‘Toki’ Dlamini doesn’t do it for an arm­band, but rather just to be happy with a ball at her feet

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

AMANDA DLAMINI speaks just like she plays. Ev­ery word is thought out, but not to a point where she comes across as ro­botic or clichéd. It all comes nat­u­rally to “Toki”.

Just like it comes nat­u­rally for her on the field where plenty of thought is taken with ev­ery pass. And if Dlamini isn’t mak­ing Banyana Banyana tick, the mid­fielder is the team prankster.

But the tech­ni­cal team got her good when they tricked her into the cap­taincy in 2011. They told her that she would do it for just one match, against Zim­babwe in De­cem­ber.

Af­ter that match, she was told the same thing for the next game, and the next, un­til al­most two years passed and she still wore the arm­band.

She had a huge im­pact, lead­ing her coun­try to their first par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Olympics in 2012. And while Dlamini re­lin­quished the role last year, she is still re­ferred to as captain. It’s a com­pli­ment that re­minds her of the an­guish she went through when she de­cided to step down.

“I thought about it for three to four months, be­fore I an­nounced it, whether it was the right thing to do or not,” she said. “I asked my­self was I will­ing to com­pro­mise my hap­pi­ness and po­ten­tial be­cause I am cling­ing to a ti­tle?

“It was about the pas­sion for the sport, want­ing to grow and do bet­ter. I think I have been able to do that (af­ter step­ping down). I was hurt quite a lot (af­ter the de­ci­sion) be­cause I got a lot of mes­sages on so­cial me­dia from peo­ple who were dis­ap­pointed. Some of my team­mates also ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment,” Dlamini added.

“But it was some­thing per­sonal that I had to go through. There’s never been a day that I re­gret­ted it. I have re­alised that be­ing captain isn’t just about the ti­tle or the arm­band, but about the work that you do and your in­ter­ac­tion with peo­ple.

“Peo­ple still re­fer to me as the captain even now. It’s not be­cause I wear the arm­band, but it’s the man­ner I present my­self to them and the way I rep­re­sent the na­tion.”

Dlamini will rep­re­sent Banyana for the 100th time tonight against the world’s No 1-ranked team, the United States, at Sol­dier Field in Chicago (7pm kick­off). She will be­come the fifth player to have reached the mile­stone in South African foot­ball.

The 27-year-old was ini­tially un­aware of her achieve­ment un­til af­ter Banyana’s se­cond friendly against the Nether­lands last month, when she made her 99th ap­pear­ance.

Maybe be­cause Dlamini didn’t think she would make it this far, let alone earn a se­cond cap af­ter her de­but against Nige­ria in 2007. It was July 27, five days af­ter she turned 19, when she came on as a sub­sti­tute.

But she did what then-coach Au­gus­tine Makalakalane told her to do: “Go out there and give me a rea­son to call you up for the next camp.” Dlamini has been in ev­ery camp since, whether the coach was Makalakalane or Joseph Mkhonza, and now Vera Pauw.

Dlamini is one of the most recog­nis­able fig­ures for Banyana. She is an am­bas­sador for sev­eral lead­ing brands, and has also done some TV an­a­lyst work.

Dlamini con­sid­ered quit­ting a num­ber of times for a bet­ter­pay­ing job. But she didn’t. She worked hard so that the women who will come af­ter her don’t have to suf­fer like she did. It’s the same men­tal­ity that saw her start the Amanda Dlamini Girls Foun­da­tion.

But all those strug­gles are worth it now that she is at the top – en­joy­ing the fruits of her labour. She has fun for a liv­ing.

“I have known foot­ball all my life,” Dlamini said. “It’s my life. When I am play­ing foot­ball I am at my happy place. It’s a sa­cred space. There are chal­leng­ing times, but I con­stantly bear in mind that I am liv­ing my dream. I can’t give up on it.

“Ev­ery train­ing ses­sion, as tough as it is, I need to ap­ply my­self be­cause I need to play the fol­low­ing game. It’s the stan­dards that I set for my­self. That I want to ac­com­plish cer­tain things and grow as a player.

“Just be­ing in the na­tional team is amaz­ing. You get to travel. I have re­alised so many dreams be­cause of foot­ball,” she added. “I’ve been to ter­tiary through a sport bur­sary. I have trav­elled the world.

“I am be­ing recog­nised by some of the big­gest brands in the world be­cause of foot­ball. That’s where my life is, on the foot­ball field.”

AMANDA DLAMINI: Will play her 100th match for Banyana

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