Rising star in the Promised Land
Rowan Human has been a revelation at Israeli second-tier side Beitar Tel Aviv Bat Yam this season, where he is on loan from mother club Maccabi Tel Aviv. The 20-year-old midfielder was excellent in his first six months in the PSL in the last campaign before the sale of BidVest Wits, and has carried on that form overseas. He tells KICK OFF’s Nick Said of settling in Israel, his love of Teko Modise and his future ambitions.
KICKOFF: You’ve made a great impact with Beitar Tel Aviv this season, scoring five goals and also providing a number of assists. Are you happy with how things are going? Rowan Human:
I’m enjoying it, but you know as long as I am playing football then I’m always really happy. I’m enjoying living in Israel. It is something different, but I feel like playing here gives me a lot to look forward to in the future. I just keep saying to myself that every week I have to get better because I know where I want to be next season. The only way I will get there is if I do extremely well this campaign.
Did you expect to go on loan this season? Beitar Tel Aviv is a feeder team for Maccabi Tel Aviv so I guess it gives them a good chance to look at you …
I will admit, I was under the impression when I joined that I was going straight to Maccabi, but when I heard about the loan deal and the reasons why I would go to Beitar, it was understandable to me and I just thought, ‘this season, let’s go work hard so that next season I can go there [Maccabi]’. I remember, when I went to do a COVID-19 test to be cleared to train, one of the Maccabi coaches came to me and said that the journey I was taking in going on loan was similar to most of the players they have there. Most of the current first team players have been on this same path. So to me, it seems like it is a normal thing that they send youngsters out.
What is it like at Beitar, you have a fellow Southern African there in Ngosa Sunzu from Zambia?
We are a lot of youngsters in the team, I think the average age of the squad is 20 years and nine months, so that tells you something. We have a very young team but we are doing well. We push each other to keep going, there is always good competition. There are a lot of youngsters and at the end of the day all of us have our own goals to look forward to. We are just here to improve each other and that is showing in the results, which is really pleasing, especially as most of us are playing together for the first time. With Ngosa, we stay together, so we have a different relationship to the other players. We are with each other every day before and after training, so we have formed a great relationship. The fact that we are both from Africa means we have this special bond.
“MOST OF THE CURRENT FIRST TEAM PLAYERS HAVE BEEN ON THIS SAME PATH.”
You are in the quarterfinals of the State Cup, that must be an exciting prospect to maybe go all the way this season?
Yeah, we are really looking forward to making it past the quarterfinal [against top-flight side Bnei Sakhnin] and going on to play against a bigger team. That would be so great for us, to play against one of the really big clubs in Israel. We would love that. But our main aim this season is to get promotion to the Ligat ha’Al.
You seem to be a versatile player and have been used in a number of different roles at the club. But what is your favourite position?
For me personally it is the number eight role, a real box-to-box midfielder. You are more involved in the game, you are involved in more of the action and I just really enjoy being on the ball. But I would play anywhere for the team, I will just put on my soccer boots and play. I have no problem at all with any position. You know, being asked to play in different positions is good because it teaches you a lot about the game. You learn much more by moving around the field a bit and having to adapt. So I don’t mind switching around, especially if it helps the team.
Are you from a footballing family? What is your first football memory?
My dad played when he was younger. I don’t mean professionally, but just for fun. But that is where I first fell in love with the game, he used to play on Sundays and I would go along and watch. For me it was great to see him play and I started getting into the game and to really love
football. I got to an age where I started to take it more seriously.
You are from Westbury, there have been some top talents from there in the likes of Steven Pienaar and Keagan Dolly!
Yes! I grew up in my grandmother’s house in Westbury and the people there just played football … every day. The guys were constantly playing on the weekends and it was all around you. I think that kind of street football actually made me like the game even more. It was a lot of fun and like I said, they were always, always playing and so I just joined in. It means I always had a ball at my feet.
Tell us about the early part of your career, which was your first club?
I first played for a team in Westbury called Argentinos, I would say it was the most popular club at the time. Most of the people I knew played there and it was a great place to start because you were among your friends. From there I ended up going to Wits juniors at the age of nine and then moved through the academy there.
Did you have any role-models when you were growing up?
I loved Teko Modise as a kid. I always used to see him as an idol. I watched him a lot, I even told my parents, ‘one day I am going to be like Teko’. I met him once and from then on I thought, ‘I can actually be like this guy’. It was great to see him, though I was a little shy at the time. This was someone that I had only seen on TV, but he was a star and someone I really looked up to. I wasn’t too sure what to do at the time, I just took a picture and that was it. But when you meet your role-model it gives you this sense that they are not very different from you. He was humble and it was great to meet him.
You made your professional debut last season for Wits against Stellenbosch FC and excelled in the second half of the season. How did you find your PSL experience, coming up from the MultiChoice Diski Challenge where you were the top scorer?
Stepping into the PSL … watching from outside you see something different and you think it is easier. But it is not, the PSL is a very good level. For a young player to come into it is very difficult, but also very good if you are willing to learn quickly from the senior players. I just wanted to have fun and play with as much confidence as I could give myself. I tried to just go out there and play, and just try my best. It sounds like a simple approach but that is what I always do. I feel like if I try my hardest and give my best, things will happen for me. The coach [Gavin Hunt] was really good with us youngsters and you knew that what he was teaching you was very important. He always told me, ‘just train the way you are going to play’, because it is pointless coming to training and you don’t show your best level. You are going to need that hard training. I have carried that with me from that day on. Every training session I go into I always treat it like it is a match situation. I always give 100%.
“THAT KIND OF STREET FOOTBALL ACTUALLY MADE ME LIKE THE GAME EVEN MORE.”
The sale of Wits obviously left you a little in limbo, so how did the move to Maccabi Tel Aviv come about?
When I first heard about it I wasn’t too sure, I must admit. I didn’t know who Maccabi Tel Aviv were or anything about them. But I went on the internet and started to do my own research. I checked the team out, looked at their history and realised pretty quickly that this was a good team and
a great place for me to start off. I obviously also spoke to my family and to my agent [Paul Mitchell]. We were still in the [Gauteng] bio-bubble when this first came up [last season] and so I had a lot of time to think about it! I took an extra month and finally made the decision I am going to go for it.
It is a very good league, the level is good, it teaches you something extra. Being in Israel has taught me a lot and for a young player, now I know how football is in the PSL and how it is in Israel. I have learnt a lot very v quickly. The game is a bit different and I have had to adjust, but that for me is good because now I know how to play in two different leagues.
You have represented South Africa at Under-20 level, have you targeted the Olympic O Games squad this year?
It is something I am thinking about. If I do get selected I would love it, it would be a great honour for me. But if not, we move on, it is what it is. We just go and look back at the season we had and try to improve on that.
Is there a particular league that you wouldw love to play in one day?
I wouldn’t say that there is just one league I would prefer to play in. I feel like I could play anywherea and if I have to adjust to the football in that place then I will. For me personally, I justj play according to what is in front of me anda if I have to adapt then I will.
“IF I DO GET SELECTED I WOULD LOVE IT, IT WOULD BE A GREAT HONOUR FOR ME.”