Macu­phu: I nearly quit the game

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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.”

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