I felt the love!

Soccer Laduma - - Siyag Bhoza -

“It’s like the foot­ball gods are not an­swer­ing you…” “We have much more to play for and we are go­ing to do our best.”

Justin Shonga ex­pe­ri­enced a dip in form in the early stages of the cur­rent cam­paign, but be­ing a for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer, it was al­ways hoped he would ar­rest this slide. To­day, the Zam­bian for­ward is happy to re­port that hours of work on the train­ing pitch and en­cour­age­ment from his team­mates and the tech­ni­cal team led to a change in for­tunes. Hav­ing scored five goals and made five as­sists so far this sea­son, he is still look­ing to do more as Or­lando Pi­rates chase their first piece of sil­ver­ware un­der coach Mi­lutin Sre­do­je­vic. Soc­cer Lad­uma’s Ce­line Abra­hams caught up with Shonga as he opens up about how he re­mained sane in what was a chal­leng­ing pe­riod…

Ce­line Abra­hams: Bayer, be­fore we get talk­ing about Or­lando Pi­rates’ progress at the half­way mark of the sea­son, how would you de­scribe your cam­paign from an in­di­vid­ual point of view?

Justin Shonga:

Hmm, I would say the sea­son is go­ing the way that I wanted it to go from the start. It was a bad start, I missed a lot of chances, I wasn’t scor­ing enough goals for the team and, ja, I didn’t start very well. Things were just look­ing like it was go­ing from bad to worse. In our games, I had op­por­tu­ni­ties to score, but it wasn’t hap­pen­ing for me. But now I have the right boots on and things are work­ing out. The club is do­ing well and we are all work­ing hard be­hind the scenes to make sure that we give our sup­port­ers some­thing to smile about.

CA: Many weren’t ex­pect­ing to see you scor­ing only one goal across all com­pe­ti­tions in the first three months af­ter 13 ap­pear­ances. What would you say contributed to this bad start as you have called it?

JS: Eish, on that one, I would say it’s just how foot­ball is. You might ex­pect some­thing dif­fer­ent be­cause of all the hard work that you put in, neh? Like, you want to do well, but then the foot­ball is not giv­ing you the re­sults that you want to see. You want to play, you push your­self, you want to score, but noth­ing is com­ing. It’s like the foot­ball gods are not an­swer­ing you the way you want them to. But, with time and with pa­tience, every­thing comes into place. You get your con­fi­dence back and then, once you start scor­ing again, it helps to make you re­lax a bit be­cause you know that now you are start­ing to find your­self again and that was what I wanted for my­self. We had a good pre-sea­son, so I can’t blame that for my poor start. I would say that I was try­ing too hard, I was forc­ing things on the pitch and I was rush­ing be­cause I wanted to score be­cause that was what ev­ery­one else was ex­pect­ing to see from me, in­stead of me tak­ing my time to make good de­ci­sions, get into the right po­si­tions and score prop­erly. I think I let every­thing get to me, so I would say that pres­sure did get to me. I didn’t want to play in three or four games and not score be­cause I knew that I could score. I kept telling my­self that I have to score and that’s when things weren’t hap­pen­ing.

CA: Was the tech­ni­cal team say­ing to you that they were ex­pect­ing you to bury those chances?

JS: They (coach Mi­lutin Sre­do­je­vic and Rhu­lani Mok­wena) sat me down and told me that it is not only about scor­ing but I must also as­sist. We did talk about me not scor­ing and they did say that it does not look good that I was not scor­ing, but that I mustn’t look down on my­self and that I must keep on work­ing be­cause it will work out soon. They said to me that they un­der­stood that there comes those times in foot­ball where as a striker goals don’t al­ways come, but they al­ways see that I am in the right places on the field and that I cre­ate chances for my team­mates. So they en­cour­aged me a lot to pick my head up and to raise my game again and I worked hard to make that hap­pen. With coach Mi­cho and the way he came out to de­fend me in the me­dia when there were peo­ple talk­ing about me not scor­ing, I felt the love and the con­fi­dence that he has in me. He was like, “Justin, with time all of this is go­ing to pass. Just ac­cept what is hap­pen­ing and keep work­ing hard.” The coaches gave me an op­por­tu­nity and they gave me time. I ap­pre­ci­ate them and they mo­ti­vated me so much that I never wanted to let them down again. My team­mates also helped me a lot. CA: How so? JS: Peo­ple like (Au­gus­tine) Mu­lenga, my cap­tain Happy Jele, Siyabonga Mpontshane, Jack­son Mabokg­wane… ja, these guys en­cour­aged me… even Them­binkosi Lorch, Vin­cent Pule. The whole team, in their own ways, would tell me, “You know it’s never easy and don’t fo­cus on what ev­ery­one else is say­ing. If you lis­ten to them, then you are go­ing to break. Foot­ball is played on the pitch, so you must fo­cus on that. If peo­ple want to talk, let them talk and you just keep work­ing on your­self.” I lis­tened to my team­mates and now things are look­ing bet­ter. I kept on go­ing and I was never go­ing to give up be­cause too many peo­ple have be­lief in me and I would never want to let any­one down. As a team, we are very united. We are to­gether and we help each other when­ever we can. You will see that be­fore a game we sing to­gether. In camp, we sit around and make jokes with each other. On the train­ing field, we al­ways give each other ad­vice and, most im­por­tantly, we have fun to­gether. I think that has not only helped me, but it has helped us fight for each other on the pitch.

CA: Now the pic­ture is a more beau­ti­ful one – five goals and five as­sists in 22 ap­pear­ances in all com­pe­ti­tions!

JS: That is a mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor and it brings me back to life be­cause now I have started to en­joy my foot­ball and I don’t worry about any­thing else. But I still have to work on my fin­ish­ing be­cause I know I can score a lot of goals in a game, look­ing at the chances that I get. I would want to score at least two in a game, but I don’t want to force my­self be­cause once I start do­ing that, I’ll end up miss­ing clear-cut chances.

CA: Your free kicks in the lat­ter stages of the sea­son’s first round have been one as­pect of your game that has caught the eye of the spec­ta­tors…

JS: (Laughs) Ja, I have been work­ing on them in train­ing a lot. I have al­ways liked how the likes of Cris­tiano Ron­aldo take free kicks and I would say that I used to copy those free kicks. I al­ways had a bit of power, but I needed to work on the per­fec­tion. At train­ing, our fin­ish­ing coach (Stephane Adam) tells me to work on my free-kicks all the time so that I could start scor­ing from them. I prac­tise all the time and it has been work­ing, so I am happy with that progress. And now, even my team­mates, when we get a free kick, they give it to me to take. We al­ways make sure that we use those free kicks be­cause you never know if we will score in open play.

CA: We are go­ing to go back to the re­la­tion­ships that you spoke about with your team­mates and one that stands out is the brotherly love that you share with your coun­try­man, Mu­lenga.

JS: This part­ner­ship and re­la­tion­ship that we have started back home. I think it has been two years that we have been to­gether play­ing for our na­tional team and we are very close both on and off the field. I think the un­der­stand­ing that we have in terms of move­ments, the way he plays and the lan­guage that we share has helped us both. It’s re­ally nice. We stay in the same com­plex here. If we want to go to the mall, we go to­gether, we watch games to­gether and we an­a­lyse our games to­gether. That has also helped us with our un­der­stand­ing of each other on the field be­cause we would look at our pre­vi­ous games and he would tell me when he does some­thing and where I should be so that he can pick me out and I would do the same with him. We know our move­ments so well, but some­times when you are in a game, things hap­pen so fast and then he could come to me and tell me, “But I told you that you must be in that po­si­tion!” (Laughs). He is a great player. He is skil­ful, he has a good foot­ball un­der­stand­ing, he knows what he has to do and he works very hard. Just like ev­ery­one else in our team, he wants to do well so that we can win tro­phies for the club. CA: You came so close to win­ning one, the Telkom Knockout, but Baroka FC hap­pened. JS: Firstly, I think it was nice for us to get to the fi­nal be­cause we all know that it had been a very long time since the club had been in a fi­nal of a cup com­pe­ti­tion. It felt good to be there af­ter so many years. The coaches came in, changed the phi­los­o­phy, brought in the game model and I think it has re­ally helped the team to be where we are at the mo­ment. It was un­for­tu­nate that af­ter we worked so hard in that game, we lost in the end, but I guess it wasn’t our day at all. We lost a player (Mar­shall Munetsi) so early in the game and we had to fight with 10 play­ers on the field. It wasn’t easy at all, but we wanted to win so we gave it our all. I mean, we came back twice and that just shows how much hunger we had to win the tro­phy for our sup­port­ers. We wanted to do well for the badge. But, ja, un­for­tu­nately things don’t al­ways go our way and I just want to con­grat­u­late coach Wed­son (Nyirenda) and his team for their win on the night. We have moved on now be­cause there are other tro­phies to fight for. We need to win tro­phies for the club. For me, go­ing to take that penalty was a ner­vous mo­ment. Af­ter I took it and I saw that I had missed it, I was heart­bro­ken. I was sad be­cause that’s a cup we re­ally wanted to win.

CA: We can only imag­ine the mood af­ter that match.

JS: (Takes a deep breath) Af­ter the game, no­body talked; we were all quiet. But we had to re­alise that what hap­pened is some­thing that we couldn’t change and we had to keep our spir­its up be­cause there are still other tro­phies that we can work for. The coaches told us that we have a league to fo­cus on, we have CAF Cham­pi­ons League to play and there is still the Ned­bank Cup, so we are fo­cus­ing on that. We have learned from our mis­takes and we are mov­ing on. We have much more to play for and we are go­ing to do our

best.

CA: As we speak, Bucs are sec­ond on the log stand­ings.

JS: Ja, we are just tak­ing it one game at a time and mak­ing sure that we get all the points that we can get. There isn’t much that I would say about the league be­cause there are still many games to play, so we don’t want to get ahead of our­selves.

CA: Thank you for your time, Justin. All the best for the sec­ond round of the cam­paign and this week­end’s CAF Cham­pi­ons League match against FC Plat­inum.

JS: Thank you very much!

Face­book l Justin Shonga In­sta­gram l @justin_shon­ga_

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