Bon­gani Zungu: A war­rior-artist who can help top­ple the Su­per Ea­gles

Sunday Times - - SPORT - NJAB­ULO NGIDI

TALK­ING about the huge strides Bon­gani Zungu has made in Por­tu­gal in such a short time em­bar­rasses him.

Zungu is quick to state that he hasn’t done much at Vi­to­ria Guimaraes even though he started on the back-foot — which makes his ac­com­plish­ments more re­mark­able.

“I was in­jured [hair­line frac­ture of the shin] when I ar­rived here last year,” Zungu said at the air­port in Por­tu­gal be­fore board­ing a flight back home.

“It was tough to adapt be­cause I was in a new en­vi­ron­ment, in a new coun­try and con­ti­nent but I couldn’t show them why I was brought there. I had to adapt to the weather and the new sur­round­ings. I had to be men­tally strong.

“The team was very un­der­stand­ing. They didn’t rush me. They al­lowed me to heal and get ready in my own time. Once that hap­pened I then had to adapt to the football.

“It’s not like in South Africa. It’s faster. I then had to fight for my place in the start­ing XI which was hard be­cause I didn’t have a pre­sea­son with the team.”

De­spite all of that, Zungu be­came an in­stant hit at Guimaraes. He is loved by the fans, his team­mates and the tech­ni­cal team. “The coach tells me that if I had pre-sea­son with the team I would have been far.”

The 24-year-old has done a lot since he started fea­tur­ing reg­u­larly on Jan­uary 22.

He missed only one match in that pe­riod, scored in the 2-1 loss to Ben­fica in the fi­nal of the Taça de Por­tu­gal, the Por­tuguese league’s — Primeira Liga — ver­sion of the Ned­bank Cup, and did enough to at­tract in­ter­est from Eng­land, Ger­many, Spain and Ben­fica. Such a me­te­oric rise is not new to Zungu. Seven years ago he was play­ing in the Na­tional First Divi­sion with Dy­namos. He spent two years there and then joined Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria in the Pre­mier Soc­cer League. Af­ter a year at AmaTuks he moved to Mamelodi Sun­downs.

Zungu spent just three years with the Brazil­ians be­fore he ful­filled his dream of play­ing in Europe. “I love chal­lenges. I thrive on them. I left Tuks for Sun­downs even though a lot of peo­ple said that I wouldn’t make it there.

“I used those words as mo­ti­va­tion, with­out be­ing big-headed, to prove them wrong. You don’t grow when you stay in one place for a long time be­cause you get com­fort­able.”

The mid­fielder wel­comed home com­forts though af­ter land­ing on Fri­day, es­pe­cially pap. “I haven’t had it in a year. It’s one of the things I missed about home.”

But don’t ex­pect Zungu to be back in Europe soon be­cause he misses home like some of his lo­cal peers have, re­turn­ing only af­ter a few years from their Euro­pean clubs.

“I look up to play­ers like Benni McCarthy and Lu­cas Radebe be­cause of the num­ber of years they spent in Europe and what they achieved there. I have read a lot about them to find out what it took for them to stay here for a long time,” he said.

“I am on the right path. I just have to keep my feet on the ground and not get too com­fort­able. I haven’t done any­thing yet. This is just the start. If I think that I have ar­rived, then I will have prob­lems.

“I am not say­ing that the guys who re­turned home thought that they had ar­rived and that’s why they didn’t last. I can only speak about my­self. I watch my­self af­ter ev­ery game to see what I did wrong and what I need to im­prove on. I am con­fi­dent in my abil­ity and what I can of­fer. I am not where I want to be and I know what I need to do to get there.”

Zungu and the 24 oth­ers that coach Stu­art Bax­ter se­lected for his first match in charge of Bafana Bafana re­port for camp to­day. Bafana are set to leave on Wed­nes­day for Uyo where they will take on Nige­ria in the 2019 Africa Cup of Na­tions (Af­con) qual­i­fier.

In as­sem­bling the team Bax­ter said he wanted war­riors who can take the fight to the Su­per Ea­gles. But he also needs artists who can do magic with the ball to com­ple­ment those war­riors. In Zungu, 63-year-old Bax­ter has an artist and a war­rior.

The lad from Duduza on the East Rand can paint a mas­ter­piece with his feet. He also has an un­re­lent­ing fight­ing spirit.

“I am a very ver­sa­tile player,” Zungu said. “I started out as a cen­tre­back ekasi. I can play as a six and a 10, wher­ever the coach needs me. That’s an ad­van­tage, and I can de­liver. I work hard and run a lot. But I also have skills.”

Bafana will be look­ing to start on a pos­i­tive note against their old en­emy. The Su­per Ea­gles are un­beaten un­der Ger­not Rohr. The 63-year-old Ger­man coach named a squad that in­cludes Daniel Akpeyi of Chippa United.

“It means a lot to be back in Bafana,” Zungu said. “Nige­ria have a tac­ti­cally good team that has play­ers all over Europe. But I have faith in our abil­i­ties.

“The coach has as­sem­bled a for­mi­da­ble team. I know that I will have to hus­tle to be in the start­ing lineup but that doesn’t faze me.

“I have been fight­ing all my life to get what I want. This is noth­ing new.”

I love chal­lenges. I thrive un­der them. I left Tuks for Sun­downs even though a lot of peo­ple said that I would not make it there I am on the right path. I just have to keep my feet on the ground and not get too com­fort­able. I haven’t done any­thing yet

Pic­ture: GALLO IMAGES

HUSTLER: Bafana Bafana and Vi­to­ria Guimaraes mid­field player Bon­gani ‘Ben 10’ Zungu can’t wait to play the Su­per Ea­gles

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