I was an­gry with my­self

Soccer Laduma - - Siyag Bhoza -

“We were taught to reach for the stars and that’s what we did.

Und er stand ably,dt­dbl there tends to be a lot of cu­rios­ity about a local player mov­ing into an Absa Pre­mier­ship side hav­ing come off a stint in Europe and hav­ing never played lo­cally be­fore. That some had never be­fore heard the name Ayanda Nk­ili maded theth de­fender’sdfd’ move tto Polok­wane City even more in­ter­est­ing. But, with the ob­scure kind of play­ers, there are al­ways sto­ries, of­ten of toil, hard­ship and strug­gle, and it is only when you sit down with them for a first­hand ac­count that you get to re­alise just how long and ar­du­ous the road to the top has been. For starters, se­cur­ing a move abroad for any local player is no child’s play. In this in­ter­view, the 28-year-old player gives Soc­cer Lad­uma’s Ce­line Abra­hams the low­down on his ca­reer.

Ce­line Abra­hams: Ayanda, you joined Polok­wane City at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son. Not many know of your where­abouts be­fore that. Let’s per­haps start this in­ter­view on that note…

Ayanda Nk­ili: Well, I was at Stel­len­bosch FC be­fore com­ing to Polok­wane. Other than that, I haven’t been play­ing here at home, as I was in Swe­den. I went straight there from the Stars of Africa Academy. It’s been a long jour­ney for me and I don’t even know where to start. Orig­i­nally, I come from Le­na­sia and I wouldn’t say it is a foot­balling place, as it is iso­lated from the spot­light. I was for­tu­nate enough to get the op­por­tu­nity to go to an academy like Stars of Africa. From there, things kind of took shape and di­rec­tion.

CA: We see.

AN: I then got a call from the academy to join them. At that point, I was just about to quit foot­ball. That call from coach Farouk (Khan) made me change my mind. He made me re­alise that there was still more for me in foot­ball and that’s when I de­cided to take him up on the of­fer and give it an­other shot. Two to three years down the line, I found my­self in Swe­den.

CA: You can count your lucky stars for not throw­ing in the towel!

AN: Ha, ha, you can say that again! Be­ing there helped me a lot. Coach Farouk is a great de­vel­op­ment coach, he gets into you and he knows how to bring out things that you didn’t even know about your­self. I can say that he brings you up from noth­ing to be­ing this player that peo­ple start to take note of. The foot­ball knowl­edge that we all re­ceived, both tech­ni­cal and tac­ti­cal, on and off the field, was great, es­pe­cially at such a young age where we could grasp what was be­ing taught to us. I must say that the academy re­ally pre­pares you well for this de­mand­ing foot­balling world. It is tricky com­ing out here and try­ing to make it. There are a lot of chal­lenges and a lot ex­pected from you, so they gave us those el­e­ments on how we can deal with cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. It was a great place to be in and, whether you liked it or not, once you were in that camp, there was no way you were go­ing to leave a bad player. You would al­ways come out a bet­ter player than you were when you first walked in. There was so much tal­ent in the academy and you worked so hard be­cause you didn’t want to be left be­hind. I think when we saw how se­ri­ous ev­ery­one else was, we also wanted to learn as much as we could and be­come bet­ter play­ers. The academy brought back my faith and made me re­alise that I have what it takes to be at a big club in the coun­try, but the aim was to go over­seas.

CA: And over­seas you did go, Swe­den to be ex­act…

AN: Yeah! If you look at our (Stars of Africa) gen­er­a­tion that came up, our main aim was to go over­seas. If we couldn’t make it, then you’d try to find a team lo­cally.. It’s not like we didn’t want to play at home, but ob­vi­ously, at that time the stan­dard of (South African) foot­ball wasn’t like it is now and we wanted more. We were taught to reach for the stars and that’s what we did. We woke up ev­ery day dream­ing of mak­ing that move over­seas. That was all we thought about and that is what mo­ti­vated and pushed us. You look at guys like May (Mahlangu) who left be­fore us… they were the guys that we looked up to. We wanted to fol­low in their foot­steps be­cause we saw that if they could do it, so could we.

CA: When you made the move, it must have been ex­cit­ing and daunt­ing in one go.

AN: Ja, es­pe­cially at a young age. It takes a lot of sac­ri­fices. You are away from home in a cold place, you don’t have that many friends and fam­ily around. It’s a big move to make, but you must be will­ing to take that chal­lenge on. You have to be strong men­tally. You can’t say that you want to go over­seas and then, when you get there, you can’t take all the chal­lenges that come your way. You have to pull through those first few dif­fi­cult months and, as time goes on, you get used to be­ing in that en­vi­ron­ment and then it is all about prov­ing your­self. But it all de­pends on an in­di­vid­ual. I know there are a lot of play­ers who fail to make it and then de­cide to come back home be­cause of the dif­fi­cul­ties, but again, it all de­pends on the per­son. You have to know what you want.

CA: Goes with­out say­ing.

AN: You can’t let any­thing get in your way. I can’t speak for other play­ers, I can only speak for my­self. I knew that I had to be men­tally strong be­cause I wanted to make some­thing of my­self. It’s never easy go­ing into those clubs, though, es­pe­cially as a for­eigner, but you have to go through them to be a bet­ter player. You learn a lot from be­ing in those dif­fer­ent places and clubs. It is a dif­fer­ent world out there and it’s al­ways nice to get a taste of that. It’s all about gain­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence and then us­ing it ef­fec­tively. When you are there, you have to make sure that you take ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

CA: What do you mean when you say it’s not easy at those clubs, es­pe­cially as a for­eigner?

AN: It’s the lan­guage, the type of foot­ball that is played, hav­ing to deal with the weather – it’s not big things, but they do have an im­pact. Also, when you go into those clubs, the man­age­ment is ex­pect­ing you to per­form bet­ter than the play­ers from there. When you are in a dif­fer­ent place, you are there to take some­one’s job and, that be­ing the case, you need to show them why you de­serve to be there. You have to work twice as hard and that’s a big chal­lenge. No mat­ter how good I was, I had to work harder to beat my team­mates. I could have done more, though. I could have done other things dif­fer­ently.

CA: What were those things?

AN: Ah, you know, it’s in the past and I don’t re­ally want to go back there. But… err… I don’t know how to put it… I was used to be play­ing all the time and then there was one time when I was put on the bench for seven or eight games with no ex­pla­na­tion. I never knew how to deal with that sit­u­a­tion. It re­ally broke me to a point where I started to doubt my­self and my abil­i­ties. The frus­tra­tion of be­ing so far from home started to get to me and there were so many neg­a­tive thoughts go­ing through my mind. I was young and I didn’t know how to re­ally deal with be­ing in sit­u­a­tions like that. That’s why I say it’s about you as an in­di­vid­ual and how you are able to go through those try­ing times and get over that moun­tain. For me, it was my fam­ily, my girl­friend and my first-born at the time that helped me get through that dif­fi­cult stage. Also, I had my Stars of Africa brothers around, which made things a bit eas­ier. At first, when we were all around the same area, we would at­tend each other’s games, give each other ad­vice and just be there for each other. When we started mov­ing away be­cause of dif­fer­ent clubs, we would still keep in con­tact and chat on the phone. It felt good to have them around. To­day, we are still very much in con­tact with one an­other. CA: So why did you de­cide to leave Ore­bro SK? AN: (Sighs) I wasn’t re­leased from the club, so to say. I was of­fered a con­tract, but with the things that were hap­pen­ing, I couldn’t take it any­more. I felt that I de­served bet­ter. I re­ally felt like I de­served more. I spoke to the coach there and I told him how I felt, and I just didn’t take the club’s of­fer. CA: That left you out of ac­tion for a year upon your re­turn to Mzansi. AN: I re­turned home in Novem­ber (2016) and I de­cided to take a break go­ing into De­cem­ber. In Jan­uary, when we had things go­ing on with my agent, I went out and trained with the local clubs in Le­na­sia and, un­for­tu­nately, I broke my an­kle. It was re­ally bad and I was out of foot­ball for about three months, close to four. I was so, so an­gry! I was an­gry with my­self, at ev­ery­one, even my agent! I was an­gry at him for not putting things into place ear­lier. I was sup­posed to go to Turkey, Azer­bai­jan, Fin­land – I had con­tract op­tions, but which club was go­ing to take me when I had in­jured my­self? In Au­gust 2017, I de­cided to get my act to­gether and get back into foot­ball. That’s when I joined Stel­len­bosch.

CA: That even­tu­ally cul­mi­nated in a move to Rise and Shine.

AN: Yeah, that was a quick one – I got a call and was told that Polok­wane were in­ter­ested in me, I came to the club and every­thing was done. They saw me in one of the games I played and they saw me as some­one that they wanted in the team. If it wasn’t for Stel­len­bosch, I wouldn’t be in Polok­wane. That’s why I say every­thing hap­pens for a rea­son. This is my new path and I am very happy with where I am. I’m en­joy­ing my foot­ball, I have great team­mates around me, great coaches and I am play­ing in a league that re­quires only the best. I couldn’t be hap­pier.

CA: We also couldn’t be hap­pier speak­ing to you about your foot­ball jour­ney. Cheers.

AN: Thanks for the chat, Ce­line.

Face­book l Ayanda Nk­ili Aix In­sta­gram l @ntu­tu_a

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