The versatile new Mamelodi Sundowns man talks about his positional switch and settling into his new surroundings at Chloorkop.
Life, at times, can take unexpected turns. In fact, those who play the game of football probably know this more than anyone else. New Mamelodi Sundowns signing Lyle Lakay thought he’d be leaving Cape Town City to join Bidvest Wits a few months ago, but that journey took an unexpected turn. The Brazilians came calling, and instead of finding himself in a white jersey at Sturrock Park where the Clever Boys train, Lakay found himself clad in yellow at Chloorkop, the home of the Absa Premiership champions. Lakay was one of the Citizens’ best performers last season, proving to be a key component in coach Benni McCarthy’s attack. He played 35 matches in all competitions, scoring two goals and contributing seven assists. When KICK OFF Magazine spoke to the former junior international at Sundowns’ headquarters following his move from the Mother City, the former SuperSport United and Bloemfontein Celtic winger explained how he ended up in Pretoria instead of Braamfontein. “Wits was in the picture, to be honest with you,” he starts. “Then all of a sudden, I heard that Sundowns was interested and I said, ‘Okay, why not?’ Who is going to say no to Sundowns when they come knocking on your door? “Their trophy success is evidence that this is a good club and as a player, you also want to achieve things. If you work hard, you can contribute to that success. At the end of the day when you finish your career, you want to say that you were able to win things.”
Converting to left-back
Joining Sundowns, however, meant a positional switch under Pitso Mosimane’s orders, as the winger reverted to a leftback for the reigning league champions, a change very similar to that which Thapelo Morena underwent after joining from Bloemfontein Celtic two seasons ago. Morena excelled in the right wing position at Phunya Sele Sele, but Mosimane felt he would be more useful as a right-back in what has now turned out to be a masterstroke by the Downs coach. Morena has excelled in his new role and is still able to push further up the pitch when given the liberty by his tactically-astute coach.
Lakay, it seems, may be following the exact same path. “I have settled in well and the players welcomed me well when I joined,” he says of his arrival in the nation’s capital. “I know most of them and I played with a few of them at my previous clubs, so it was not a struggle to settle in. It’s a happy bunch of players and this is a good club, so it’s been good so far, “he smiles, before explaining how the conversation about the change of his position played out. “We spoke about it before I joined Sundowns, that my first position would be left-back and obviously he [Mosimane] would use me as a left wing when he needs to.” The good thing for Lakay, though, is that changing position has not been a problem for him.
“I THINK AT THE MOMENT SUNDOWNS IS ONE OF THE BEST IN AFRICA, NOT JUST IN SOUTH AFRICA.”
“I think the adjustment is not that big,” he says. “There is a difference, but it’s not that big because in modern football your wing-backs attack. There are no more full-backs. People say wing-backs because in modern football, the wing-backs attack more than they defend, even though your priority is to defend. “It has been an adjustment, but it wasn’t that difficult to do. It’s all about reminding yourself to defend first and then go forward, instead of going forward and then defending. It’s something I am learning, but I am enjoying it.”
Competition for places at Sundowns is always difficult, yet Lakay was aware of this when he decided to put pen to paper with Mosimane’s side. The main man with whom he has to fight for a place in the side is Tebogo Langerman, who has owned the left-back position since
swapping SuperSport for Sundowns in 2012, while Siyabonga Zulu and Mosa Lebusa also operate from the left side of defense. “I have known ‘Langa’ [Langerman] for a long time,” Lakay says. “He was also a left winger and we competed for the same position during our time at SuperSport. “So it’s not something new, and I believe that competition always brings out the best in players. There’s also Zulu and Lebusa, but Lebusa has been chosen more as a centre-back. Competition is healthy, and we always support whoever is playing. With the number of games we have, we have to share the load because you can’t play three games every eight days.” With players such as Bongani Zungu, Keagan Dolly and Percy Tau moving from Sundowns to Europe, Lakay is hoping to follow in their footsteps. The big difference, though, is that the above-mentioned trio left for Europe at an age younger than what Lakay is at present. But anything is possible. “It’s every players’ dream to start here and then hopefully go to Europe,” he says. “You always want to play for one of the big three and I think at the moment Sundowns is one of the best in Africa, not just in South Africa. They are former African champions.” Leaving Cape Town was not much of a problem for Lakay. After all, he has previously played in Pretoria and Bloemfontein, so he knows what it’s like to be away from family, who in fact played a major part in helping him decide to join The Brazilians. “I speak to my father a lot about football, as well as my fiancé and my mother,” he reveals. “They all encouraged me. At first we thought I would be going to Wits, but that then changed. “A move outside Cape Town was always on the cards, because when I went back to Cape Town City, people were saying ‘most Capetonians go back home [late in their careers]’, but I knew I was still young. I knew I could leave again, even though I had signed a three-year deal with City. “I have been away from home before when I was at SuperSport and Celtic and it’s not like I got homesick or anything like that.” Lakay says family played a major factor in his initial return to the Mother City, and knows he is sacrificing a lot following his return to Gauteng. “My move to City was based on me wanting to be home and closer to my family and my son,” he says. “Having spent a year there, for me it was enough and I could leave again. They were encouraging and supportive of the move. “My fiancé is in Cape Town, but hopefully she will come up to Johannesburg soon and the family can visit us. But like I say, football is work, and work is work, you know. “My kid is four, but he is from my previous relationship. His mother said he can visit whenever he can. “I have been through this before when I
“THE MAIN GOAL IS TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE TEAM’S SUCCESS – PERSONAL GLORY WILL COME AFTERWARDS.”
was at Celtic, it’s just that at that time I was not engaged. I got engaged recently, but it’s something I am used to now. If you tell yourself that it’s a sacrifice and it’s for a reason, then you will understand.”
Hunt for silverware
Lakay is yet to win a major trophy in his career, but that could all change now that he is at a club that is perennially in contention for silverware across various competitions. “The main goal is to contribute to the team’s success – personal glory will come afterwards,” he stresses. “As long as I continue to work hard, do what I have to do and listen to the coach, then I can contribute to the team’s success. Then afterwards you will see personal glory being achieved.” CAF Champions League success is also part of what Lakay wants to achieve, but he couldn’t play in the competition this year because he was cup-tied, having played for Cape Town City in the preliminary round of the Confederation Cup earlier this year. Yet the 27-year-old is hoping he can contribute when Sundowns compete on the continent again next year, and is hoping he can help the club replicate their historic victory of two years ago. “Yes definitely, who does not want to win it?” he says of his continental ambitions. “I couldn’t play in the Champions League this year because I was cup-tied, but I will be available for the next Champions League tournament and hopefully I will get to contribute then.”