NKOSINATHI Sibisi’s trip to the Netherlands changed his life. The Lamontville Golden Arrows defender, who is among this season’s best players, was part of the club’s MultiChoice Diski Challenge (MDC) side that won the 2015/16 campaign and earned themselves a trip to the home of Total Football.
Sibisi spent three seasons with the MDC side, coached by Vusi Vilakazi. In those three seasons they won the MDC twice, earning trips to Spain and the Netherlands where they played several friendlies and were trained by Barcelona and Dutch legend, Johan Neeskens. But it’s the 2016 trip to the Netherlands that left a huge mark on Sibisi.
“It was my first trip to Europe, it was an eye opener,” he said. “It changed my perspective when it comes to football. I came back a better player, I applied what I learnt on that tour with what I had learnt here, and I saw a difference in my game.
“I even took football more seriously. I wanted more in my career because of what I saw in Holland. Their football is structured, every division has their own training facilities and there are links between every division. I could see that they take football development seriously. We can learn a lot from them.”
Sibisi, who hails from Mpophomeni in KwaZulu-Natal, started his football journey with amateur side Juventus in the ABC Motsepe League, the third tier of South African football. “There is great talent from where I come from, but most people do not reach professional level because of lack of exposure. I was lucky that I moved to study at the Mangosuthu University of Technology in Durban. I played for the varsity, and after some time I heard that there were trials at Arrows. I was scouted by Vusi Vilakazi for the MDC team. I played in MDC for three seasons, that is where I built my confidence and got more comfortable with the ball.”
A Mabizela fan
The 25-year-old defender started his football journey as a central midfielder but changed positions to emulate a South African legend.
“I grew up looking up to [former Bafana Bafana centreback, Mbulelo] Mabizela. All I ever wanted is to play like him. It is the reason I move from my natural central midfielder position to play central defender even though I also play rightback, of which I am not so comfortable with… I am still working towards reaching Mabizela’s level of playing. I believe he was ahead of his time, he was comfortable on the ball and could mark, he was more of a modern-day defender that I still admire his skill even today.”
Sibisi, who was brought up by his grandmother, had a lot to do to convince his family about his chosen profession. “At home everyone wanted me to finish school before pursuing my football career. They never gave me any reasons, but they would insist on finishing school first. Even though I ended up dropping out in my third year at varsity [studying Public Administration], everyone at home is proud and supportive of what I have achieved so far in my career as a footballer.”
Sibisi says being surrounded by positivity is what keeps him going and humble after all the compliments he has received from many people.
“Coach Vilakazi is the one who always motivates me. He always told me that my time would come. I was so lucky that after signing my professional contract I got my first game within a few weeks. Siyanda Zwane played a major role in my confidence. He told me that I must work hard to cement my place in a team. When I made my debut, I did not play well but he came back to me and told me that I must keep on working hard. That alone gave me confidence, I just knew that there was something in me. I just needed to focus on honing my skills and thrive to be a better player every game. I have been compared to great defenders in the game, but I still remain humble because I want to reach their level and fulfil all my football dreams.”
During a coaching stint at Arrows a few seasons ago, Steve Kompela compared Sibisi to Italian World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro. And just like Cannavaro, Sibisi wants to be an iconic defender for this country.
Eager for a Bafana Bafana cap
“From a young age I have always believed that I am an international player. All those I used to play with back at home know that my dream is to play overseas. I always look at Percy Tau’s journey and realise that anything is possible when you put your mind, hard work and discipline into it. We played with Percy in MDC now he is in Europe.”
“While playing eMpophomeni I would tell my teammates after every game that I am international, and they would laugh. What I know is that if I can tell them now no one can dispute that. I want to break into Bafana Bafana. I would really like to receive a call-up while still playing for Arrows. Then I can move to other teams if it happens. For me to reach the dream of playing overseas I need to start at Bafana and play in CAF (Confederation of African Football) competitions.
“For now, both my dreams look possible. At Arrows we are currently at our best thus far. We haven’t reached such a level in many seasons. If we can be consistent throughout the season, we will get a spot in CAF competitions. Every player knows that playing with other African teams is not an easy task, I want that in my life so that I prepare myself emotionally and physically for playing overseas.”
He says of all the coaches he has worked with he really enjoyed working under Clinton Larsen. “Coach Larsen is a gentleman, he is always calm, he never shouts. It is easier to work with him. Coach Steve [Komphela] is a fountain of wisdom. It is always good to be around him even though he shouts a lot. He has a way of making someone believe the impossible.”