Death At The End Of The Tunnel
Last week, one of the greatest players ever to emerge from the Democratic Republic of Congo – Mulumba Ndaye – succumbed to complications arising from kidney and a heart problem and passed on after leading a poverty-stricken life in Cape Town.
Ndaye, who was wheelchair-bound when he met his demise, was living from hand to mouth and valiantly tried to eke out a living as a car guard and sometimes washing the odd car around suburbs in Cape Town where he earned a few shillings a day. This is the same Ndaye who, at the height of his career, captained DR Congo - then known as Zaire - and led them to triumph in the 1974 African Cup of Nations, which feat qualified them to represent the continent at the FIFA World Cup finals staged in then West Germany the same year.
This is the man who still holds the record for the most number of goals scored at a single African Cup of Nations tournament with nine strikes at a time when the biennial tournament was contested by only eight nations. This was the man who raised his country’s flag sky high, and instead of honouring him for his contributions towards the upliftment of football in Kinshasa, he was forced to flee to South Africa where he wallowed in poverty due to the political instability in his native country.
There are far too many like him. Albert ‘Hurry-Hurry’ Johansen died alone, penniless, homeless and apparently a victim of alcoholism in faraway England where he had enthralled millions of British followers in the colours of Leeds United. Jeffrey Ntuka, Thabang Lebese, Sizwe Motaung, Patrick Mbuthu and many others too numerous to mention rose above the grinding poverty of ghetto life to lead extravagantly affluent lives where they rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty. Thembinkosi Fanteni, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Wilson Oruma, Emmanuel Eboue, you name them, went on to shine for various European clubs and earned millions of pounds, yet do not even have a farthing to show for their high earning power during their playing days.
The majority got easily sidetracked by caviar, wine, women and fast cars; others could not handle the fame that followed and ended up snorting cocaine and some heady stuff that made it virtually impossible for them to get out of that dark tunnel they had dug themselves into. Only a lucky few, like Jabu Mahlangu, then known as Jabu Pule, have been to hell and came back to tell us the tale regarding how life is like on the other side of the world after beating booze blues and drug addiction.
But this is not the time for finger pointing. It is neither the time to apportion blame elsewhere even though with others we can ask them what happened to their agents or managers during their hour of need. I am tempted to ask what happened or where is the agent or manager when I consider that Iron Mike Tyson was one of the richest dudes in sporting history, and yet not only is he broke, but ironically his financial advisor was one Donald Trump who is currently filthy rich.
I think players need to take a hard look at themselves, their social and extravagant lifestyles like a particular Soweto player who is said to have once ordered drinks for the entire patronage at a drinking hole in Soweto, then paid more than R60 000. Yes, much as most are fleeced and taken advantage of by unscrupulous club owners who pay them a pittance, there are those who ignore sound financial advice and lead reckless lives, because they labour under the misconception that their well of money shall never run dry. Is it a misguided and bloated ego? Is it a hankering for recognition of some sort or a desire to be known as a Kassie Stapora (loaded) that drives a human being to buy alcohol for total strangers because perhaps it makes him feel good, beholden or in control?
I hear people blaming football agents. Some put the blame squarely on the shoulders of club owners and claim the greedy bosses are only concerned about lining their own pockets without a care about the welfare of players. I beg to differ. I think the time has come for our players to take responsibility for their own actions. Teko Modise owned up in his biography that he once purchased an Austin Martin, a luxury car that he could not afford, let alone maintain because he was paying the bank through his teeth just to keep that car.
We can blame the Premier Soccer League and the SA Football Association all we want, the bottom line is that the buck stops with the player, and most of them are so irresponsible that they do not respect their own bodies. In spite of the fact that their bodies receive a pounding when they run non-stop for 90 minutes or more and need sufficient rest afterwards, they would rather go to shebeens, drinking holes and party the whole night and yet they are supposed to go to training the next day. I was once implored to give a talk and motivate a group of professional players for a club that shall remain nameless. I’m embarrassed to say that before I had even opened my mouth, a couple of them focused on their mobile phones while others wrapped their ears with headphones!
You can cut my legs and call me shorty; the truth is that we have this unhealthy tendency of shielding and protecting our beloved soccer stars and we shy away from telling them the bitter truth about their behaviour and misbehaviour. It is the same when they fail to deliver on the field. We never criticise them and instead encourage them to try next time, and rather point a finger of blame at the coach.
Let our players, for once, take responsibility for their lives for a change and maybe we shall no longer hear about players that end up broke after earning millions while they are still active.