Bento: Changing agents cost me
“I would probably still be at Sundowns if I didn’t leave that agency.” “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
When little-known Flavio Bento joined Mamelodi Sundowns from Academica de Coimbra in 2014, the general expectation was that he would be among the group of players to take over the baton from some of the ageing members of the squad and, in the process, help maintain the club’s standards. Yet the three years the midfielder was at Chloorkop were marked by first team inactivity, as he featured mostly in the club’s Multi Choice Diski Challenge team. As Soccer Laduma’s Lunga Adam learns in this interview, it turns out there was more to this lack of first team action than the public would have been made to believe, and the former Jomo Cosmos youth player does not hide his disappointment and regret at the turn of events. He is now in Cyprus and, like a jilted lover who has found new romance, trying as much as he could to put it all behind him. Read on!
Lunga Adam: Flavio, let’s take this opportunity to welcome you to the pages of Soccer Laduma. We haven’t heard anything from or about you since you left Mamelodi Sundowns more than a year ago. What’s happening with you right now?
Flavio Bento: Things are going good, I can’t complain and everything is on the right track. I’m currently at Karmiotissa in the Second Division in Cyprus – it’s sort of like the National First Division in South Africa. Last season I was playing for APEP Pitsilia in the Third Division and I did well there. I scored in the first two games of the season, I was performing well and then I had interest from another Second Division team, not the one I’m playing for now. At the time, I got injured. January came, the transfer window closed and nothing happened (regarding a move). Then this season I got called by the one agent I’m working with this side and he said, “Look, there’s this opportunity, would you be interested?” I signed a year-on-year contract with the club and we are looking to go up to the First Division. Things are looking good and we are three points behind the log leaders, who are one of the favourites to go up, with 13 games played so far.
LA: Why did you think Cyprus was a good destination for you?
FB: When my contract was terminated at Sundowns, I expressed a wish to come back to Europe and then Cyprus came about after I was invited to train with a club here. When I first came here, I saw how highly they rate Portuguese players and I thought this could be an opportunity for me and then I chose to play here. Look, I would have stayed if Sundowns had extended my contract.
LA: One would then ask why you chose to leave behind all the comfort, the fame, the glamorous lifestyle that comes along with being a professional footballer to settle for lower league football in an obscure country?
FB: (Goes silent for a few seconds) Look, it’s a tough question. I guess as good as the money was at Sundowns, it would be better in Europe. It’s much better in Europe once you reach a high level. Yes, the life was nice back in South Africa, I agree with that, but there’s more to football than that.
LA: How do you look back at your time with Sundowns, where you were seen as a future prospect but never really nailed down a place in the starting line-up?
FB: I’m grateful for the time that I had there. It’s a pity that I wasn’t given what I was promised. I was promised game-time but it never came. Sometimes in football things happen that are just beyond your control and you just have to soldier on. But ja, if you look at the players that I played with in the MDC, like Tiyani Mabunda and Motjeka Madisha, they eventually got their opportunity, but I never got my opportunity.
LA: How did that feel?
FB: I am still disappointed to this day, but because of what happened behind the scenes, I have learned from those mistakes.
LA: What happened behind the scenes?
FB: Hmmm... let’s put it this way... the agent that I signed with at Sundowns ( Ashley Kotzin)... once I left that agent, then all of a sudden I forgot how to play football. So, agents, money, coaches, you know... LA: It must have been a tough space to find yourself in. FB: For sure, hey. Definitely. But you learn from your mistakes. I should never have left that agency I had signed up with at Sundowns. I would probably still be at Sundowns if I didn’t leave that agency and received that opportunity that I was promised.
LA: So why did you leave the agency?
FB: It’s because at my time at Downs, I got a serious injury, which kept me out for seven months. During those seven months, not once did I receive a call from the agency, saying, “Hey, how are you doing? How’s the recovery going?” and all that. That was the main reason why I left him. LA: It’s expected of a player to be
judged solely on ability. Do you think it was fair that you were not played simply because, as you say, you changed agents?
FB: Obviously, it’s not fair, but I guess when you haven’t made a name for yourself, things like that will happen. Once you make a name for yourself, no one can say, ‘Hey, this guy is not a good player.’ Things that happen behind the scenes influence the game, you know.
LA: Did you ever ask questions then? FB: No, I never asked questions. I accepted what happened.
LA: What was coach Pitso Mosimane saying to you all along?
FB: The coach and I had a close relationship. When I was with that agent, the coach would come and talk to me. When I left that agent guy, he changed dramatically. Drastically.
LA: How so?
FB: I was put aside, you know. All of a sudden, I had forgotten how to play soccer. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was put aside and used in the MDC. But I think the MDC is a good initiative. I played there, kept pushing and hoping that one day I would make a name for myself in the senior team, but it never happened.
LA: How did you keep yourself motivated during what must have been a frustrating period?
FB: There was a stage where I wanted to give up. It was hard.
LA: What were the MDC boys at Sundowns saying to you throughout?
FB: They didn’t really say much to me. They also kept motivating me, wanting the best out of me and I kept pushing.
LA: When your contract was terminated, did you feel relieved or disappointed?
FB: It was a bittersweet moment. Yes, I wanted to stay – the money was good, the professionalism there was good. But then I wanted to be out there and to make a name for myself. I enjoyed being back in South Africa and playing in the Absa Premiership though. It was a fast-paced game, with a lot of good players and I had lots of chances to learn from those good players
LA: Some might not be aware that you had actually been playing in Portugal for a while before Sundowns. Tell us more about your time there…
FB: I was there for two years at junior level at Academica de Coimbra. I got called up two or three times to train with the first team, but nothing materialised from that. LA: Thanks for your time and for sharing your story with us, Flavio. FB: Thanks. ❐