Kick Off

Jamie Webber

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The SuperSport United midfielder has had a solid season and is now looking to take the next step in his career.

KICK OFF: How have things been at SuperSport since you arrived in 2018? Jamie Webber:

Obviously when I arrived, [coach] Eric Tinkler was still here, so when I got here it was about learning more and improving – that was my main goal, not really to play week-in and week-out because it was my first time being part of a PSL team. And because there were better players around me, I was improving at the time even though I wasn’t playing much – I was in and out of the team, mostly on the bench as well. Last season is when I began starting more games and that’s when I felt I could cement my position.

The stop-start nature of your stay must have been difficult?

Yes, there’s been ups and downs with injuries – big injuries – that held me back but up until now, I think I’ve improved a lot and I’m injury-free, and I’ve been playing kind-of regularly – more than I have been playing ever at SuperSport, so I’m happy about that.

Going back to your PSL debut, coming on as a substitute against AmaZulu in January 2018, what was that moment like?

That was amazing. Do you know that my debut for Vasco [da Gama] was also against AmaZulu in the First Division? [Laughs] But it was just an amazing feeling and I think that day, I was obviously nervous – I mean, if I wasn’t nervous then I wouldn’t be human or something. So, I was very nervous, but I think what gave me confidence is that I know I can do well, and I always believe

SuperSport United have long since been renowned for grooming some of the best talent South Africa has to offer, and with much of the spotlight on the likes of Teboho Mokoena and Sipho Mbule, Jamie Webber is another bright young star ready to break through at Matsatsant­sa. The 23-year-old opens up to KICK OFF’s Chad Kelly-Klate on why his rise is taking longer than anticipate­d.

that. Despite the result, I did enjoy the game.

A few days later coach Eric Tinkler gave you a full debut against Bloemfonte­in Celtic in the Nedbank Cup – that must have been even more nerveracki­ng then?

Definitely, I remember – so, we usually kind of know who’s starting the day before the game, but when you go to the team meeting before the match, that’s when they put out the official starting line-up with all the names. So, in that meeting, he [ Tinkler] told me that I should play with no fear and that he has full confidence in me. I shouldn’t worry about the result or anything, and the players around me will help and guide me – at that time, it was Dean Furman, Ronwen Williams and those types of guys.

Looking back now, at 20, do you feel you were thrown in too early and were you well enough prepared for that moment, or was it perhaps too late even?

Very good question, wow. I never think that things happen too early, I’m always up for the challenge. Even if they throw me in the deep end, it doesn’t matter to me, I’m always up for the challenge and I will always try and do my best. For me, it was just about getting the opportunit­y. I don’t think there’s ever a time you can be ready, because things can happen fast or slow, so as a player you always have to be prepared. When the coach needs you, he needs you, and there’s no looking back, so you’ll be thrown in and you just have to do the business.

You then got injured in your first full season in 2018/19 and missed a large chunk of games ...

“HE WOULD TAKE ME OUT OF TRAINING AND TELL ME HE CAN SEE I’M NOT READY AND I’M STILL SCARED.”

Yes, I had a knee injury – my MCL [Medial Collateral Ligament] was torn. I hurt it just before the first game of the league – the day we had to travel, we trained and then I hurt it. I was out for about 14 weeks or something like that, and that’s actually what kept me out for most of the season because, obviously, coming back from an injury is tough with having to get your fitness back up and all of that. I had been off my feet for so long and my fitness took a while to get back, until the second half of the season, which is when I started playing again.

The coaching change from Tinkler to Kaitano Tembo also must have played a part?

Yes, yes. The Coach [Kaitano Tembo] didn’t think I was quite ready, and to be honest I didn’t feel ready either. There were times when I’d go into training but wouldn’t be 100 [percent], and he would take me out of training and tell me he can see I’m not ready and I’m still scared, which was true because I still had that fear of how it happened. So, I just had to keep on working on that.

What was it like eventually getting your first PSL goal against Baroka FC in the 2019/20 season after all those trials and tribulatio­ns?

Wow, you know what happened actually? I’m not going to lie to you ... so, the guys at training, especially the goalkeeper­s and stuff, they always tell me I need to shoot more because I’m good at shooting. We were sitting on the bench, Boalefa Pule and I, and he told me before I went on, ‘just shoot, you’ll see, you will score.’ Then I went on and, in the game, I had an opportunit­y and shot, and I scored; I remember I ran straight to Pule to give him a hug because he was the one who called it. I was beyond happy for my first goal, and after such a long time out.

You then missed about seven months last year as well – what happened?

Yes, I had another injury – it was my back, just before the lockdown, which I think actually helped me because we were obviously preparing for the Olympics last year as well. When I got injured and they told me how long I was going to be out, I was devastated because I thought, ‘No Olympics for me!’ But everything happened for a reason, and luckily the Olympics was postponed so I could get back on my feet and fight for my place.

How did you manage that?

I had a slipped disc – a herniated disc in my spine. It’s a funny story... I game a lot – I play a lot of PlayStatio­n. Where I used to live, with Luke [Fleurs] and Jesse [Donn], I used to sit on my bed and play and my back used to be arched forward all the time, I had very bad posture, and I play a lot of games – I’m talking, when I get home from training, I’m on the PlayStatio­n until night time, that’s how I still am. So, for about a month, my back was just stiff, and I kept on playing and training as nor rmal, and one day I was late for training and just went stra ight into the session without warming up properly ...

Eish...

I did something where I moved quickly and just fel t this sharp pain in my back, , and I was like, ‘ What the hell?’ I couldn’t even walk properly at training, so I went out and the physio sent me to hospital for tests and scans, and I remember having a shooting pain – they call it sciatica – down my left leg. It was very, very painful, I couldn’t even sleep that night. So, the MRI scan showed that I have uneven discs in my spine, and the doctor said it was because I didn’t t warm up properly and also o the gaming. It was such a difficult injury because it was a nerve pain, like a pinched nerve, so I had to do a lot of rehab and strengthen­ing around my back. Luckily, I didn’t need surgery, so I just needed to do a lot of strengthen­ing, obviously after resting for a few weeks first, and I had to start sitting and laying down properly.

So, you’ve cut down on gaming a bit now?

No, I haven’t [laughs]. I decided to invest in a gaming chair for myself, and it’s actually helped.

This season we’re obviously seeing a lot more of you, so how are you finding it after coming through the last three years?

Ja, it’s been a very tough three years. I was so down at a point, this is now during my back injury right, that ... Cole Alexander and were very close when he was still s here at SuperSport and he actually gave g me a guy’s number – a psychologi st, well technicall­y we call him a Sport t Mind Coach – his name is Kyle Daniel ls, and he has helped me a lot with getting over the injuries and bel lieving in myself more. He also helped me with believing that I can become a r regular and work tow wards my goal, wh hich is the Olym pics and obv viously [playing g in] Europe e after that. So, , it’s been good to have h him in my corn ner and now I can tru uly say I have improve ed a lot, even personalit ty- wise both on and off ff the field, but mostly on because b there were time s where I had uncontroll­able fear of, ‘hey, you’re playing ag gainst this player and that playe r’, and I would go into my she ell. And my coach [ Tembo] ev ven told me that, ‘when I put y you in a big game then you fr eeze’. So, I had to really reflect and look at myself, and Kyle h as helped me with that, so now w I can safely say I have imp proved a lot and I’m not sca red of anyone anymore.

“LUCKILY THE OLYMPICS WAS POSTPONED SO I COULD GET BACK ON MY FEET AND FIGHT FOR MY PLACE.”

You mentioned yo our goal

is to move to Europe. At 23, how does that fit into your short, medium and long-term plans?

Short-term will definitely be Europe, because I’m not getting any younger and I want to experience and prove myself there as well. So, that is definitely the main shortterm goal. Second is Olympics, which I think could be the stage to take me to Europe because there’ll obviously be a lot of scouts and that type of thing. If things don’t work that way, then it will have to come another way, but I definitely want to get to Europe soon. Long-term would be to prolong my career for as long as possible, like to play until 35 – that is my long-term goal, and anything after that is a bonus. So, I want to still have 12 years in the game because I love football.

For now, what do you feel you need to do to make the Olympic squad?

I think I need to score and create more goals, and obviously play more regularly. That is what matters most, I think, if I am to make the Olympic team. Obviously, the injuries and not playing much over the last year is why I wasn’t part of the last camp, but that is not stopping me from working harder and improving. But, I think, personally, I have to score more goals because, even on a global scale, goals are what they look at.

What’s your best position?

I prefer to play in the number 8 role, which is a central, box-to-box midfielder, but it depends on the system the team plays. Like in our system at SuperSport, we play with two attacking midfielder­s and I’ll be one of those, so I won’t defend as much, and I’d be forward more than defending. But, for instance, in a system that Sundowns plays, with two sitting midfielder­s, I would be like the box-to-box one – we actually play that formation at the under-23 national team as well – so I would have to attack and defend, and that’s my preferred position.

What’s the competitio­n like between yourself, Sipho Mbule and Teboho Mokoena?

I don’t think we’re in competitio­n. When

Dean Furman left, we spoke about it and we obviously wanted to be the three that’s going to take the team forward and be the future of the team. I think we have pushed to become that three in the middle, but the coach still swaps us every now and then, we haven’t played, like maybe, five games together. But with the three of us, we love playing together and competitio­n-wise, I don’t think there’s really a feeling of, ‘I want to play before you’. We’re more like a family, like we support each other whether we play or not, and when we do play together then we all give our best, so there’s no negative competitio­n, it’s just positive criticism and pushing each other to improve.

What would be your ‘Plan B’ if the European move doesn’t materialis­e in the short-to-medium-term – would you see yourself playing for one of the PSL’s ‘big three’?

It would definitely be a considerat­ion. I mean, if things don’t work out, I could probably see myself playing for Sundowns. Let’s say when I’m 26 or 27, and I haven’t yet moved to Europe, I think I’d settle at Sundowns because they are a good side, they win trophies, and I think money-wise it would be a good choice out of the ‘big three’.

“I PREFER TO PLAY IN THE NUMBER 8 ROLE.”

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