Former Bafana Bafana midfield maestro, Reneilwe Yeye Letsholonyane, has called time on his illustrious football career. His social media announcement last Thursday, 1 July 2021, was met with a lot of love, support and admiration. No one can claim to have been surprised by the positive reaction to this legend’s announcement, considering the way he served football with distinction.
What a gentleman! What a grounded and complete footballer! What a well-decorated athlete! What a great father, son, brother and husband he’s proved to be over the years. What a role model the likeable dreadlocked midfielder has been! Young and old have learned a thing or two from Yeye, even from a distance. Reneilwe has been enjoying media spotlight for almost two decades now, yet whenever interacting with him, you’ll easily forget that he’s a professional and one of the most popular footballers. You even forget that he’s the superstar that he is. That speaks to the level-headed approach he has on life. He’s never been caught by the bright lights that come with playing professional football and the popularity that comes with it. He’s never been one to get caught up in the celebrity fantasy world. On the field of play, he was a beast, but off it, a modest gentleman. Yeye always has time for everyone. He’s a true legend of the Beautiful Game and a real family man.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything negative to say about Reneilwe because he calculates his moves. He’s never one to give possession away, so to speak, and that makes ‘attacking’ him a nightmarish endeavour. That’s just how grounded this gentleman is. Over the years, Soccer Laduma has dealt with Yeye on a professional and personal level. Out of this world is the level of professionalism and humility that he possesses! Completely out of this world! There are a number of anecdotes that I can share to illustrate the kind of a person Yeye is, but that’s a story for another day. I believe when someone retires, those left behind should take something from him in their celebration and honour. A takeaway from Yeye’s professional career, and life in general, is simply: Discipline. This is not an easy attribute to maintain. With discipline comes a lot of sacrifices and responsibilities. A lot of thinking before you say or do anything, comes with discipline. With discipline, you measure your actions and utterances just like you would a pass, on the field of play. You know that your next touch or move is vitally important as it can either make or break you or those around you. Discipline awakens your senses and reminds you that your actions can easily affect the next person, on and off the field.
It takes discipline to achieve what Yeye has got under his belt because it wasn’t just a case of being at the right place at the right time. H’s seen and done it all simply because he was disciplined enough. What always struck me about this former Jomo Cosmos midfielder was his awareness on and off the field, the fact that he’s always ‘switched on’. He would always remind everyone who cared to listen that he, unlike others, wasn’t fortunate enough to break into the professional ranks at an early age. He was already 24 when he signed for Cosmos and got his big break, two years later, at the age of 26 when he joined Kaizer Chiefs. On paper, that’s too late because, by South African football standards, he only had four competitive seasons left in him before being thrown into the football scrapheap. “Unlike other guys, I started professional football very late, so I have a lot of catching up to do in the years that lie ahead of me,” and true to his words, Yeye made the most of his professional career. You can take a number of players who started out 10 years younger than when Yeye started, yet they don’t even match his list of honours. Do you know why that’s the case? Discipline! You can even measure him up against his peers and you will realise that it wasn’t just about his level of maturity but discipline that made him conquer. He knew that, with his limited time, each and every opportunity or season that he got, had to count for something.
Imagine an 18-year-old professional footballer with that mentality and discipline. Players who not only say what they want to achieve but live for what they want to achieve. Would those players not turn out to be our own version of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who have been dominating world football for over a decade? It takes more than just talent to reach great heights, especially at professional level. Discipline is the most important aspect that can take you far and you need to look no further than Aaron Mokoena to understand my point. The former Bafana Bafana captain achieved way more than most talented defenders we’ve ever produced in the country, not because he was better than them but because he was more disciplined. That was the only difference between him and them.
One once came across a quote that goes like, “I exercise to build up my body, I read to build up my mind and I pray to build up my spirit.” If you look at Yeye, physically he’s one of the fittest, if you follow him on social media or get to spend time with him, you will know that he’s a reader and you will also know that Sundays aren’t just for chesa nyama to this Jabavu-born midfielder. He’s a member of Methodist Church in good standing! As popular as he is, you will see him in his church uniform, something most people in his position would avoid at all cost. That tells you about the balanced and grounded human being that Yeye is. He takes care of every aspect of his life, which makes it easy for him to avoid unnecessary situations. It makes it easy to make informed decisions both professionally and personally. It becomes easy for you to remain focused with your eye on the ball. With discipline and balanced life, you eat the meat and throw away the bones. Even when temptations approach, with discipline, it is easy to stand your ground because you are looking at the bigger picture. You know what you want. That’s Reneilwe Yeye Letsholonyane, in a nutshell. This brother has done a lot for our football and continues to be a great role model. Thank you so much, Yeye, for the wonderful memories you’ve created on the field. Thank you for representing all your former teams and South Africa with such pride and dignity. You’ve played your part and it is now time to pass the baton on. You’ve been a true gentleman and may you keep going strong. Enjoy retirement and what lies ahead. For a football-obsessed person like yourself, it is going to be very challenging not waking up to go to training anymore. All the best for the years ahead. Once again, thanks so much, brother.