By Siyabonga Mkhwanazi, Caiphus Kgosana, Matshelane Mamabolo and Sapa

His mother described him as her friend. To friends and teammates, he was like a brother. To his mentor he was like a son. The humble Lesley Manyathela touched many lives.

Destined for football glory in Europe, where he had just undergone trials with Lyon, 22-year-old Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates striker Lesley Manyathela's untimely death in a car accident elicited shock from the South African soccer fraternity.

Pirates players sobbed uncontrollably when their emotional chairperson, Irvin Khoza, broke the news of his passing.

Earlier on Saturday, Manyathela had scored Pirates' consolation goal in the 89th minute when they lost 2-1 to Jomo Cosmos in the inaugural South African Airawys Supa 8 game at the Rand Stadium.

It was the last kick of the game.

"He may have scored his last goal (then), but the greatest and the last goal he scored was to be a role model to the youth," Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba said.

Manyathela was killed instantly at about 10.30pm on Saturday when his car overturned on the N1, 30km from his destination. Two other occupants of the car suffered minor injuries and were discharged from hospital on Sunday.

True to the special relationship he had with his mother, he was on his way to share the remainder of Women's Day with her in his Limpopo hometown of Musina.

At the accident scene on Sunday, skid marks on the road showed where Manyathela's car had veered off the road and rolled, coming to a halt about 250m into the bushes.

On Sunday night, Manyathela's father, Frans, said that when he heard his eldest son had called to say he was driving home, he was excited. It would have been the first opportunity to see his son since he had returned from Europe.

"He called to say he had a surprise for his mother. She sounded very excited about whatever he had planned for his mother."

They had expected him around 11pm, but instead received a call from relatives at around that time to inform them of the accident.

"Although my relatives did not tell me about the extent of the accident, I somehow had a bad feeling about it," Manyathela said.

The family's worst nightmare was realised when they were taken to the local hospital and informed that their son had died.

Asked to describe his son, Manyathela said that what had stood out about him was his passion for football - and his desire to see everyone happy.

"He never could distinguish between a friend and enemy - everyone was a friend to him. He raised his hand up and God called him," he said.

Speaking on SABC TV news on Sunday night, his tearful mother, Gladys Manyathela, said of her beloved son: "My son was my friend." Lesley had shared every problem he had with her, she added.

"He cared for other people," she said, adding that her son had never wanted to see any person suffering or going hungry.

After a prayer conducted by Pastor Ray McCauley at Pirates' offices in Parktown, Khoza said: "It is important at this moment of grief to believe in God. With the passing of time, God will provide us with answers in as far as telling us exactly what He meant by this."

He added that Manyathela had made it clear to him during their conversation after the game on Saturday that he wanted to be at home in Musina with his mother for Women's Day.

Mike Makaab, the player's business manager, who was in London trying to clinch deals for him, was convinced he would have made it in the European league. "Every level he played, he scored goals. He was born with it. Natural ability is something that you cannot teach," he told Metro FM.

Pirates' brand manager, Zodwa Khoza, said: "He was like a brother to me. I just cannot believe it has happened to Lesley. I'm still hoping to get a call from somebody, telling me it is all just a big joke."

Augusto Palacios, the Pirates development coach, and the man who discovered Manyathela in 1999, said: "It is a very sad moment for me, for us. Manyathela was like my son."

Mashaba described the ace striker as a humble man who had been looking forward to being part of the national team to take part in the African Cup of Nations in Tunisia in January.

President Thabo Mbeki said: "There is special poignancy in the fact that he died on a trip he was making associated with Women's Day. We offer our condolences to the family, his teammates and management at Orlando Pirates, as we redouble our resolve as a nation to push ahead with the treatment of women's rights in South Africa, which his death will always remind us of."

His funeral is planned for Saturday, his family said. According to SABC TV, Manyathela is survived by two children.