A budding footballer who attends Realogile Secondary School had to pinch himself when he found out his dream of becoming a notable, professional sporting personality may be on the way to fruition.
This is if he sustains his good performance matches the high expectations of the development programme of Orlando Pirates Football Club, the country’s oldest and most revered football team. “Talent alone won’t do it, it’s discipline, commitment, sticking to the team’s philosophy and health expectations,” said 18-year-old Thabiso Botopela.
His meteoric rise within a month of joining the club from Alex Black Aces Football Club saw him join U19 and U23 players for a pre-season tournament soon after Easter in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where they faced Brazil’s Vasco da Gama, Portafego and Fluminense football clubs.
Botopela, who has been into soccer from the age of nine, counts himself lucky to have been picked for a highly contested position as a winger where finesse in play, finishing and goals are the requirements of a perfect player and team. His affable baby face and seemingly easy-going demeanour, which have earned him the nickname ‘Smile’, hide the expectation of him becoming the perfect scorer in the making.
“I presume they picked me up at an Easter tournament for the talent I hope to pay back for a long time through hard work. [I intend to] implement the team’s philosophy, techniques and tactics, and the new strategies acquired from tournaments and other competitions.”
He added that he is impressed with the coaching team said to include future national hopefuls Rhulani Mokoena and Alex’s own Mqolisi Mngomezulu whose impressive qualifications in the game are the envy of many.
Highlights from his trip to Brazil were flying for the first time, visiting another country and the awareness of the global spread of poverty.
Botopela added that he was awed by his opponents’ adherence to the simple technique of letting the ball do the work, as players mastered their positions and the coaches’ expectations.
“We won three, drew one and lost one game but the scores didn’t matter to them. They weren’t fast and didn’t opt to dribble either, but let the ball do the talking.”
He feels too much dribbling is a sign of mediocrity, shows a lack of team spirit and ill-discipline which he said many local players carry over to the professional stage, and after soccer, into life, “Hence their reported brawls in seedy places, flashy short-lived fame and arrests for drunken driving.”
Botopela credited the team and tournament for instilling the ingredients for longevity in the sport through good, healthy light food stacked with vegetables and fruits, sticking to scheduled meal times and respect. “I commit to push hard and adopt the right strategies expected of all aspirants with the burning desire for promotion to the first team.”
Poverty was an eyeopener for him and something that he hadn’t expected to see in Brazil. “Like here, hordes also live and sleep on the streets of Rio and many of the lucky ones avoided this sort of life by using the game to exit its clutches to be some of Brazil’s famed global stars.”