A great Gift squandered

For his first real taste of paid football, Gift Leremi, who was killed in a car accident on September 3, came on as a late substitute in a charity match against Kaizer Chiefs. Orlando Pirates, who had in the off-season promoted him to their first team, were trailing by a goal.

The 17-year-old Leremi’s enthusiasm was apparent in the few minutes he was on the pitch. Pirates scored, but the goal was ruled off-side.

Leremi, though not interfering with play, was the player judged to have strayed beyond the Chiefs’ defence line.

That was Leremi. He wanted too much and perhaps too soon and he was not always going to pay attention to the rules if that meant arresting his hunger.

Be that as it may, many who were there at FNB Stadium knew that a special player was among us. If there were doubts, his official debut, on the left wing against Moroka Swallows at the Rand Stadium, settled them.

Though he did not finish the match, his performance in the 5-1 win for Pirates (one of the goals a converted penalty after a Swallows defender resorted to hacking him because it seemed the only way to stop him) had been so emphatic that he was immediately pencilled in as a 2010 potential.

Gift Mpho Leremi, or Continental to those who saw him mesmerise opponents representing his township Pimville at Soweto’s Godfrey Moloi games, was always meant for greatness.

It is a point best illustrated by his being the tournament’s top goal scorer when he was merely 13 years old. It was this feat that caused the Pirates scouts to pay attention and enrol him in their academy.

In 2005 he made his debut for Bafana Bafana in a match against Nigeria.

“Vum-vum”, as Leremi was also known to the Pirates faithful, was similarly always prone to self-destruction.

Despite his impressive performance for club and country, he missed the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Tunisia because of ill-discipline.

For the better part of the 2006/07 season, he seemed to do his best to live up to his bad-boy image.

At some stage the Pirates chairperson tasked the club’s development head coach, Augusto Palacios, to chaperone Leremi. At the end of last season Pirates gave up on him and sold him to Sundowns.

On the field, traces of the old Gift — power and pace football — were starting to re-emerge.

But hardly a week after the bold plan to ensure that the precocious talent was not contaminated by disruptive influence, Leremi was seen in drinking spots.

In fact, the Friday before what was to be his last home match for Mamelodi Sundowns, he was seen at a popular Auckland Park drinking hole imbibing as though oblivious to the talk about his turning the corner since joining Sundowns.

Leremi, answering questions from the Sunday Times readers, suggested that he saw no connection between his lifestyle and his performance on the pitch.

He had a point, for there were no arguments about his ability once on the field of play.

He was a rare talent able to use both feet equally effectively. He had a sculptured physique that enabled him to protect the ball. And, of course, what is known in the game as a “football brain” enabled him to out-think opponents.

For Pirates fans, his death coming as it did just over a week before the Supa8 final between Leremi’s new and former club has saved them from wondering how to react to seeing him in full flight against the club that made him the star he was.

Finally, the wonderboy whose name could easily and appropriately have been “Gifted” ended up like many had feared some predicted, an unfulfilled potential.

Gift Mpho Leremi: born: October 13 1984; died: September 3 2007

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