Untimely death of Leremi a loss for SA

Published Sep 5, 2007

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- Have your say about the death of Gift Leremi.

Gift Leremi's tragic car crash on Monday night leaves another gaping hole in the heart of South African soccer.

His death mirrors that of another prodigious talent, Orlando Pirates striker Lesley Manyathela four years ago. Manyathela died on August 9 2003, crashing his car on the way home to see his parents in Musina.

Ironically, while the country mourned Leremi, Tuesday would have been Manyathela's 26th birthday.

That two such talents have been lost to the game in this country begs belief.

What makes Leremi's death particularly sad is that after a host of off-the-field troubles in recent times, he seemed to be getting his life back on track at Mamelodi Sundowns this season.

With two goals already this campaign, the skillful attacking midfielder was thrilled at the prospect of playing his old club, Pirates, in the SAA Supa8 final on September 15. Now he will not get the chance.

Gift Mpho Leremi was born in Soweto on October 13 1984, the oldest of three brothers.

He signed for Pirates in 1999, after being spotted at the annual Godfrey Moloi tournament. Leremi's breakthrough at the Buccaneers came in the 2002/3 season, as he emerged to play a key role, along with the goals of Manyathela, in Pirates' championship winning season.

In 2004/5 Leremi was part of Kosta Papic's thrilling Pirates side, that tore teams apart in the opening half of the season, only to be overtaken by Kaizer Chiefs right at the end of the season.

Having already excelled in the national under-23 side, the season also saw Leremi earn his first Bafana cap, coming on in the second half of the Nelson Mandela Challenge against Nigeria.

From there, however, events took a sharp downhill turn for Leremi. He only earned three further Bafana caps, all as substitute, his last in the Concacaf Cup in July 2005. Rumours of excessive drinking, and even assault allegations threatened to derail his career completely.

In March, Leremi was acquitted of assault charges, but Orlando Pirates still chose to offload him to Mamelodi Sundowns the next season. He joined the Brazilians with the promise of turning over a new leaf.

"My focus at the moment is doing well at Sundowns and getting back to my best form," he said in a recent interview.

However, he also defended his off-the-field partying: "I don't honestly see that drinking alcohol and partying by sportsmen and women is wrong. It becomes a problem if it affects performance," he said.

Friends give the impression of a man who was the life and soul of a party, but also a man who was thoroughly dedicated to his football.

One thing's for sure, the game's lost a talent of unlimited potential.

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