Thela Ngobeni of Free State Stars during the recent Nedbank Cup quarter-final against Ubuntu FC at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix
Thela Ngobeni has "won" every trophy on offer in the country, including the Caf Champions League, but he is still searching for a winner’s medal that will mean something to him.

The 29-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper, who is on loan at Free State Stars, is confident that that meaningful winner’s medal will come next month.

But Ea Lla Koto have to first get past his former team Kaizer Chiefs today in their Nedbank Cup semi-final at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban (8.15pm kick-off).

Ngobeni received his first winner’s medal at Amakhosi where he played just one match in four seasons.

His fortunes didn’t change at Sundowns, playing two dead-rubber matches. It took Ngobeni seven years to reach double digits in terms of appearances, the bulk of those coming from Stars, who seem to be the home he never had.

“I won’t lie, those medals mean nothing to me,” Ngobeni said.

“I have a smallanyana place where I put my stuff. But they don’t mean much to be honest because I didn’t play. When you look at a medal, you must say that I remember this moment from this game.

“I don’t even want to dwell on those medals. It’s in the past. I want to create my own history as an individual. I want to have a medal along with a picture that will show that I was there; this is how I won this medal and this is the jersey I was wearing on that day. I don’t have a single jersey that I have framed from my career. I don’t see a reason to frame any jersey because I didn’t use that jersey on the field.

“I respect all the teams that I played for, but I just want to play. I want to have my smallanyana history of my football career.”

There isn’t a hint of bitterness in Ngobeni’s voice as he talks about the challenges he has faced in his career.

The lad from Katlehong has had it rough because most of the goalkeepers he has fought with for the No1 jersey have been their country’s No1 - from South Africa’s Itumeleng Khune to Kennedy Mweene of Zambia, Uganda’s Denis Onyango and Brimah Razak of Ghana.

At the moment he is competing with Badra Ali Sangare, who has represented the Ivory Coast senior national team. The Ivoirian is Stars’ preferred goalkeeper in the league while Ngobeni has held the fort in the Nedbank Cup.

Despite struggling to get regular game time in his career, the thought of quitting football has never crossed Ngobeni's mind.

“You can’t give up on something that you love. I am not in football because someone told me that I should play football. I am here because I love the game. I can’t stop. I have to go until I can’t go anymore.

“I don’t need to be motivated by anyone. It’s something that I love. When I wake up in the morning I just want to go and play. I want to train and improve myself.

“It’s just in me and in my DNA that I want to improve myself. I want to grow. Where I am now, I am very happy.”

What would make him happier is repeating the heroics he performed in Durban the last time Ea Lla Koto played Amakhosi there.

Ngobeni shone for Stars in the 2016 Telkom Knockout quarter-finals, helping his team beat Chiefs on penalties after forming an impregnable wall in two hours of football.

“To be honest, I want to win the final. I don’t want to just reach the final. I want to win it because all these years I have been a part of teams who have reached finals but I haven’t played in one.

“I want to have a medal that will mean something to me, give it to my Mom and say that this is for you, I played in the final and I won it for you.

“Just going and playing the semi-final or the final and not winning it, I won’t be happy with that, to be honest.”


Saturday Star

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