For all the negativity that tends to be thrown by critics about footballers over the age of 30, there is a sizeable brigade of veteran players still going strong and discrediting the widespread belief that they should hang up their boots. By Lovemore Moyo
Some of the league’s oldest stalwarts shoot down the notion of judging a player based on age as they continue to prove themselves at the highest level despite reaching the age of 30.
What do Clayton Daniels, Morgan Gould, Moeneeb Josephs, Tapuwa Kapini, Mabhuti Khenyeza, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Jabulani Maluleke, Paulus Masehe, Rooi Mahamutsa, Vuyo Mere, Teko Modise and Patrick Tignyemb all have in common?
They are all well over 30 years old, but remain more than relevant at their respective clubs, with most still as influential on the field as they are off it. Every club, no matter the league, needs at least one of these kinds of players: one with loads of experience who brings in leadership and a calming influence in the dressing room. Some clubs have more than one. Tshwane duo Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United could field a full team of over 30s if they so wish. For all the noise that tends to be made about players over the age of 30 being “over the hill”, closer inspection reveals that this is in fact the age group carrying the burden at many PSL clubs at present. Defending champions Sundowns have 12 players past the age of 30 who are still going strong. Ugandan keeper Denis Onyango is first-choice between the sticks, with Zambian veteran Kennedy Mweene a more-than-able deputy. Wayne Arendse continues to quietly marshal the defence alongside Brazilian Ricardo Nascimento; Anele Ngcongca is still an all-weather man while Tebogo Langerman is forever up for the challenge at left-back. Hlompho Kekana gets the job done in midfield and is ably assisted by Tiyani Mabunda and Oupa Manyisa while Antony Laffor, Cuthbert Malajila and Jeremy Brockie operate in attack. Not to be outdone by their neighbours, SuperSport have a good number of players who have reached the three-decade mark in reserve keeper Washington Arubi, defenders Richard Boateng, Clayton Daniels, Morgan Gould, Bongani Khumalo, Siyabonga Nhlapo and Onsimor Bhasera, midfielders Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Dean Furman and Thuso Phala while Bradley Grobler and James Keene
“NO ONE IS SAYING ANYTHING ABOUT CRISTIANO RONALDO RETIRING, YET HE IS 33.”
are the veterans upfront. And have you seen how 36-year-old Jabulani Maluleke continues to deliver pinpoint passes at Polokwane City? Bidvest Wits’ Elias Pelembe is still as tricky as ever at 35, while 34-year-old goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini has embraced the challenge of making sure Highlands Park don’t concede too many. Rooi Mahamutsa is still as robust at the back at 37 along with 35-year-old Paulus Masehe at Free State Stars, while a 38-year-old Moeneeb Josephs remains as flexible as he was when he arrived in the PSL 21 years ago. Fellow gloveman Patrick Tignyemb continues to make a difference at Celtic despite being 33. “Luckily the mindset is slowly changing and catching up with the modernised gam ,” reasons 37-year-old Shu-Aib Walters, who is
“IF YOU GOING TO JUDGE ME, THEN DO SO BASED ON WHAT IS HAPPENING ON THE PITCH.”
now at Ajax Cape Town. As always, Walters is brutal in giving a practical and honest analysis. “Football is no longer all about endurance, with more coaches changing into the structure of having shorter game plans where players are now just 50 metres apart at most,” he starts. “There is no longer this football where you kick and then run with your wingers doing 13-14 kilometres per game. Nowadays footballers are doing eight to nine kilometres on average per game. A lot more older players can handle it because we have adapted to a more European style of football where Xavi and [Andrea] Pirlo could all still play at the highest level into their mid-30s because what is demanded of you is less running, but quicker thinking. “Quicker thinking can also now help you in South Africa where it used to be all about the long ball with players covering longer distances. Teams were looking at having players doing 13-14 kilometres, but players are not doing that anymore which accommodates for the older and wiser players. That is why we now have a lot more older players managing and doing well, such as ‘Yeye’, Morgan, Moeneeb and Teko. What has helped is that we are also now adapting to the more recent trends, with periodisation playing a role because we now have fitness and conditioning coaches who are a lot more knowledgeable.”
Judging players on age
Despite many over the age of 30 still able to showcase their talents at the highest level, there has perennially been a culture of judging players based on age in South Africa, with Walters sharing his thoughts as to how this occurred. “I think it was the mentality of our local coaches because they demanded man-toman marking, which is no longer the case,” he reasons. “Current coaches have now caught up with the modern trends which encompass periodisation. The older coaches were very naïve because to them, getting fit was about running up a thousand stairs, not knowing the impact this had on the players’ knees which is why there were so many long-term injuries back then. The coaches nowadays are becoming more open- minded now and realising the need to have a balance. “No one is saying anything about Cristiano Ronaldo retiring, yet he is 33. It is all about knowledge and understanding. I think the older coaches didn’t understand because they didn’t have the knowledge. The older coaches who are still there like Pitso [ Mosimane] and Gavin [Hunt] now understand periodisation and conditioning because they do their own courses to understand it. Football always evolves and f you don’t go with the times, then you will be left behind. Right now, I can put a starting ine-up of 33-year-olds and above that will compete with any team in the PSL, but five years ago you couldn’t do that. My friend Collins Mbesuma is still doing well in the First Division, so this perception has ong-since gone out the window. Teko is being managed well at Cape Town City and can still go on for another year.” Fellow goalkeeper Kapini also knows all too well about the irritation of being judged based on age. The veteran keeper has kept defying the odds and is so far enjoying what might end up being his best season in the PSL despite being 34. “This issue of dismissing players based on age is not only confined to South Africa, but rather the Cosafa region,” reasons the Highlands Park first-choice stopper. “When you turn 30, there is immediately
a tendency of saying you are no longer as effective as you used to be. Just to prove how wrong that mindset is, Siphiwe Tshabalala got his move to Turkey just before he turned 34 which shows in Europe they appreciate your maturity in football, whilst here we are only concerned about pushing players out based on age. Of course with age your speed decreases, but your football intelligence becomes better. “What is important is performance more than age. Ronaldo is 33, but Juventus paid massive money to get him from Real Madrid because they value his performance more than his age. Here in Africa all we ever make noise about is the age of players and how long someone has been playing. You will be told that players you played with have now long-retired. It shouldn’t matter that I was once teammates with Willem Jackson just like it shouldn’t be an issue that Itumeleng Khune played with Shaun Bartlett. In Africa we have people who are obsessed with pushing players down.” Kapini explains how technology is now being used to monitor players and their performances, which helps alert coaches and physical trainers when certain players need rest. “Nowadays there is the undergarment GPS player-tracking system used which gives detailed insight into individual aspects like heart rate and fatigue,” the former Zimbabwe international says. “So there is no need to judge players based on the naked eye or their age. With the use of such technology you get to know when a player needs rest. It is amazing how technology has come into the game.”
‘Age is just a number’
Vuyo Mere is a prime example of how players are neither perishable nor have a specific sell-by date. This is a man who played in the PSL as far back as the 2001/02 season with Hellenic, and has often been dismissed due to the obsession with judging players based on age instead of performance. “In South African football many players are forced to retire at an early age because you are considered old once you get past 30,” says the 34-year-old who is now with Bidvest Wits. “Little consideration is given to what that particular player is still bringing to the team and how he carries himself. I started early and now I’m being judged for having played with footballers who have longsince retired. But age is just a number for many of us who have played in the PSL for this long.” Mere explains the advantage of being an old head” in the game. “The advantage with players who are over 30 now is we understand that our career can end just like that,” he says. “We understand how much we need to invest in our bodies sos that we last longer. With the younger guys, theyt can still mess around, not realising that negative behaviour will affect you in your line ofo duty. How you live your life affects your performance. We made mistakes we don’t want the t younger ones to repeat, but unfortunately some s of them are dismissive, so much so that whenever w you talk to them, they think you are on o your way out of the game. “Players are now being given individual attention a instead of being treated like a group the t way it was some 10 years ago. You don’t have h to wait to be spoon-fed on how to take t care of yourself. Here in South Africa we concentrate less on what the player is doing. If you are going to judge me, then do so based on what is happening on the pitch. The expectation in this country is that players shouldn’t last long. God blessed me to start at an early age and that shouldn’t mean I’m now too old to play and be regarded as someone who is tired. I will let people talk, but what matters is that Gavin Hunt knows what I can bring to the team. I will let my legs do the talking.” Chippa United defender Thabo Nthethe also gets annoyed with the tendency to write off players based on age. His reasoning is that Tshabalala’s move to Turkish Super Lig club BB Erzurumspor at 33 should be a reality check to all, insisting that age doesn’t matter as long as a player is still performing. “The appreciation for a 34-year-old is thin in South Africa because the moment you reach 30, they start doubting you,” the 34-year-old says. “I know a lot of players who were forced into retirement just because of the sentiments of people and all the negativity that was being said about their ages. Some guys took what people were saying about them to heart, not aware that some of these people talking were not right. I have also obviously been told by some people that I was supposed to retire after leaving Sundowns, but why should I retire when I can still chase a striker and my body is not giving me any signal about not coping? We have a tendency of pushing out our players so easily just because we think they are old. We seem to be a country that enjoys pushing experienced footballers out of the game. “This obsession with age has to come to an end. The South African mentality is disappointing at times. Look at what happened with Gianluigi Buffon. PSG signed him at 40 and they are a team that is competing in the Uefa Champions League. And didn’t ‘Shabba’ move abroad well after 30?”
“THIS OBSESSION WITH AGE HAS TO COME TO AN END. THE SOUTH AFRICAN MENTALITY IS DISAPPOINTING AT TIMES.”
Rooi Mahamutsa Vuyo Mere Morgan Gould
Teko Modise Jabulani Maluleke Moeneeb Josephs