Mvala: Why they appreciate us
Mothobi Mvala is one of the first names on coach Owen da Gama’s team sheet because he leaves everything on the field and has earned his stripes at the club. It was no fluke that he won the club’s Player of the Season gong at the end of last season, having chosen to go down with the team rather than entertaining any offers, real or imagined, from elsewhere for his services. Here Mvala reveals that he is on a good, long-term contract with the Tembisa-based side, so any interested parties will have to work very hard to woo him to their camp. In this interview, the gangly attacker tells Soccer Laduma’s Beaver Nazo about one of the highlights of his career, while reiterating that the club is here to stay this time around.
Beaver Nazo: Mothobi, after suffering relegation in 2016/17, Highlands Park seemed to obliterate all in front of them last season in the NFD, winning the title with a whopping 67 points and scoring a record 63 goals in the process.
Mothobi Mvala: I think the fact that the team kept the core of the team that played in the Absa Premiership the previous season showed you how serious they were about getting back. Even our salaries were the same when we were playing in the NFD. We also had a desire to return to the elite league and I think that’s what brought us back. Remember that we didn’t start well in the NFD. We drew about three games or so before coach Owen da Gama came on board. He changed things around and everything was smooth sailing from when he took over until the end of the season. Coach Owen also made a lot of signings and, all of a sudden, there was competition for places in the team. We were motivated and he ended up having a headache when selecting the team because he didn’t know who to leave out of the team. The records we broke in the NFD last season speak volumes.
BN: A number of clubs were reported to be queuing up for your signature when the club went down and amongst them was one from Greece as well as Kaizer Chiefs. Why didn’t any of the moves materialise?
MM: You know how it’s like in football, grootman (big man) – when you are doing well, teams will be after your signature. I knew about the interest that the teams you mentioned showed in me, but I had a contract with Highlands Park and I couldn’t just leave. I belonged to them and the best thing for whoever wanted me to do was to agree with Highlands Park about my move. All of that is in the past now and we are focusing on the job at hand. We are striving to be as competitive as we possibly can in the Absa Premiership.
BN: Judging by your performances so far this season, the ‘vultures’ could soon move for your services. Do you have a buyout clause in your contract?
MM: Ha, ha, ha, where are you going with this now? No, I cannot answer that. The club’s policy doesn’t allow me to discuss that and I hope you understand.
BN: The club’s Director, Larry Brookstone, recently issued a statement, saying you and Peter Shalulile are not for sale and that you’re both are on lengthy and very good contracts at the Lions of the North.
MM: I don’t know (about) Peter’s contract, he can tell you himself, but he is telling the truth about mine. He can never lie about something like that. I am on a five-year contract with Highlands Park and I signed it when we got promoted. I don’t know how long Peter’s is.
BN: Of the 79 goals scored by the team last season, you contributed 12 and assisted in a further 15. Is it the position you play in or the system that the team plays that makes you very useful in attack?
MM: Yeah, it is the box-to-box role that I am playing in the team. But even when I am playing at the back, I like to score. I go up for all the set-plays because I like to score. Another thing is that when the strikers are doing the finishing at training, I always join them.
BN: Oh, great. Being part of the South African squad that went to participate in the Olympics squad Rio de Janeiro in 2016 must rank as a highlight…
MM: That one was very big for me. It was very big because you’ll remember that I was playing in the NFD… imagine coming from NFD (and going) straight to the Olympics in Rio. Even today, that remains the best moment of my life. I was new to the team and I didn’t know most of the people there, but the guys had just played together in the COSAFA Cup and won it. My back was against the wall already, but the guys gave me a warm welcome. It was coach Owen who selected me because he saw potential in me. I really enjoyed the trip, even though I was a bit nervous.
BN: Sure. MM: Our first game was against Brazil. I couldn’t believe it when the coach read my name in the starting line-up. I even pinched myself. To make it even worse, coach Owen said to me, “Hey, Mothobi, you will be man-marking Neymar.” Here I was, getting excited that I will share the field with Neymar, and now I was being given a task to man-mark him. But I took a deep breath and decided no, man, this is actually the time for me to shine. This was time for me to be known because all eyes will be on him and, surely, people will take note of me if I marked him out of the game. I said, “Here’s my chance to make name for myself.” Like I predicted, even a lot of people here at home started taking note of me from that day. There were a lot of people who didn’t know me, but after that game, everyone knew who Mothobi Mvala is. I was very disappointed to get a red card in that game, though, because that
To discuss this interview with Beaver, tweet him on @BeaverNazo15