Macuphu: I nearly quit the game
If you are looking for a player to grab the headlines, that player is not Mxolisi Macuphu. His role at Bidvest Wits is such that he has to put the ball in the back of the net and leave the shibobos and tsamayas to the midfielders. The 29-year-old has been quietly doing the business for the Braamfontein-based side since making the switch from Chippa United at the start of the current season and, after receiving a Bafana Bafana call-up for his efforts, more will be expected of him going forward. However, competition is very tough in the Wits striking department. In this interview with Soccer Laduma’s Beaver Nazo, Macuphu speaks about fitting in like a hand in glove at the club, as well as past experiences in the game.
Beaver Nazo: Mxo, you started your Bidvest Wits career well and have scored two goals so far.
Mxolisi Macuphu: What has motivated me is the environment, the winning mentality and the ambition of the team, together with the technical team. We have had different players on the score sheet, meaning that we are all determined to do well this season. We also have a very good coach who makes us believe in ourselves. We also played a couple of friendlies in pre-season and we got to a point where we could understand each other perfectly.
BN: You have somewhat gone off the boil though, the rare start against Baroka FC on the weekend notwithstanding.
MM: Look, it is because of the quality that we have in the team. The coach explained to us at the beginning of the season that all of us would be competing and whether I or Simon (Murray) or Lehlohonolo (Majoro) play, we have to take it as sportsmen and support our teammate. It is competition. Coach Gavin Hunt looks at the game and decides who he’s going to start with.
BN: Could this have had something to do with the arrival of Murray, who’s stolen the headlines recently?
MM: Simon is a very good striker. When he came in, I was on form and, like I said, the coach looks at each game and decides who he’s going to use or start. That’s how Gavin is.
BN: You are a striker unlike few others in South African football, in that you are a point of reference and are able to hold the ball up for your teammates. Plus you stay in the box. You aren’t a flashy player but you’re there to make life uncomfortable for opposition defenders, more like your Phil Masinga. It’s a role not appreciated enough in our game, as what counts in the eyes of many people is how many goals you’ve scored.
MM: Right now the top scorer is on five goals. That on its own is a problem. Yes, people look at how many goals you have scored, but they should look at the assists. I mean, scoring goals has been a problem and you sometimes ask yourself, “Are we getting enough supply as strikers?” To be honest with you, the game has changed and a lot happens during the games. I wouldn’t want to say we are not getting the supply, but it really depends on how the opponent strives to break your attacks and cut the supply.
BN: Often people urge strikers to stay in the box, but sometimes the ball never reaches you and you are forced to come deep to collect it, thus limiting your impact. Sometimes you get into good positions and the midfielder takes one touch too many before passing you the ball and by that time you are already offside. Tell us about this frustration for a player like you!
MM: That is very challenging. Usually after games, we talk as strikers. I am the type of a person who likes to ask people about the game. I would ask the other strikers, like Siphelele Mthembu, what has been working for them. It is not only my or Wits’ problem but that of the league as a whole. It is frustrating, man, because as a striker you are getting paid to score goals. If you look at strikers all over the world, you’ll find out that it really isn’t easy to score anymore, except for the likes of Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. You need luck as well to score goals.
BN: Wits signed you from Chippa United in the July/August transfer window and you command a regular starting berth ahead of Lehlohonolo Majoro, the team’s first choice striker last season. MM: Funnily enough, people don’t know that it is not the first time I’ve met Majoro. I was playing for Tshwane University of Technology and he was playing for University of Johannesburg, so we’ve been in the national set-up of Varsity football together. We know each other very well and speak about it a lot. As for the current situation, he takes it like the professional that he is. We would love to play together, but we have a coach who has his philosophy and we have to respect it. He knows what he wants. There will be times when I will also be on the bench, like it was the case against Cape Town City and another player (Simon Murray) did well. Majoro doesn’t take it negatively at all; he is professional about it.
BN: The Students lost 1-0 to Baroka FC in the semi-final of the Telkom Knockout last Sunday in a game where you were seen as the favourites. Where did it go wrong for you?
MM: It was a game of football and we wanted it as much as they wanted it. On the day, the football gods didn’t smile on us because we had so many chances that we would have buried on any other day. It was just not our day.
BN: You are currently occupying second place on the log standings…
MM: It’s still too early to tell, but maintaining our form is what we want. We have a lot of firepower and a great bunch of players here. The likes of Gabadinho Mhango haven’t played yet this season and there’s also Majoro, so it is possible. We’ve started well and I am pretty sure we can maintain our form. BN: You were called up as a replacement for the injured Lebo Mothiba for Bafana Bafana’s AFCON qualifier against Libya in September. Describe that feeling for us! MM: I cannot describe the feeling, but I just need to say that the hard work I’ve been putting in finally paid off. I was really happy to be part of the Bafana squad. As footballers, we all wish to represent our country and when that call does come, you become excited. Some of the guys there are my teammates at club level and some I’ve played with before, so they made it extremely easy for me to do my job. It was amazing. I have to thank my teammates and the coach for always pushing me. BN: How was the experience?
MM: Coach Stuart Baxter is a European coach and he believes in tactical discipline. Being in the national team set-up was great. I got to learn a lot of new things and, being there, you get to meet international players from different leagues but with a common goal. Coach Baxter’s tactics are very easy, he motivates his players and he believes in every player he selects, so it becomes easy for everyone and he focuses more on tactical discipline. The game is changing all the time, so if your tactical discipline is up to standard, then you are in a better place, which is why coach Stuart is always emphasizing on it.
BN: Your teammate, Thabang Monare, is reportedly unhappy about being constantly overlooked for national team selection.
MM: Monare and I speak every day. We are close because we were teammates at Jomo Cosmos. It’s not just he who is not happy about it but the rest of the team. Fortunately, he’s got a very good coach in Gavin Hunt, who always motivates him. Even Gavin is aware of the fact that Monare is doing well and deserves to be called up. As a team, we also encourage him to continue working hard. He has a family that cares for him at Bidvest Wits and he has to continue pushing – his time will come. He has age on his side. I mean, I also got my first call-up now at 29 and it is still possible for him as well. When the time is right, they will call him up.
BN: You only stayed for six months at Chippa, having signed from Jomo Cosmos in January this year. Why did you leave the club?
MM: Mr Siviwe Mpengesi is known for producing great players and selling them. I had a brief chat with him and he said to me, “If you do well here and big teams want you, I will never stand in your way.” He told me that together with my then teammate, Linda Mntambo, now at Orlando Pirates. Even when we were leaving the club, he gave us his blessings and I will forever be thankful to him for that.
BN: You also had a brief stay at Polokwane City where you only played one game. What happened there?
MM: Eish, that time of my career… that was my downfall. My downfall was joining Polokwane City that season. That move was never good for my career, but I don’t regret joining them. I have since moved on with my career. Everything in life happens for a reason. You have to pass through some difficult moments. I don’t think the environment was good for me and, even at home, they told me to rather leave if the environment is not good for me. BN: So what happened? MM: It was not football-related; it was stuff outside football. There were a lot of things and I don’t really like talking about it, but since you won’t let it go, I might as well give you a summary. There was a clash between the chairman (Johnny Mogaladi) and my agent. There were a lot of things, man. It was getting ugly and we were taking each other to the courts and all that. I decided to terminate my contract and moved on. BN: What was the cause of the fights? MM: The club didn’t meet some of the clauses in my contract. It was not a good environment for me to produce good form. I decided to move on and we shook hands with the chairman when they agreed to terminate my contract. There is no bad blood between us. It was just a football decision after everything that happened.
BN: Before we let you go, we understand you almost quit football at one stage...
MM: Yeah, I remember that and it was before I joined Cosmos that I took a decision to quit the game. The reason was that I felt maybe football was not for me. It was in 2013. I had turned professional in 2010 and I couldn’t see any progress in my career. Remember I dropped out in the third year of my IT studies and my friends that I was studying with were driving flashy cars and enjoying life, while I didn’t see any progress from my side. But through the grace of the Lord, I’m still here. BN: Who talked you out of it?
MM: Funnily enough, I was sitting at home when I got a call from a guy named Joseph Dube, who was the coach of Blackburn Rovers, asking me to join them. The chairman and Luxolo Matikinca (BlackBurn Rovers’ spoke person) also called me and talked me out of my decision. I have to give credit to them. I will forever be thankful to them for that.
BN: Let’s leave it there, bro. All the best!
MM: Thanks, bhuti wami ( my
“I will forever be thankful to him.” “I felt maybe football was not for me.”