UYO, Nigeria – Super Eagles tormentor-in-chief, Bafana Bafana striker Tokelo Rantie, hasn’t felt this good about his form in many years.
And that speaks volumes given the fact that the Turkish-based forward has been by far the best goal-getter for the national team even during a difficult period in his career when he was sidelined by English Premier League side Bournemouth before he made the switch to Gençlerbirlii in August last year.
Ahead of Saturday's crucial 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Nigeria in Uyo, Rantie opened up about why Eddie Howe, the Bournemouth manager, mostly thought of him as surplus to requirements.
“You wouldn’t believe my story if I told you,” said Rantie. “It was not about me being down on my luck or anything like that. I spent a lot of time in discussion with my previous manager (Howe) about why I was not playing.
"When I moved to England I was 1.70 metres tall and he came to watch me in Malmo and suddenly when I arrived in England my height was a problem. It was not a matter of me not getting chances or not performing at training. Most of the time I felt I deserved a chance, but his style of play didn’t suit mine, it seems.
"That was the only reason he gave me and that is when I decided 'I don’t think I should stay here any longer than I have'. I went to Turkey to prove to anyone who doubted me all along in England, to say I am capable. I have always said to people I am not the best footballer, but I am a hard worker and that is how I achieved any success.”
In three years with the Cherries, Rantie only managed 59 games, mostly coming off the bench with very little time left on the clock, and contributed with six goals. That was hardly a reason to omit him from the Bafana squad for then coaches Gordon Igesund and Shakes Mashaba.
When he named his 25-man squad to travel to Nigeria for this weekend’s important Afcon qualifier, current national team coach Stuart Baxter made it clear there was no way he was facing the Super Eagles without Rantie, who “scared” the 2013 African champions in their previous two qualifiers for the 2015 edition of the continental tournament – a goalless draw in Cape Town and a 2-2 draw in Uyo.
The sad tale of his Bournemouth career could have contributed to his disappearing act days before Bafana were to face Burkina Faso in their opening World Cup qualifier away in Ouagadougou eight months ago, much to Mashaba’s agony.
“I am happy to be back in the national team,” said Rantie. “Things happen, and I am here now and given another chance and that is my main focus. It comes at a time when I am doing well at my club and we are playing Nigeria. I remember very well what I did to them last time, but this is a new chapter.”
Igesund, Mashaba and now Baxter, are not the only coaches with full confidence in Rantie, He said that Gençlerbirlii manager, Umit Ozat, also falls into that category after bringing back his appetite for the game – something he was losing as he grew frustrated at Bournemouth.
“It didn’t start well for me in Turkey because I arrived there with no game time in two years and I also had to adjust to the league. The manager actually gave me so much confidence and after that it was almost impossible for me not to play well,” explained Rantie.
“I think in the last couple of months I have been doing well. What is important is what I'm doing on the field. I have no stress, I have belief in the players around me in the national team and I think the time to fear Nigeria (who have faced Bafana 12 times and lost once in a friendly in 2004) is long gone.”