CAPE TOWN – The essence of good professional footballer is not so much talent as it is character. A sportsman goes through many ups and downs in a career, which is why he is defined by how he responds to adversity.
Ajax Cape Town goalkeeper Brandon Petersen knows adversity very well; he has been well-acquainted with setbacks and heartbreak in his short pro career. But never has the 23-year-old given up, never has he allowed hardship to derail him his focus. And football, as always, rewards such perseverance and determination, with Petersen’s hard work culminating in a call-up to the Bafana Bafana squad for the Four Nations friendly tournament currently taking place in Zambia.
Bafana defeated Angola 6-5 on penalties in the opening match on Wednesday and will now face hosts Zambia in the final of the event at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola tomorrow (kickoff 6pm).
In December 2014, Petersen broke his leg after a horror challenge during a fixture against Mamelodi Sundowns. At the time, it was feared the promising young keeper would never make it back. But this lad doesn’t know the meaning of quit - after more than a year on the side-lines, through a long rehabilitation period and tons of hard work in the gym and at training, he finally made it back in January 2016.
But there was more to come. Things don’t come easy in football. On his return, another young Ajax keeper, Jody February, was doing well and ahead of him in the queue. As such, Petersen had to, patiently, wait his turn on the bench. And then, when his opportunity arrived, he never looked back.
There have again been ups and downs along the way - but, and especially over the last few weeks, he has really come good and demonstrated why he has always been highly rated as a goalkeeper.
Bafana coach Stuart Baxter is using the tournament in Zambia to look at some of the country’s next generation of talent, hence his inclusion of Petersen; a sure sign that the Ajax number one could potentially be the Bafana number one in the future.
Petersen is probably unlikely to play in this competition in Zambia. Baxter has made it clear that the idea is to allow such emerging players to get a feel for the national squad. In Wednesday’s victory over Angola, Wits’ Darren Keet played in goal - and his presence was crucial, in that he saved a penalty during the shoot-out which allowed Bafana to register the win.
For the final, Baxter will probably use the country’s current number one, Itumeleng Khune, between the sticks.
Petersen, needless to say, is simply chuffed after his first-ever call to the senior national team. Whether he plays or not is not important, it’s just all part of his learning curve. He is expecting to gain much information and knowledge from Khune and Keet.
“I’m really excited and I feel honoured to have gotten a call-up,” said Petersen. “I didn’t expect it to come so soon. To be honest, it wasn’t really on my mind as I have been more focused on my club duties.
“But I’m obviously looking forward to learning from the more experienced keepers like Khune and Keet. They are both good goalkeepers and they’ve been in the squad many times before. Also I’m going there to show what I can bring to the team and hopefully I can add value.
“I am looking forward to working with coach Baxter. I’m quite keen to see the type of training and tactics he uses.”
At Ajax Petersen's ebullient personality assists team motivation and he has natural, instinctive leadership qualities to boot. During his matric year, he was the head boy at Elsies River High School - he is the second footballer from his alma mater to make the SA national team. The first was former Hellenic and Mamelodi Sundowns defender Craig Bianchi.
There is still a long way for Petersen to go, both for club and country, but there is no doubting his ability to overcome hurdles. As he says philosophically: “For me, it’s always just to keep working hard towards my goals, because I believe that if you can think it, you can achieve it.”