INJURIES and suspensions to senior strikers coupled with confidence from the technical team has seen the emergence of a potential diamond in the rough.
With minimal game time under his belt and his team on the verge of defeat; ABSA Premiership outfit Bidvest Wits’ inexperienced Muhammad Zaid Patel was thrown into the deep end as an 80th minute substitute to help his side salvage something from their encounter against Sundowns last week.
The lanky centre forward duly obliged when he latched onto a loose ball after Sundowns’ goal-minder Wayne Sandilands failed to gain full control of a powerfully struck Sibusiso Vilakazi free kick, earning the Clever Boys a valuable point.
It was the youngster’s first professional goal in two matches after he made his debut in a two-minute stint against a resurgent Moroka Swallows, during the Nedbank Cup Last 32 encounter.
A match Wits won by a goal to nil.
The goal-poacher recently got promoted to the first team during the January transfer period after spending two years in the development structures.
Injuries to key strikers Ryan Chapman and Bradley Ritson, fast tracked his opportunity for game time.
Anyone who has seen this Azaadville, (Johannesburg south) youngster on the park would not be surprised that he models his game around the Swedish international and AC Milan target-man Zlatan Ibrahimovich.
The youthful Wits side, mentored by former Bafana Bafana shot-stopper Roger De Sa, currently lies nineth on the log standings with a bulk of its star players being graduates of their highly successful academy.
“I was playing football with my friends for a local club two years ago when I joined the Bidvest Wits Academy.
“I didn’t think I will end up playing professionally, though I do wish for it - like every other youngster,” said Patel.
“I think the injuries to key strikers played a role in me being promoted,” he added modestly.
Speaking on the reception he received from teammates when he first joined the team, Patel said: “Gelling with the rest of the squad wasn’t difficult, everyone has been nice to me – especially senior players like Stanton Fredricks.
“With most of us being in the same age group, you don’t feel out of place.”
Currently in matric, Patel is faced with the mammoth task of having to juggle his studies and fighting for a place in the team.
“Juggling between school and football is tough, you have to concentrate.
“I’m lucky because I study through the Bidvest Wits Academy, which makes things easier for me.
“During the week I’m at the academy and at the weekend I’m at home”, he said.
Muhammad lives with his grandparents after his parents and 13-year-old brother moved to Malaysia four years ago due to personal reasons.
After initially moving with his parents, Zaid could only survive eight months in the country as he sorely missed his friends and neighbourhood.
“I missed South Africa and my friends.
“To add to that, Malaysia is quiet and is not a sporting country so I got bored.”
The youngster said he had ambitions to play abroad, in the English Premiership to be precise – but was content on developing his game at Bidvest Wits for now.
Patel’s potential has certainly not gone unnoticed; he was recently selected for the national U20 side to face Botswana in February, a match that was cancelled after Botswana pulled out.