Mamelodi Sundowns supporters greeted the news of Phakamani Mahlambi’s move to the club with joy, but it also raised the question of whether today’s players have the fighting spirit to last internationally.
Mahlambi joined Downs permanently in a R13-million move after struggling to secure a place in the starting line-up of Egyptian giants Al Ahly, a side he joined at the beginning of last season on a four-year deal from Bidvest Wits.
He made a total of 15 appearances during his first season in Egypt and reports began circulating that he was growing frustrated with not playing regularly. Many feel that his return was premature and that at the age of 21, the KwaZulu-Natal-born player should have hung in there, or be loaned out to lower divisions in Europe.
Two weeks ago, Kaizer Chiefs “pleasantly” surprised their supporters by announcing the capture of skilful winger Lebogang Manyama. Much like Mahlambi, after spending barely half a season at Turkish club Konyaspor, after signing from Cape Town City FC, Manyama started bemoaning a shortage of game time.
His agent, Alfred Phiri, a former Bafana Bafana playerwho spent almost a decade in Turkey, is said to have advised the player to return home. But Phiri denied this and said he “fought” with Manyama to stay behind. “Actually, I tried to talk him out of returning home, but he insisted.”
Phiri also revealed he had already had an offer from newly promoted Turkish side Erzurumspor, which recently snatched up Chiefs’ veteran winger, Siphiwe “Shaba” Tshabalala.
“They wanted Lebo [Manyama] initially but he turned them down and they went for Shaba. I won’t talk about Lebo in this case but, generally, players today just want to play, irrespective of where [they are]. But for [the older generation], it was important to stay in Europe and keep fighting. It builds your character,” Phiri said.
In 2006, former Silver Stars midfielder Stanley Kgatla was on the verge of being signed on by a Russian club he had trained with for two weeks but returned to South Africa after reportedly feeling homesick.
Former Bafana Bafana defender Matthew Booth, who spent eight years in Russia and played for three different clubs, said “money and comfort” played a big role in such decisions.
“Some feel that, if they can earn about the same money playing here, they might as well return home. But I don’t think it does enough for the character of the player because playing in Europe is different. You get coached by better coaches and play against the best players.”
Three seasons ago, dribbling wizard Mark Mayambela shocked many when he returned home after just 15 appearances and winning the hearts of fans of Swedish club Djurgårdens IF. A YouTube video trended with a song, Mayambela, composed and sung by the supporters in 2015. The video also contained clips of him torturing opponents with his dribbling prowess.
Mayambela’s former agent, Tim Sukazi, defends his client’s move.
“Fortunately, I was involved in that deal and I can assure you it’s not about fans but what the player feels as an individual at the time. This is the new era of football and some South African players earn better here than in Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries,” Sukazi said.
Whatever the reasons, for today’s players to cut short their European stints, the story of former Bafana Bafana captain Lucas “Roo” Radebe remains by far the most inspirational.
He endured his first two seasons on the sidelines at English side Leeds United before making it to the starting line-up and going on to become the club’s captain.