It would mean a lot to ‘Ma­gents’ to lift a CAF tro­phy

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - NJABULO NGIDI

FOR Happy Jele, los­ing in an Or­lando Pi­rates jer­sey is a triple blow. There is the dis­ap­point­ment he feels as a player, and then as a fan. But all of that pales in com­par­i­son to the feel­ing he gets from let­ting down his Un­cle Sipho. His un­cle is a staunch Pi­rates fan who planted the seeds of love for the Buc­ca­neers. “He al­ways gives me a hard time when we lose, es­pe­cially when I am in the team,” Jele said.

The hero­ics of the Pi­rates class of 1995 that won the CAF Cham­pi­ons League were a sta­ple diet for Jele, duly fed by his un­cle. He watched that game as an eight- year- old, spark­ing a de­sire to one day reach those heights wear­ing the fa­mous black and white.

While the coun­try was cap­ti­vated by the goal Jerry Sikhosana scored in Ivory Coast against the then Asec Abid­jan, now called Asec Mi­mosas, that gave Pi­rates their only con­ti­nen­tal ti­tle, Jele was en­thralled by some­one else.

That per­son was Ed­ward “Ma­gents” Mo­tale, who played at right back and wore the arm­band in place of the sus­pended In­no­cent Mncwango and went on to lift the Cham­pi­ons League tro­phy af­ter the Soweto out­fit won 3-2 on ag­gre­gate with the first leg hav­ing ended 2-2.

“That’s one of the most ever­last­ing mem­o­ries I have as a Pi­rates fan,” Jele said. “I en­joyed watch­ing him play. See­ing him played a big role in me choos­ing to play the same po­si­tion as him. He is also my men­tor. I call him when­ever I am strug­gling and if there are cer­tain things that I want to im­prove on in my game, or when I need ad­vice. He is al­ways will­ing to lis­ten and of­fer in­sight.”

The boots that Mo­tale left were tai­lor-made for Jele. The 28-year-old doesn’t only play in the same po­si­tion as Mo­tale, but he also shares a nick­name with him. In 2013, he al­most also lifted the Cham­pi­ons League tro­phy in place of reg­u­lar skip­per Lucky Lekg­wathi, who was out in­jured.

“A friend of mine back home is the one who gave me the nick­name Ma­gents,” Jele said. “It’s a big source of pride. Mo­tale is a big in­spi­ra­tion in my ca­reer and I would love to take the team where he did in his time.”

Jele has a chance to do that tonight in the first leg of the CAF Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup fi­nal against Tu­nisian gi­ants Étoile du Sa­hel at Or­lando Sta­dium. Jele has been wear­ing the cap­tain’s arm­band in place of the in­jured Oupa Many­isa in the tour­na­ment, only re­lin­quish­ing it to Rooi Ma­hamutsa against CS Sfax­ien in the semi-fi­nal when he him­self was side­lined.

But he is back and fully fit and 20 years later, Jele has a chance to also lift a con­ti­nen- tal cup as a stand-in cap­tain.

It could have hap­pened sooner had Pi­rates got the bet­ter of Al-Ahly two years ago. But like any dis­ap­point­ment that Jele has en­dured, he has used it as fuel, driv­ing him to achieve big­ger and bet­ter things. His failed tri­als in France at RC Lens in 2009 did just that.

“That was a turn­ing point in my ca­reer,” he said. “I went there look­ing to im­press and win a con­tract which didn’t hap­pen. Be­fore I left, I wasn’t a reg­u­lar at Pi­rates. That dis­ap­point­ment made me dou­ble my ef­forts and push my­self to be a reg­u­lar. I achieved that and man­aged to go on an cap­tain the club that I grew up sup­port­ing.

“That’s why it would mean so much for me to win this tro­phy be­cause of the things that I have gone through to be where I am at.”

HAPPY JELE: Hates to dis­ap­point his un­cle

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