JOHANNESBURG: After a lengthy absence Lehlogonolo Masalesa is back in the national squad.
New coach Stuart Baxter has named the Larissa midfielder as his captain for the Cosafa Cup, which is currently taking place in Rustenburg, on Thursday.
Masalesa, 25, was previously called up during the era of former Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane, although he was not capped.
The midfielder burst onto the scene when he made his PSL debut for Platinum Stars back in the 2009-2010 season as a 17-year-old. He then joined Wits in late 2010, where he spent two seasons, and after some fine displays, moved to Orlando Pirates in 2012.
In five seasons at Pirates, he did not get the game-time he would have been hoping for when he made the move to one of the giants of SA football. In early 2017, he signed for Greek side, Larissa, who finished 13th in the regular season of the Greek top-tier league - the Super League - in 2016-2017.
Larissa’s full name is Athlitiki Enosi Larissa (Athletic Union of Larissa), simply called AEL or Larissa, and is in the city of Larissa, capital of Greece’s Thessaly region.
In an interview with Safa, Masalesa reflected on his career and recent move abroad.
“I am really glad to be back, it has been a long time in indeed. Back then Pitso Mosimane was the coach, even though I never played a match for Bafana Bafana,” said Masalesa.
“I am glad to be working with the new coach because I believe, as a footballer, working with someone like him will take me to the next level at club level. I am also happy to be part of the national team, and I hope, as we will be participating in the Cosafa Cup, we will do well and make the nation proud.”
Masalesa. is relishing the prospect of making his elusive debut this time around.
“As a footballer, you always have to fancy your chances to play, you always need to believe in yourself, and, given the opportunity, I think I can show what I am capable of,” he said.
“The fact that I am here means things are going well for me, as my career got back on track the last six months. I got to Greece and I did what I had to do so things are really looking up, we will see what the future holds.”
The former Buccaneer also observed the difference between football in South Africa and in Greece. “The level of training is at a higher notch; the football is a lot tougher; you need to concentrate a lot,” Masalesa explained.
“You need to work very hard and be very sharp in your approach and execution of your duties. There are no easy games in the league and all of that has - and will - help me improve as a player, because when you train well and play well, you become a better player.
“I started very well at Pirates and I believe I did well, especially in the CAF competition. But, as you know, things change in football. Unfortunately, towards the end of my stay there, things changed for the worst for me, but luckily the overseas move came unexpectedly.
“I believe it was more for what I did for Pirates in the CAF Competition, as people still valued me and wanted me all because of that, so I will always appreciate the opportunity I got at Pirates, because it is the reason why I am where I am today.
Masalesa was hopeful of Bafana’s prospects in the Cosafa Cup.
“We have a very good crop of players and it makes me wonder how we lost in the Under-20 Fifa World Cup, with such good players.
“I think there are a lot of young players who want to showcase their talent and there is a good blend of experienced guys, like Mario Booysen and Aubrey Ngoma, so we can do well. We must just apply ourselves and we will see what will happen.
“Anything is possible in football. You could be just one of the youngsters today, and tomorrow you could be the captain of the national team, so one needs to be prepared.”