CAPE TOWN - Cape Town City have always maintained that the “team” is the axis around which they have hinged their successful debut campaign in the PSL. But, if there’s one individual who epitomises this self-effacing, unselfish commitment to the whole, it’s veteran right-back Vincent Kobola.
And, to emphasise just how highly his leadership and counsel are to the City squad, it was no surprise when Kobola was awarded the Most Valuable Player gong at the Cape club’s end-of-season awards last Friday.
Club chairman John Comitis revealed that, during his regular one-on-one interviews with the players, when he asked them who they turned to during times of need or difficulty, virtually all of them replied: “Vincent Kobola”. It’s a ringing endorsement of the player’s standing in the City squad.
Because as much as the sport of football revolves around the regular injection of fresh, young talent, it’s just as important that it is balanced with seasoned, experienced campaigners.
In every dressing-room, there is a sage, old head who players can turn to for advice and guidance. He’s a senior player who has the respect of the players, not just for the way he carries himself but also for his unselfish commitment to the team. In the City squad, 32-year-old Kobola is that man.
City head into their final PSL fixture on Saturday when they are in the Limpopo Province to take on Polokwane City (3pm kickoff) - and, even though Kobola is again likely to be on the bench, you can rest assured that he will be the most vocal in supporting and urging the team in its bid to finish the season in second position.
In truth, it has been a difficult campaign for Kobola. When he made the decision to join the rest of the Mpumalanga Black Aces squad in relocating to the Mother City - after Comitis purchased the franchise to establish the new Cape club - Kobola was the team’s skipper and he was the likely first-choice for the right-back position.
He had certainly earned his stripes during his many years in the PSL, having played for Moroka Swallows, Jomo Cosmos, University of Pretoria and Black Aces before embarking on the City adventure. But things were to change quickly for Kobola, as it so often happens in football.
City coach Eric Tinkler was desperate to push Lebogang Manyama, to challenge a player who had been playing below potential, so he handed him the captain’s armband, relegating Kobola to vice-captain. (And we all know that it turned out to be an inspired decision).
Soon after, Tinkler signed Thamsanqa Mkhize, with the intention of using the player as cover across the four defensive positions. Kobola started off the season performing consistently at right-back - but, when he was rested, and Mhize given an opportunity, it changed even more drastically. Mkhize played out of his skin and Kobola struggled to get back in.
Throughout, though, the respected and admired 32-year-old has always been there, fully behind the team. The fact that he had lost his position wasn’t a big deal - for him, it was still about the team and he’s been a rock-like presence behind the scenes in supporting and guiding his teammates.
So, when Kobola walked up to receive his MVP award last week, it led to the biggest cheer of the evening, with everybody fully aware of the influential and critical role he has played as the senior statesman in this City squad.
“The award comes as a reward from my teammates as a sign of how we are together,” said Kobola. “We all complement each other and I am just happy to be there to encourage them all the time.
“I am an easy person to come to because I listen to people. I know how to get them to open up, so I am able to give them advice based on my previous experiences, and I’ve used that to assist my teammates.”
For City, a third-place finish in the PSL is guaranteed, but there is the possibility that they can go one better. In essence, the Capetonians need to defeat Polokwane on Saturday and hope that, at the same time, Mamelodi Sundowns stumble in their fixture against Highlands Park.
“It has been an incredible season,” said Kobola. “We deserve to be where we are because of the hard work we have put in as a team. We had an opportunity to win the league title, but unfortunately could not. But we humbled ourselves, continued to focus on our performances and will accept where we finish. It’s still a great feeling for all of us, though, and we are grateful for everything we have achieved this season.
“Polokwane will be a tough game on Saturday. But we will just focus on what we have to do, which is to get the three points. In that way, we can finish the season off on a high. The guys just have to give it their all, and then I am sure the result will speak for itself.”