Cape Town - The footballer voted as the best in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) this season – Sibusiso Vilakazi – has only one objective: To try and land an overseas contract.
Unlike the norm in domestic football, where top players suffer from “big fish in small pond” mentality and are happy to spend their entire careers in the PSL, Vilakazi has ambition - he wants to test himself against the best in the rest of the world.
After winning the Footballer of the Season, the Players’ Player of the Year and the Nedbank Cup Player of the Year at the PSL’s awards ceremony on Sunday night, the Wits midfielder and captain reflected on how it so very nearly all went wrong for him.
Five years ago, when Vilakazi was lying in hospital recovering from severe knee ligament damage, he overheard a conversation that no footballer ever wants to hear.
“The doctors did not know I was listening to them, but I overheard them saying there is a possibility that I might not play football again,” he recalled.
Nineteen at the time, Vilakazi was a victim of an over-the-top tackle by then Moroka Swallows right-back Vincent Kobola, who escaped with just a yellow card in the clash on December 12, 2009.
“I broke my leg in my first season in the PSL and I asked myself why is it happening to me? It was my left knee after a tackle from Kobola. I wanted to stand up after the tackle, but when I tried I couldn’t. My knee was numb and I think I just twisted it even more by trying to stand up.”
But Vilakazi was not prepared to just give up on football and, when he eventually got out of the hospital, he did everything possible to ensure that he got back on to the pitch.
At the time, the player did not even have a car, so he would travel by taxi with his crutches to the hospital in Sandton for check-ups and rehabilitation. And his mother was by his side every step of the way.
“I did not want to believe what the doctors were saying and I pushed myself very hard so that I could play football again.
“My mother played a big role in my life. We used to travel to Sandton in a taxi and I was using crutches. I could not even bend my knee when I was sitting in the taxi. When we got off the taxi, we would walk and I would sweat. But I knew I would come back a strong man. I now play every game as if it is my last.”
On Sunday night in Sandton, the Wits captain was emotional as he accepted his Footballer of the Season accolade.
A spiritual man after suffering his injury, Vilakazi thanked God for the award after he was asked to give a speech. The midfielder may not have thanked his mother, but he was certainly thinking about her and the effort she made to ensure he is back on the pitch doing what he loves most.
“When I got injured, I got closer to God,” said Vilakazi.
“My mother must have been crying after I won the awards and she was probably thinking of the things we went through. She could not believe it.”
Vilakazi scored eight league goals in a very good campaign for him, and netted in every knockout competition. He was the driving force in Wits’ season.
“I am happy with my awards, but I have not reached my (full) potential yet. I have done well, but I think I could have done much better. Scoring eight goals is not what I wanted. I can only get better.”
Despite his domination of the individual awards, Vilakazi’s season will remain tinged with sadness after losing out in the league race (Wits ended third) and losing to Orlando Pirates in the Nedbank Cup final in Durban.
“I think we did well and even surprised ourselves by challenging for the league at some point. I think we can only get better from here. If we had won the Nedbank Cup, it would have made it a terrific season.”
The 24-year-old says he wants a move overseas and nothing else, not even a switch to one of the local big guns. “At the moment I am not considering anything locally. I am just looking to make a move abroad.”