Mo­ti­va­tion in snub for Mlambo

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - Sport - Ti­isetso Malepa

Xola Mlambo says he is not wor­ried about get­ting the cold shoul­der from Bafana Bafana coach Stu­art Bax­ter de­spite his im­pres­sive per­for­mances over the course of 2018.

In­stead, Or­lando Pi­rates’ cre­ative mid­fielder sees the snub as more of a mo­ti­va­tion than any­thing else.

Mlambo was tipped by many to crack Bax­ter’s na­tional soc­cer squad in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber ahead of cru­cial 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Af­con) qual­i­fy­ing matches against Libya and Sey­chelles.

But de­spite be­ing in good form and ar­guably the best cen­tral mid­fielder in the Premier Soc­cer League presently‚ Mlambo did not make the cut when Bax­ter an­nounced his squads.

“As a pro­fes­sional player you have to un­der­stand and know the chal­lenges that come with be­ing a pro­fes­sional player‚” Mlambo said on the side­lines of the launch and draw of the an­nual KwaMahlobo Fes­tive Games in Soweto.

“All of those re­ports and saga [about me play­ing for Bafana] I . . . took as a mo­ti­va­tion for me to keep work­ing hard.

“The fact that I haven’t been given the op­por­tu­nity to play for Bafana [yet] says maybe there’s a lot of work I still need to do. I think there are ar­eas I still need to im­prove on.”

The KwaMahlobo Games is an an­nual de­vel­op­men­tal tour­na­ment, now in its 22nd year, and is aimed at un­earthing raw tal­ent in the town­ships.

The SA Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion have part­nered with Spain’s La Liga as tour­na­ment spon­sors.

The tour­na­ment starts on De­cem­ber 19 at KwaMahlobo Sports Ground in Mead­ow­lands, Soweto, and the fi­nal will be played on Jan­uary 5.

It is con­tested by 40 clubs from across the coun­try, but mainly from Soweto.

“These games are al­ways well at­tended and they helped me a lot in my for­ma­tive years‚” Mlambo said.

So good has the soft-spo­ken mid­fielder with a knack for de­fence-split­ting passes been this sea­son that his men­tor and for­mer coach at Chippa United, Dan Male­sela, even said that if he were Bafana coach he would not think twice about se­lect­ing the player.

Male­sela – a Pi­rates and Mamelodi Sun­downs le­gend‚ who is now head coach of First Divi­sion TS Galaxy – was pre­vi­ously Mlambo’s coach at Sun­downs’ de­vel­op­ment side MTigers‚ then NFD out­fit Cape Town All Stars‚ and then again in the Premier Soc­cer League PSL with Chippa.

Mlambo said he planned to con­tinue work­ing hard in train­ing and to per­form con­sis­tently for Pi­rates, and hoped that he would even­tu­ally force Bax­ter’s hand.

“It’s not im­por­tant at the mo­ment [to worry about Bafana se­lec­tion]‚ but what mat­ters is how can I im­prove my game to im­prove my chances of rep­re­sent­ing the coun­try.

“There’s still a lot that I need to im­prove and I’m work­ing on those things with the tech­ni­cal team.

“I think I need to im­prove de­fen­sively and in terms of at­tack­ing and scor­ing goals, but it’s a process and it takes time‚” Mlambo said.

Pi­rates will be look­ing to end four years with­out win­ning a tro­phy when they take on Baroka FC in Satur­day’s Telkom Knock­out fi­nal at the Nel­son Man­dela Bay Sta­dium in Port Elizabeth (kick­off 6pm).

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