Defying age on the football field

There are really only two types of football players — those who mature with age and those younger players who can’t keep up with the elders.

Some attribute this to a healthy lifestyle whereas others blame the dominance of older players for the perceived inferior standard of football in South Africa.

Recently football fans paid ­homage to SuperSport United’s ­veteran midfielder Reneilwe “Yeye” Letsholonyane after his workmanlike performance in their recent MTN Cup final game against Cape Town City, which United ultimately lost on penalties.

Yeye, despite being 36 years old, played tirelessly and continued to be a thorn in the City defence for the entire 120 minutes, which included extra time. He did this with his typical quick touches and pace, earning positive reviews from fans.

“I take care of myself. This perception that if you are over 30 you are finished should change because I work hard when I’m given an opportunity to play. I treat myself like a business,” he says.

The perception that over-30 ­players hold little or no value is borne out by the short-term contracts that are in vogue for this bracket of player in the big European leagues. But in June, Japanese club Yokohama shocked the international football establishment when they renewed the contract of 50-year-old striker Kazuyoshi Miura.

At the time the veteran star nicknamed “King Kazu” had made 200 appearances for the club and scored 139 goals in the J-League (Japanese top league).

Currently, Miura is the oldest active player on the international professional football scene in a career that started in 1986.

Kazu is an extreme and rare example but back home in South Africa, a number of players have successfully challenged the “too old” perception.

In August, Kaizer Chiefs’ ­veteran midfielder Siphiwe “Shabba” Tshabalala became the oldest player in the country to earn an international contract.

The 34-year-old Soweto-born ­stalwart joined Turkish premier league side Erzurumspor, having, despite his age, become the first name among the starting 11 for Chiefs since signing from Free State Stars in 2008.

Durban-based club AmaZulu recently announced that their ­veteran striker Siyabonga “Bhele” Nomvethe (41) will finally retire at the end of the current season. In October last year, his goal against Mamelodi Sundowns officially made him the country’s leading scorer with 110 goals. Nomvethe made a grand entrance into the big leagues with the now defunct African Wanderers in 1998, scoring 11 goals, before moving to Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs. There, he scored 48 goals in 82 games before heading to Italian side Udinese.

Upon his return to South Africa in 2009 from Denmark, Nomvethe joined Moroka Swallows, where he scored 53 goals in 149 games, and became the league’s top scorer with 20 goals in the 2011-2012 season. At the time, he was 35 and nearly helped his club to win their first league title since the inception of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) in 1997.

Swallows lost the league title to Pirates on goal difference.

Retired former Bafana Bafana defender Matthew Booth, who played professional football both domestically and abroad for 20 years, attributes durability to a “healthy’’ and “responsible” lifestyle.

“When I was younger I’d go to parties, but I’d make sure I was in bed early.

But today’s players would party until 5am and still wake up on time to train. That puts pressure on your body and haunts you just at the peak of your career,” says Booth, who retired officially at the age of 37 in 2015.

For the current PSL campaign, there are several players who prove that age is nothing but a number.

Jabulani Maluleke (36)
Polokwane City captain

Having made his professional debut in his mid-20s, an unusual age by international football standards, he is undoubtedly one of the most consistent players in the PSL. The Soweto-born player was signed by coach Gavin Hunt from Black Leopards to SuperSport United six years ago before switching to Polokwane in 2014.

His on-the-ball intelligence, stamina and skill have made the club heavily reliant on him.

Recently, despite his age, “Jabu” turned down an offer to join Pirates.

Teko Modise (35)
Cape Town City

A key player for “The Citizens”, “The General” has not lost his dribbling prowess and game-reading aptitude that made him a megastar when he turned out for Orlando Pirates back in 2008.

Teko Modise still has the ability to read a game and gets past players when it counts. (Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Paulos Masehe (34)
Free State Stars captain

Still regarded as the backbone of the reigning Nedbank Champions, Masehe has survived being switched to a number of positions in his career. Having started as a striker for Pirates and later Mamelodi Sundowns, he has embraced the defensive midfield position at Ea lla Koto.

Bevan Fransman (34)
Highlands Park

He is undoubtedly one of the driving forces behind Maritzburg United’s sudden rise in popularity, especially when the club ended last season’s campaign at a historic fourth position on the log table. He almost led the team to their first-ever silverware, when they lost 1-0 to Free Stars in the Nedbank Cup.

It was not surprising that he was quickly snatched by up by PSL returnees Highlands Park at the start of the current season.

Siyabonga Ngcangisa
Siyabonga Ngcangisa
Siya co-presented at South Africa’s third largest radio station Umhlobo Wenene FM and has worked for publications such as Move! Magazine and DRUM Magzine.
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