Saturday Star

‘Yeye’ relishes CAF challenge

Veteran midfielder happy to share his experience

- NJABULO NGIDI MAZOLA MOLEFE

ON JUNE 9, when he tur ns 35, Reneilwe “Yeye” Letsholony­ane will start sliding down towards the age that’s a swearword in South African football – but that doesn’t bother the SuperSport United midfielder because he has found the fountain of youth.

Letsholony­ane has been ageing backwards since joining SuperSport United last year after eight glorious years at Kaizer Chiefs that saw him lift every domestic trophy on offer, and earn over 50 Bafana Bafana caps.

Many feel he was kicked out of Chiefs because of his age, even though he disputes that, saying in fact the club had offered him a two-year extension on his contract.

Those accusation­s came because turning 30 is something of a sin in the local game. It’s punished by being side-lined because you might “infect” others with your age.

“Yeye” has been infecting his teammates with wisdom.

Seeing him train with 20-year-old Teboho Mokoena showed how much influence Letsholony­ane has on the youngster. The two for m a deadly combinatio­n in midfield, which is why coach Stuart Baxter tends to put them on opposing teams. That fasttracks Mokoena’s growth, having to outsmart the maestro.

Letsholony­ane is the club’s best buy, which is made more remarkable by the fact that he arrived there on a free transfer after his contract expired at Chiefs.

The midfielder is far from reaching his sell-by date and he doesn’t mind sharing what has kept him going all these years.

“It’s mainly taking care of myself, not losing sight of the goals I set for myself when I turned profession­al,” Letsholony­ane said.

“It’s discipline, having order in your life and obviously the support syst em f rom friends and family helps as well. Being humble is important. No matter what I have achieved, I still want to be the best player that I can be and win more titles.”

Letsholony­ane’s experience will come in handy for SuperSport in the CAF Confederat­ion Cup. Matsatsant­sa start their campaign today in Madagascar against ASSM Elgeco Plus in the first leg of the preliminar­y round. The return leg in Pretoria will be next weekend.

SuperSport haven’t reached the group stage of this competitio­n before. They’ve only done that in the Champions League, reaching the last eight in 2004. This year the continenta­l club competitio­ns have been expanded, adding more money and increasing the groups from two to four.

Having travelled the continent with Bafana and Amakhosi, Letsholony­ane knows what’s needed to do well in continenta­l football.

“It’s more psychologi­cal than physical talent that matters,” he said.

“We have the talent in our country but we aren’t a force in the continent. It shows that you need more than talent to succeed, especially in these competitio­ns. It’s not about how talented you are but how mentally strong you are and how you can overcome the challenges that you will come across.”

This stage is fairly easy and routine. It’s also not that challengin­g, with a trip to Madagascar more like a holiday than a test of endurance.

The f ur t her SuperSport progress the tougher it will get. If they get past Elgeco Plus, who have never gone past this stage, they will face Sudan’s Al-Ahly Shendi in the second round and then a team that will be demoted from the Champions League in the play-offs. The play-offs are the final round before the group stage.

“It’s important for any brand that wants to grow to succeed,” Letsholony­ane said.

“That’s how you grow. We have to do well in the continent so that more people outside the country know about us as a club and a brand.

“The TV channel has a big footprint in the continent, so we have to complement that as a club and follow in their footsteps.

“The more we do well, the more we will put our name out there.”

PLATINUM Stars return to continenta­l football tonight for only the second time in the club’s history with a home fixture against a side that barely has a Wikipedia page – Uniao Desportiva do Songo from Mozambique.

“I know they came to South Africa to play a friendly against Orlando Pirates and lost 9-0, but we never got to see them as we were in Mpumalanga for our mid-season break,” said coach Cavin Johnson, who ushers Dikwena into the start of their CAF Confederat­ion Cup journey, a less prestigiou­s tournament than the Champions League they took part in almost a decade ago.

Having finished in third place in the Absa Premiershi­p last season presented Dikwena with this rare opportunit­y to get a taste of continenta­l football having missed out when they ended the campaign as runners-up in 2014.

Then, South African clubs were disadvanta­ged by their poor CAF ranking and the country only had one representa­tive.

But the ranking has since improved and Johnson’s side is one of four teams – Mamelodi Sundowns, Bidvest Wits and SuperSport United – in the Champions League and Confederat­ion Cup, respective­ly.

“I can’t speak for other clubs, but for us this tournament is important, even if we don’t go all the way. It’s not about the prize money, but seeing what the continent has to offer,” Johnson explained.

“Sundowns ( Champions League winners in October last year) have made a huge impression. I know a lot of people are taken by the razzmatazz and the marketing of the European Champions League, but this is our version and has got to be taken seriously.”

Johnson has his heart in the right place, but the fact that Dikwena find themselves in the bottom half of the Premier League means their participat­ion in the Confederat­ion Cup is a double-edged sword.

“I don’t have the luxury to be changing players around for this game because of the numbers we have in the team. There’s a lot of experience, but at the same time there is not a lot of young players,” he said.

“Initially we wanted this to help the players with their hunger and determinat­ion for the game, but because of where we are in the league (fifth from bottom), it’s a little bit tough, especially when you are playing a team you know nothing about.”

The second leg is schedule a week later at the Estadio do Zimpeto, where Bafana Bafana were held to a 1-1 draw by Mozambique in November, a few days after their victory over Senegal in 2018 World Cup qualifier.

 ??  ?? For Reneilwe Letsholony­ane of SuperSport United age is but a number.
For Reneilwe Letsholony­ane of SuperSport United age is but a number.
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