Hen­drick Ekstein

Can Hen­drick Ekstein avoid sink­ing into the haz­ardous com­forts of be­ing a lux­ury mid­fielder who re­mains a mere fan dar­ling, do­ing lit­tle to ben­e­fit the team’s tac­tics? He boldly states that his past has shaped him into grow­ing his game into an all-weather

Kick Off - - INSIDE - By Love­more Moyo

From work­ing on the mines to be­ing a Kaizer Chiefs su­per­star! But can “Pee” ful­fil his po­ten­tial at Na­turena?

Four years ago Hen­drick Ekstein was a ca­sual mine worker who had to put up with the chal­lenges of wak­ing up at 02h00 in prepa­ra­tion for the morn­ing shift at Kloof Gold Mine in We­stonaria. Like plenty of his older work­mates, he was fend­ing for his fam­ily, a sit­u­a­tion made even more dif­fi­cult by the fact that he was an or­phan who also had a child to cater for. Yet be­hind the baby-faced mine worker was a hid­den foot­ball tal­ent des­per­ate for a plat­form to shine on, and so good that only slight pol­ish was needed be­fore blow­ing up just like the ex­plo­sives that he was work­ing with in the mines. “I used to work on the sur­face, load­ing ex­plo­sives into the scotch carts which would then go un­der­ground to blow up the rocks in or­der to even­tu­ally get to where the gold was,” ecalls Ekstein, as he dis­closes his ast for the first time.

‘It was not easy at all’

“In that line of work it meant wak­ing up at 02h00 be­cause my shift started at 03h30 and I would work un­til 11h00, then take off the over­alls and be ‘clock­ing out’ at 12h00. Luck­ily the mine wasn’t very far from where I stayed which is why I was only wak­ing up at 02h00. At that time I was grate­ful that I had a job and I was able to work and pro­vide for my fam­ily and my child. The ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing at the mine built me into be­ing the man that I am now. “I told my­self that if I could work those shifts at the mines then I could sur­vive un­der any work­ing con­di­tions and pro­vide for my fam­ily. I was 21 when I started work­ing on the mines, while some of my work­mates were in their late 50s. Be­ing an or­phan, I had to do it for the sake of my fam­ily be­cause I am not from a well-off fam­ily,” he dis­closes. That ex­pe­ri­ence helped Ekstein find new re­spect for his job – nowa­days as a pro­fes­sional foot­baller – and gave him a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on life. His voice and thought­ful look leave noth­ing to doubt when he talks about the path that he has taken to be where he is now. “As a hu­man be­ing you must re­spect life and never ever take it for granted be­cause you never know what will hap­pen next,” he ad­vises, sud­denly speak­ing more like a man thrice his age. “At times I tell some of my team­mates here at Chiefs about the ex­pe­ri­ences in the mines, but some take it as a joke while oth­ers are lit­er­ally shocked. Some sug­gest I should write a book about my life, but I just laugh it off be­cause for me this is what shaped me into be­ing a man amongst men. Most of these guys don’t un­der­stand that work­ing

at a mine doesn’t mean you are al­ways go­ing un­der­ground. “I worked at Kloof Mine for a year, only get­ting off-days on Sun­days and ev­ery sec­ond Satur­day. Those madalas I worked with at the mine con­stantly told me about be­ing a kid that needed to go back to school and I promised them I would do that once I had set­tled in at the mine. While the money that they were earn­ing was lit­tle, the madalas made it known that the pri­or­ity was al­ways to look out for their fam­i­lies. They had no other op­tion than to work for those peanuts be­cause if they stopped, there would be no in­come and they would be stranded. I had told my­self I’d go back to school, un­til the Kaizer Chiefs sit­u­a­tion came up,” he ex­plains. All the foot­ball that Ekstein had played back then, hav­ing al­ready reached the age of 23, was in kasi tour­na­ments around Bekkers­dal and Mohlak­eng – the two town­ships on the shoul­ders of the West Rand. Prior to that he had only been with Ju­nior Rangers through his teenage years be­fore dou­bling up play­ing for the mine’s team and LMP Stars in the am­a­teur ranks. Though there had been wide­spread talk about a gem of a foot­baller nick­named “Pee” in the West Rand, the prospect of mov­ing up the lad­der to the pro­fes­sional ranks, let alone Kaizer Chiefs, was a mere dis­tant dream.

Only chance…

For­tu­nately, Chiefs le­gend Ace Khuse also hails from the West Rand and was to be­come the cat­a­lyst that helped Ekstein end up with the re­serve team of th he coun­try’s most pop­u­lar club. “With coach Ace I was ac ctu­ally play­ing in a tour­na­ment in his neig gh­bour­hood of Mohlak­eng which is 10 mi nutes away from the mine in Bekkers­dal. He e ap­proached me want­ing to know how old l was, and I told him I was 23,” re­calls Ek­stei n. The age fac­tor was surel ly the rea­son why Khuse – then the Chie efs re­serve team coach – ini­tially appe eared hes­i­tant, but when the Ch iefs re­serve team came to play a friendly match at Kloof Mine again st Ekstein’s team, it pre­sented d an­other op­por­tu­nity. “Ace was not there, but I still knew that I had to prove my­self m and I knew that be­ing 23 made this my last chance to t im­press the team that I gre ew up sup­port­ing. So on that par­tic­u­lar day I played my heart out, so much so that t coach Arthur [Zwane] was im­pressed and im­me­di­ately y made a fur­ther rec­om­men­da­tion to the re­serve team coach, who was Ace. . The fol­low­ing week we played again and coach Ace told me right away that I must come to train­ing the fol­low­ing week. That is how ev­ery­thing started for


me,” he de­tailss with his face light­ing up. Hav­ing alre ady proven that there was ab­so­lutely no need to doubt his breath­tak­ing tal­ent after a charm­ing with his skills, the big questi­ion re­mains whether or not he will live upp to his po­ten­tial in­stead of be­ing swal­lowwed by the com­forts that come with bee­ing a fan favourite. Since makinng his first team de­but in Fe­bru­ary 20155 as a sub­sti­tute, Ekstein has shown that foor him, play­ing a through pass is as easyy as rolling a coin into a slot ma­chine. What needss to be fixed is re­main­ing vis­i­ble at all ti mes dur­ing a game, a trait that will no dooubt win greater sup­port from his coac h along with the ap­pre­ci­a­tion from those in the stands, which he al­ready en­joys in abun­n­dance. “When I camme to Chiefs my aim was to build a name for my­self, just like oth­ers,” he says. “I didn’t ccome here to add num­bers. I’m here to wi n tro­phies so that I can be re­mem­bered for hav­ing played in the squad that woon this and that, in­stead of be­ing re­mem bered for be­ing the worst. We want to mmake the fans happy be­cause we are not onnly play­ing for our­selves, but our fans, the ccha­ir­man and ev­ery­one who sup­ports us. I re­ally want to win tro­phies with the club..”

Rais­ing h is hand

The rise of Ekstein’sE in­flu­ence is also ev­i­dent fromm the grow­ing num­ber of ap­pear­ance s that he has made since his de­but iin the 2014/15 sea­son, but he in­sists he is yet to reach the level that he wants in his game. “Whaat I know is that I haven’t made tthe kind of im­pact I want to make hhere at Chiefs just yet. I want to be a sea­soned player. I know that ev­er­ry­one else wants to play, but I want too raise my hand through my per­for­mancess so that the coach sees how keen I am to pplay. The coach is al­ways asks the so-called yy­oung­sters what we will do when [Bernardd] Parker re­tires, and I feel I have raised mmy hand to show that I am one of the play­ers that will stand up and show that I re­ally waant to play for this team. I came here wi th the in­ten­tion of want­ing to play and win things. “For now I am not happy with what I have done for the team so far and it is for that rea­son that I want to step up this sea­son. I haven’t done enough as yet. My plan is to cre­ate and score for the team,” he prom­ises. Yet just how does he avoid the easy path of be­ing a fan-favourite, lux­ury player who is detri­men­tal to the team’s sys­tem? “How I play now is not the same as I did for the past two sea­sons,” he in­sists. “The coach has told me ‘yes, you are vis­i­ble when you have the ball, but then you must also be seen even when you don’t have the ball [so that it can be seen what it is that you do when the team doesn’t have the ball]’. So I am build­ing on those words from the coach, so that I don’t get to be re­ferred to as a lux­ury player. “When­ever I play I al­ways make sure I watch all my games when I get home to im­prove my game. In that case it helps me an­a­lyse my game and if there is some­thing I feel I didn’t do well, I then ask the coach about what I have to do. He then tells me that I have to do this and that so that is how I build my­self. So far the coach is happy be­cause I do track back and I can also mark. So for now the coach has told me that I am play­ing well and I can also see that my­self. How­ever, con­sid­er­ing that I am a creative player, I am yet to get to where I want to be … I want to cre­ate chances and also score for the team,” he em­pha­sises fur­ther de­tail­ing how Steve Kom­phela has in­flu­enced his game. “The coach al­ways tells me I can make the team func­tion when­ever I have the ball. Not to say the team will play ac­cord­ing to me alone, but most of the time if I get the ball then it should be the same way as to what hap­pens when “Shabba” [Siphiwe Tsha­bal­ala] gets the ball. So for us at­tack­ing mid­field­ers we have to make the ball work so that Parker and [Gus­tavo] Paez can get clean sup­ply,” he spells out.

Mak­ing up time

Due to turn 27 on the first day of the new year, Ekstein also knows just how much time he must make up for as he con­tin­ues to get rid of the stigma of be­ing seen as a young­ster. “I am no longer a young­ster now be­cause I am 26. Even the time when I got here at Kaizer Chiefs I was al­ready 23 and not a young­ster any­more. So for me to

“I am yet to get to where I want to be…”

be called a young­ster is all be­cause of my body size. I just have to ac­cept that ref­er­ence, yet I know what mat­ters most is get­ting the job done on the field of play. Maybe be­ing re­ferred to as a young­ster is be­cause I am still rel­a­tively new in the PSL. I sup­pose that I now need to build my name here in the team,” he notes. The name Reneilwe Let­sholonyane pro­vides the in­spi­ra­tion when­ever he thinks of be­ing a rel­a­tively late bloomer who is only re­ally get­ting to im­pose him­self now. “When I got here to the first team I spoke to my groot­man “Yeye” and he told me about his own story in foot­ball,” Ekstein says. “He told me that when he started at Cos­mos peo­ple were say­ing he is too old and all that. What he then had to do was step up, raise his game and play foot­ball with­out giv­ing much of a thought to that. Though he only re­ally ar­rived in the PSL at 24 you can’t tell that this is the case now. It is like he ar­rived in the PSL at 18 be­cause he has now gone on to make a name for him­self. “So I also want to go the way he went in his ca­reer. Not to say I am com­par­ing my­self with him, but he in­spires me and I want to do the same: ar­rive late, but then show that I can do the job. The team must ben­e­fit from me in the same way that I want to ben­e­fit from the team.”

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