The magic of the Nedbank Cup rediscovered

Dan Malesela is a bit grumpy, thanks to the Orlando Pirates performance. He had asked to chat at halftime but in the past 45 minutes Esperance de Tunis had frustratingly taken control of the Champions League game they would ultimately win 2-0. Thankfully, he perks up when he starts to talk about the Nedbank Cup.

“I cherish this cup a lot. It’s always in my mind … It’s something that I’ll always cherish because the first cup that I lifted while I was playing was the Bob Save [the competition’s previous sponsor]. The first one you have you will always love.”

That 1988 victory became lore. Kaizer Chiefs were known as cup kings at the time and were favourites to sweep past their Soweto rivals in the final. That a youthful Buccaneers side improbably left with the trophy became a story worthy of being passed on to the next generation.

These days, “Dance” Malesela is at the helm of new National First Division (NDF) outfit TS Galaxy. It’s been a so-so season so far, steering them to a healthy mid-table position but failing to make other promotion chasers overly worried.

The Nedbank Cup represents a chance for a break in the natural order; a chance not only to challenge for a title but, for many in the squad, also an opportunity to threaten greatness on the big stage. “I had time to reflect back on history and tell them about the joys of lifting this trophy and being in the final,” Malesela says of a recent training session.

Being in the last 16, we’re far off from that point but, given how the last round turned out, it’s a little unreasonable to expect the remaining minnows not to dream. Sundowns, SuperSport United and Orlando Pirates have been eliminated and 10 of the remaining teams were not playing in the PSL last season.

From an individual perspective, it’s a chance for players to advertise their wares. “It’s a very, very good opportunity for most youngsters,” says former Amakhosi midfielder Tinashe “General” Nengomasha as he recounts his experiences.

“I remember the likes of Andile Jali and [Mthokozisi] Yende got recognised after they beat us in the Nedbank Cup — they were with Tuks at the time.

“It’s a chance for these players to showcase what they have because nobody really pays much attention to the NFD. The whole nation will be watching and the PSL will be watching. It’s the right stage for them to show … the talent that they have.”

Memories that were made by icons like Malesela and Nengomasha are what the Nedbank Cup should be about. Could this weekend be the start of something equally special?

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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