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 feature, David Minchella analyzes the careers of Mamelodi Sundowns stars Bongani Zungu, Teko Modise and Daniel Mudau to find out what it takes to get to these levels.
The Select Performer: Bongani Zungu
“Back then I was new in the PSL and I was scared of facing new challenges, but now I feel like I have matured as a player and I’m ready to play for a bigger team.”
In edition 833 of Soccer-Laduma, this is how Bongani Zungu described his breakout season for University of Pretoria, which led to his move to Mamelodi Sundowns. Zungu not only overcame his initial fears of playing at the highest level in South Africa, he produced some performances that were simply outstanding. He was still a teenager when he first graced the PSL stage in August 2012, and yet he looked like he more than belonged. Here was something special – you just needed to watch his effortless movement and superior technique to see that.
As a result, it was only a matter of time before he appeared on Sundowns’ radar. He further unveiled his rich talent to the Brazilians scouts, by banging in seven goals in his role as an attacking midfielder. Barely out of his teens, a select performer was emerging and the common consensus was that this kid was going to go far.
However, when the announcement came that he had signed for Sundowns, there was an element of risk attached. Chloorkop has been the graveyard of countless talented top young players, whose critical playing years were spent on the sidelines. Some feared a similar fate for Zungu. Undeterred, it’s a challenge he addressed as wanting to tackle head on. He once confidently told Soccer-Laduma, “I think the downfall of many youngsters is that when they joined Sundowns, they thought they’d arrived and stopped working... I know that if I improve on the way I played for Tuks last season, I’ll always have a chance to play.”
True to his word, the livewire midfielder has started brightly and appears to be a big part of the blueprint that Pitso Mosimane is mapping out in Pretoria. Some of the football Downs have produced so far this season has been magnificent, and it’s been the likes of Zungu, Dove Wome and Teko Modise who’ve been at the heart of much of the play. The 20-year-old is undoubtedly establishing himself as a select performer in his position in the PSL, and the future can only be promising for the man they call ‘Sjumba’.
The Premium Performer: Teko Modise
“I even heard at one stage that people said I was 37 years old, that I was older than everyone thought. Then I heard it was because of my sponsorships and my other deals that I had lost focus. People started saying it was the money, people started saying I had become arrogant. When I won Player of the Season, people said I was humble. I lose form and now I’m arrogant? Arrogant about what!”
This is how Teko Modise once described the pitfalls that go along with at one point being the most highly regarded midfielder in South Africa. Virtually his entire adult life and playing career has been played out in the national media. At times expectations of Modise for both club and country were a mile-high – he had to deliver the magic and produce match-winning actions in every single match. He was constantly in the eye of the storm. If he didn’t deliver, knives would be drawn and the criticism would be fierce. When he did produce moments of brilliance, it was the Teko Modise Show, and that’s what was expected all the time! Can you imagine living with that pressure?
The 30-year-old later explained how this massive burden can drain a player’s confidence, “You feel like the whole world is watching every time you get the ball, and that they are just waiting for that mistake... The confidence is what makes me on a football pitch. (At times) I was like the living dead out there on the pitch, like a zombie.”
Yet, to his great credit, Modise in recent times appears to have reached a new level of maturity in his life and in his game. After some troubled times with Orlando Pirates in days gone by, there’s a sense that he is finally close to returning to his best with Mamelodi Sundowns. Interestingly, his good early season form has coincided with him being switched into more of a deeper-lying playmaker role by Pitso Mosimane. So, what lies ahead for the mercurial number 10? Only time will tell for a player, who through all the highs and lows, has more than earned the right to be called a premium performer in the PSL.
The Legend: Daniel Mudau
In a professional career spanning just over a decade, Daniel Mudau hammered in an incredible 172 goals in 390 starts for Mamelodi Sundowns. His strike rate was nearly a goal scored in every two matches played, which at any level of football across the globe is generally recognized as being world class. It was the striker’s presence in attack that helped Sundowns secure three league titles in a row from 1997 to 2000.
His consistency in finding the back of the net was frightening. It helped the player to win the Golden Boot for the league’s top scorer in 1993 and 1998. His legendary feats in front of goal are still remembered with much fondness by the Brazilians faithful. He once fired in five goals in one match during Downs’ 5-1 whipping of Pretoria City in 1993.
He never quite enjoyed the same success on the international stage with Bafana Bafana. However, he was playing in an era where South Africa’s striking options were extremely healthy. He did score three goals in 16 appearances for Bafana, but he never could quite replicate his prolific club form at international level. Nonetheless, he was still a part of that fabulous Bafana squad which secured the Afcon in 1996. Mudau’s name will always be up there amongst the great ones to have played for Downs.
He is a true legend and remains an example to the likes of Bongani Zungu and Teko Modise of what it takes to really establish yourself as a Bafana Bastyle icon.