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Feature: How To Reach The Top

Most footballers dream of reaching the very top, and it’s something they strive for every single day. It’s a long journey and one, which they soon discover along the way, takes something very special to achieve. What does it take to establish yourself as one of a select few top performers in the PSL? Once you’ve made your name, how do you take your game to the next level to put yourself amongst the elite as a premium performer? How can you take it one step further and establish yourself as a legend?

In this Three Ships Whisky feature, David Minchella analyzes the careers of Kaizer Chiefs stars Lehlohonolo Majoro, Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Doctor Khumalo to find out what it takes to get to these levels.

The Select Performer: Lehlohonolo Majoro
“This season people didn’t know about me and it made things a bit easier for me, because they thought maybe I was from the amateur level.”
This is how Majoro described his late arrival in professional football, at the age of 24 with AmaZulu. It took a breakout 2010/11 season for the striker to gain national attention. He scored 14 goals for Usuthu that year and, after appearing on the scene from virtually nowhere, he became one of the hottest commodities in the local game. His goals that season alerted Kaizer Chiefs, and the rest is history. However, if it hadn’t been for the sharp eye of then Usuthu coach, Manqoba Mngqithi, Majoro’s journey to the top would never have started! 

The striker once revealed to Soccer-Laduma how close he came to not being spotted, “It all depends on the area you grew up in. Like I said, there are so many players that deserve to be playing in the PSL, but maybe because of lack of exposure or luck, they can’t make it. There’s so much talent where I come from in Ladybrand, but the only disadvantage is that it’s a small place. You don’t get good development structures like you get elsewhere. I’m grateful Mngqithi spotted me.” 

Fast forward to 2013 and Majoro’s journey is an inspiring tale. He’s scored goals freely for Chiefs and in just his second season at the club, he won a league and cup double. His success continued to grow and he soon found himself banging in the goals for Bafana Bafana as well. It’s been a remarkable rise for a player who just a few years ago was on the verge of starting a career as a radiographer, before he discovered his true calling as a professional footballer. He is undoubtedly now a select performer in his position in the PSL, and the future can only be bright for the man they call ‘Major’. 

The Premium Performer: Reneilwe Letsholonyane 
It was at PJ Stars where Letsholonyane made his first steps in professional football almost 10 years ago. It was a humble beginning for a player who is now arguably the best central midfielder in South Africa. After leaving Stars, Yeye made his name at Jomo Cosmos under the guidance of South African legend Jomo Sono. 

It was in 2008 that Chiefs saw his rich potential and snapped him up. From the outset, Yeye was always very clear about what his purpose with the club was – he wanted to win the league title. 

In his early days with the club, he told Soccer-Laduma, “I want to play regularly and win trophies, especially the biggest one of them all – the league championship.” It’s a journey which took the box-to-box midfielder five years to complete, but he eventually reached his goal in 2012/13, when Chiefs secured the title. 

At the age of 31, the Bafana Bafana international is perhaps no longer a spring chicken, but there appears to be very little evidence that he’s slowing down. He still charges up and down the pitch with an infectious energy which drives Chiefs. He also appears to be the most complete central midfielder in the country when it comes to defending and attacking with efficiency and success. 

So, what drives Yeye to stay as hungry and committed as he is to fight for the black and gold? How does he keep his standards high so that he remains a premium performer in his position? The answer seems to lie in Letsholonyane’s grounding as a human being. He once explained to the Siya crew why it is he takes what he does as a player and a person so seriously, “I’ve learnt about the importance of empowering yourself with education, while you’re still playing the game. It is important for us players to conduct ourselves professionally, as some kids look up to us as their role models.” 
Wise words indeed from the inspirational Yeye and a sign that his success with Chiefs is far from over!     

The Legend: Doctor Khumalo
As a player, Doctor Khumalo virtually did it all. His ability was such that he even spent time playing in the Argentina topflight in 1995 - a league which at the time featured arguably the world’s greatest player, Diego Maradona. 

He then enjoyed a productive season in the burgeoning MLS in America with Columbus Crew, before the call came from the Amakhosi that he should return to his spiritual home. And Chiefs is indeed in Khumalo’s blood through and through. His father Pro Khumalo, a renowned player of the 1970s and early 1980s, acted as his mentor. Doctor’s youth career was also spent in the club’s youth setup – it all pointed to the fact that with such a talented father, and with roots that ran deep through the foundations of Chiefs, the central midfielder was on course to becoming a true club legend. 

In a 12-year career spanning two separate stints with the club, he won three league titles and five knockout trophies. His legend continued to grow when he was selected as part of the first Bafana Bafana squad in 1992, after the country’s readmission to international football. In 1996 it was his beautifully weighted pass to Mark Williams in the Afcon Cup final against Tunisia which led to the striker’s decisive second goal. Perhaps that moment more so than any other is the defining image of what became a legendary career. His central role as playmaker amongst that golden generation of the 1990s is what he’ll always be remembered for.

His journey as a player inspired a club and a nation, and he’s still adding value to Chiefs today as an assistant coach to Stuart Baxter. To discover what it takes to become a legend, players like Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Lehlohonolo Majoro need look no further than the man they call ‘16 valve’! 

See: Three Ships Whisky

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