Hlanti’s jour­ney of pride

Early ca­reer chal­lenges spurred Wits de­fender to push hard for his dreams

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - NJAB­ULO NGIDI

SI­FISO Hlanti, with a smile and no grudges, looks back with pride at the chal­lenges and re­jec­tion he faced in his jour­ney to be­come a South African cham­pion.

The 27-year-old Bid­vest Wits’ left back was part of the AmaZulu team that was rel­e­gated, but was sent to train with the re­serves be­fore that, af­ter he spoke out on his in­ten­tions to leave the club.

Even his start in the Pre­mier Di­vi­sion wasn’t easy.

He strug­gled for game time at Golden Ar­rows, was shipped out on loan to Chippa United in the first di­vi­sion, helped them gain pro­mo­tion only to re­turn to Abafana Bes’thende and still not break into the start­ing XI.

“It was a long and hard jour­ney to get here,” Hlanti said. “The one thing I learnt is that if you want to grow as a per­son, you must face chal­lenges so that you know what you are ca­pa­ble of. It was good for me.

“They showed me how tough I am, but they spurred me to push even harder to re­alise my dreams. Now I tackle ev­ery chal­lenge that I face head on.”

Af­ter leav­ing Usuthu last year, the lad from New­cas­tle joined the Clever Boys, made his Bafana Bafana de­but, won the MTN8 and played a big part in Wits win­ning lo­cal foot­ball’s elite league cham­pi­onship for the first time in their his­tory.

His per­for­mance in the league earned him a nom­i­na­tion for the Absa Pre­mier­ship De­fender-of-the-Sea­son award that was won by his cap­tain Thu­lani Hlatshwayo.

“I am filled with pride when I look back at what I went through and what I have now,” Hlanti said.

“The hard­est part was when I was still at AmaZulu. It was a tough time for me, es­pe­cially what hap­pened to­wards the end of my con­tract (when they made me train with the re­serves). I was re­warded by join­ing a team like Wits and I was part of mak­ing his­tory, win­ning the league for the first time in the club’s his­tory.”

Wits start their MTN8 ti­tle de­fence against Hlanti’s former club, Ar­rows, at Bid­vest Sta­dium to­mor­row at 8pm.

Un­like last sea­son, the Clever Boys will start this cam­paign with a big tar­get on their back as league cham­pi­ons, with ev­ery club look­ing to up­set the Kings of South African foot­ball.

For Hlanti, this sea­son is about con­tin­u­ing liv­ing the dream af­ter get­ting over the night­mare start he had at the be­gin­ning of his pro­fes­sional ca­reer.

“I am a bit sen­ti­men­tal to­wards Ar­rows,” Hlanti said. “They gave me my big break of play­ing in the PSL. They helped me re­alise my dream. I wouldn’t talk too much on the bad things that hap­pened there.

“The sit­u­a­tion I was in is some­thing that young­sters need to learn from, that you will go through chal­lenges, but they shouldn’t de­fine you or take away your love for the game. Play­ing against Ar­rows means a lot for me. I will try to do my best be­cause at the end of the day it is not about them, but about me and Wits. We have to go through to the next round as the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons.”

CAN THEY DO IT AGAIN? Thu­lani Hlatshwayo of Bid­vest Wits holds aloft the tro­phy as Wits are crowned the 2016/2017 Absa Pre­mier­ship cham­pi­ons fol­low­ing their match with Kaizer Chiefs at Soc­cer City in Jo­han­nes­burg on May 27 this year. PIC­TURE: BACKPAGEPIX

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