ents first. Both of them were Pi­rates sup­port­ers, but after speak­ing to them, they gave me their bless­ing. I went back to Chiefs in the af­ter­noon, signed the deal and I was happy to be a Khosi. That was the high­light. And, of course, win­ning tro­phies and per­sonal ac­co­lades, and reach­ing so many mile­stones.

What was the low­est point?

The day after I signed for the club, I had a med­i­cal and that is when they dis­cov­ered that my knee was not okay and it re­quired an op­er­a­tion. That was a shock to me be­cause I’d never had an op­er­a­tion be­fore and there I was, go­ing un­der the knife. I was dev­as­tated and scared that Chiefs was go­ing to ter­mi­nate my con­tract be­fore I even started play­ing. Bobby was there and told me not to worry. It was stress­ful and I thought it would never heal, but he was very sup­port­ive. I would go to train­ing for treat­ment and Bobby would watch the ses­sion and then come to the med­i­cal room af­ter­wards. It took about six months be­fore I started play­ing.

You didn’t win any tro­phies in your last three sea­sons with the club. Does that bother you, or are you sat­is­fied with what you’ve won over­all with Chiefs?

It does bother me. Life is about mo­ments and mem­o­ries. Play­ing for Chiefs is about win­ning things and when you do, that is when you cre­ate those mo­ments and mem­o­ries. That’s how I want to be re­mem­bered. When coach Steve Kom­phela was made the

vic­tim, that was a very low mo­ment for me. When­ever the team was not do­ing well, Steve was al­ways the vic­tim. We went three sea­sons with­out win­ning any­thing and he was al­ways painted as the vic­tim which was un­fair. Some of us tried to de­fend him, but it was still not enough.

Fol­low­ing your move to Turkey, what lies ahead for you?

It’s a new chap­ter in my life – there’s a new script I need to write. I hope to write a good one; I hope to touch lives, in­spire, make a dif­fer­ence and add value to the club. I will give my best all the time. That is how I want to make an im­pact. Al­ready I have touched lives. Land­ing in Erzu­rum and be­ing wel­comed by so many sup­port­ers was good. I also haven’t closed the chap­ter of play­ing for the na­tional team. Last year I got a call-up after three or four years, so I’m not go­ing to force it. I will only re­turn when I de­serve to be there, so for now I will give my sup­port to who­ever has been given an op­por­tu­nity.

Shabba, thanks a lot for your time and good luck with your new ven­ture. Any last mes­sage for the Kaizer Chiefs sup­port­ers?

I want to thank them for the love, sup­port and the noise they made when­ever I was on the ball, the con­fi­dence they gave me and all the mem­o­ries. To all those who bought the club replica jersey with the num­ber 14, I’m truly grate­ful. I know at times I was crit­i­cised, but I did not take it per­son­ally. It’s part of foot­ball, it’s part of the jour­ney – there will al­ways be ob­sta­cles. I’m just grate­ful for their sup­port. After I left and read some of the trib­utes, I got re­ally emo­tional and teary-eyed. It made me re­alise how blessed and loved I am, not only by Chiefs fans, but many fans across South Africa. It showed me that I be­long to the peo­ple. My pur­pose in life is to serve the peo­ple and be their ser­vant.


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