Ge­orge Lebese

Kick Off - - INSIDE -

The former Kaizer Chiefs star has new tar­gets to reach after switch­ing to ri­vals Mamelodi Sundowns

Ge­orge Lebese has strug­gled to live up to his po­ten­tial over the past nine years, but a change of scenery opens a new av­enue for the mid­fielder after he re­cently joined African cham­pi­ons Mamelodi Sundowns from Kaizer Chiefs. KICK OFF’s Chad Klate un­packs the new Brazil­ian’s thoughts.

For many years, Lebese was tipped to be­come one of South Africa’s best wingers, but in­con­sis­tency has been his big­gest stubling block. In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with KICK OFF Mag­a­zine (Is­sue 466) in Fe­bru­ary 2016, the 28-year-old counted him­self amongst the best in the coun­try after get­ting the 2015/16 sea­son off to a flyer, net­ting eight goals in 21 ap­pear­ances in all com­pe­ti­tions, be­fore a groin in­jury in the sec­ond half of the cam­paign ham­pered his rich vein of form. “A lot of fac­tors came in: my mo­men­tum was ob­vi­ously taken away by in­juries which was un­for­tu­nate, but it was also very dif­fi­cult for me to get back into the team when they were do­ing well,” he an­swers when asked what hap­pened after his last KICK OFF in­ter­view. “Con­sid­er­ing other play­ers were do­ing well in my po­si­tion, I had to wait for my chance and that also made me lose mo­men­tum, so it went from bad to worse from there.” The fol­low­ing sea­son, Lebese strug­gled to gain any mo­men­tum as he was lim­ited to just 15 starts in all com­pe­ti­tions as Steve Kom­phela’s out­fit saw out a sec­ond suc­ces­sive dis­ap­point­ing sea­son, ul­ti­mately prompt­ing his de­ci­sion to change al­le­giances and join the Tsh­wane gi­ants. Now at a club with ex­pec­ta­tions as high as his own, the Mamelodi-born at­tacker is back home and is con­fi­dent he made the right de­ci­sion to be in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion with some of the best play­ers in the Premier Soc­cer League. “The best play­ers are here and I feel I can be counted amongst them, so why not join a team with great play­ers?” ques­tions Lebese. “Ob­vi­ously I have com­pe­ti­tion but, hav­ing been on the other side [at Chiefs] for long, I thought this was a good op­por­tu­nity for me to start a new life, a new chal­lenge, with a great team and great coaches.”

Home­com­ing

The former Ar­ca­dia Shep­herds left-winger had been linked with a re­turn to his ‘hood’ on nu­mer­ous oc­cas­sions and the op­por­tu­nity even­tu­ally came at a rather for­tu­nate time, as Sundowns look to de­fend their CAF Cham­pi­ons League crown – some­thing Lebese has had lim­ited ex­pe­ri­ence in while at Chiefs.

“THE BEST PLAY­ERS ARE HERE AND I FEEL I CAN BE COUNTED AMONGST THEM, SO WHY NOT JOIN A TEAM WITH GREAT PLAY­ERS?”

“I felt it was the right time to move be­cause I had won ev­ery­thing they were com­pet­ing in,” he ex­plains. “When the op­por­tu­nity to join the African cham­pi­ons came, I didn’t think twice be­cause they are al­ready in­volved in the Cham­pi­ons League now. Whether I would be part of the [reg­is­tered] squad was also a con­sid­er­a­tion when I made the move. “But ru­mours have al­ways been there. I was al­ways as­so­ci­ated with Sundowns be­cause of ob­vi­ously be­ing a Mamelodi boy, so I was re­ally hum­bled to first hear that they were in­ter­ested in my ser­vices. Hav­ing also had a bad sea­son last sea­son, I thought it was the right time to move.” His bat­tle for con­sis­tency is one that will con­tinue to be cast in the spot­light, even more so now that there is greater ex­pectancy from a no-non­sense coach in Pitso Mosi­mane, and sup­port­ers will ex­pect him to hit the ground run­ning. “The coach has told both Oupa [Manyisa] and my­self that we came from big teams, so it’s not like we still need to get the ex­pe­ri­ence – we al­ready have big match tem mpre­ment,”” he re­veals. “We just have to get to know his phi­los­o­phy and b uild re­la­tion­ships with the playe ers, and he’s go­ing to put us in beca ause there’s no time to waste as wwe’re also look­ing to re­tain the Champ pi­ons League ti­tle. “What the coach re­ally stresses is that he doesn’t w want to com­pli­cate my game, he e just wants me to take it to anot her level. He be­lieves in me so much, and he’s told me that, if I pe er­form, I can make it back into the n ational team, so that’s what I’m fac ing – it’s big pres­sure and ex­pec­ta­tio ons from the coach and the fans.” Mosi­mane stuck to his w ords as he threw Lebese, and Many yisa, on in their open­ing game of th he sea­son – the MTN8 quar­ter- - fi­nal which they lost 1-0 to Mar­itzburg United – and, de­spite the dis­ap­point­ing out­come for the team, Lebese was taken aback by his re­cep­tion from the fans at the Lu­cas Moripe Sta­dium. “I was hum­bled to hear the sup­port­ers singing my name after my first match; it was like a dream come true. I know I need to dream big, but this is one of my dreams – to rep­re­sent my home team – and it’s fi­nally hap­pened. I felt it was bound to hap­pen, and there’s no bet­ter time than now,” he says with a big grin.

Home­work

Some­thing that Lebese may have got­ten away with at his former club was be­ing able to leave train­ing and en­joy his free time away from foot­ball. How­ever, things at Chloorkop are vastly dif­fer­ent. Train­ing ses­sions are ex­tended by daily video anal­y­sis ses­sions, while each player leaves train­ing with home­work as­sign­ments that en­tails self-anal­y­sis, op­po­nent anal­y­sis and pro­to­type anal­y­sis – watch­ing an ar­che­typal player. “The first time [get­ting home­work] I was re­ally con­fused

with what was go­ing on, but the guys I’m close to in the team helped me by ex­plain­ing how the Sundowns fam­ily does things, and what the coach’s ex­pec­ta­tions are,” says Lebese. “So I re­ally am lik­ing this, I just had to put more time in my game, not nec­es­sar­ily mean­ing I have to train more, but study­ing my game and the style of play the coach wants from me. I have a cou­ple of videos al­ready that I’m still look­ing at, in terms of how he wants me to play, so it’s an ev­ery­day thing. Even on a day off we have to look at some­thing and do some­thing that in­volves foot­ball,” he jokes. “But it’s been great so far, I’m en­joy­ing my­self. Every­time I fin­ish train­ing I just can’t wait to get back again the next day, to be with the guys and the tech­ni­cal staff. I’d say so far I’m at ease, and I’m just look­ing to per­form.” ‘Geeza’, as he is af­fec­tion­ately known, feels per­haps the depth in the Sundowns squad could help him reach the level he has been crav­ing, as the fo­cus and pres­sure to de­liver is not solely placed on him, but equally across ev­ery mem­ber of the team. “I think here we can share the load and, like I’ve said, there’s a lot of great play­ers so I feel I can also rise to their level. When you’re sur­rounded by great play­ers you also adopt that qual­ity, so I’m hop­ing to kick on quickly. I’m just try­ing to get up to speed with the rest of the team,” he adds. “I need to stick to the prin­ci­ples of the team and what is re­quired of me, and I need to al­ways try to be a step ahead, tak­ing into ac­count my game, that of the team and the op­po­nents. It’s one game at a time, and I know what’s re­quired of me. I wouldn’t like to speak about the fu­ture and what I prom­ise, but I’m a work in progress now, and I’m look­ing to get up to speed and pro­duce as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Bafana re­turn

With just five in­ter­na­tional caps to his name, Lebese is dy­ing to re­con­nect his Bafana Bafana ties and add to his tally. Hav­ing worked with coach Stu­art Bax­ter be­fore, and per­haps en­joy­ing his best form un­der the Scots­man, it could open the door for his re­turn, should he of course per­form at his new club. “It starts here [at Sundowns]. It’s not only about Bax­ter – if I do well then he’ll ob­vi­ously con­sider me, but even hav­ing worked with him I still need to put in a good show­ing and not pin my hopes on him call­ing me up just be­cause he’s worked with me,” he says. “He’s not that type of coach – he fo­cuses mostly on per­for­mance, and he wants the coun­try to do well as a whole, so I think it starts with my work here, giv­ing good per­for­mances at club level, so he can con­sider me.”

Over­seas switch

In June 2015 Lebese re­port­edly turned down a big-money of­fer from Turkey prior to sign­ing a con­tract re­newal at Chiefs, and de­spite mov­ing ever closer to the age of 30, the mid­fielder feels the door is still open for a move to Europe at some point in the near fu­ture. “My main fo­cus right now is just to ce­ment my place in the Sundowns team – amongst these great play­ers – and hope­fully get back to the na­tional team setup. It’s never too late though, for as long as I still breathe, I still hope that any­thing can hap­pen, so I don’t write off a move abroad. “This is foot­ball and any­thing is pos­si­ble; you see play­ers mov­ing less than three months after join­ing a new club, so I’m not writ­ing it off. But, for now, my main fo­cus is here at Sundowns, to re­ally re­pay the coach for bring­ing me here,” he con­cludes.

“FOR AS LONG AS I STILL BREATHE, I STILL HOPE THAT ANY­THING CAN HAP­PEN, SO I DON’T WRITE OFF A MOVE ABROAD.”

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