JOHANNESBURG – A snub that denied Sipho Mbule the opportunity to play in his first major international competition pushed the SuperSport United midfielder to become someone that no coach overlooks easily.
“I narrowly missed out on going to the Under-17 World Cup in Chile,” Mbule said.
“I was invited to the initial camp, but I couldn’t make it to the final camp where they selected the squad because I had to play in the Engen Under-17 tournament for Harmony Sports Academy.
“I was disappointed not to make the squad, but the truth is that I hadn’t done enough to warrant a place in it.
“I was happy, though, when I was called up for the Under-20 World Cup. I used that initial snub as motivation that I must be so good that no coach overlooks me. I am not there yet, but I am working towards it.”
The 19-year-old lad from Welkom has been working on ensuring that Matsatsantsa a Pitori coach Eric Tinkler doesn’t overlook him on Sunday at Stade TP Mazembe in the Tshwane side’s clash with TP Mazembe in the first leg of the Caf Confederation Cup final.
Mbule’s chances of starting look good, with Reneilwe Letsholonyane suspended, while his friend and central midfield partner from all the way back at Harmony, Teboho Mokoena, is doubtful after picking up a knock.
“It would have been pretty special to play alongside Tebza in such a match,” Mbule said. “We go way back. Having a familiar face in the first team helped me quickly settle after I was promoted.
“I’ll always remember our first match together in the professional set-up, even though I came on as a late substitute against Mamelodi Sundowns. That match was special on so many levels.
“Here I was making my debut, playing alongside my childhood friend against a team that I grew up supporting. It was surreal.
“That moment made me grateful for my time at Harmony. They made me the player I am today. They also toughened me up because I had to leave home in Welkom in 2013 to stay in Bethlehem, where the team is based.
“That made it easier when I joined SuperSport after they spotted me at the Durban Under-19 (International Football) tournament, because I was already used to being on my own.”
There’ll be plenty of time for Tinkler to unleash Mokoena, 20, and Mbule, 19, with age still on their side and SuperSport needing to play catch-up in the league after finishing their commitments on the continent.
Matsatsantsa’s immediate focus, though, is on Mazembe, with a minimum target of returning from Lubumbashi with an away goal and then wrapping up the clash at Lucas Moripe Stadium next week.
They could return with more than that if they continue with their impressive record on the road.
Tinkler’s men have been better away than at home, especially in hostile environments to stun Mazembe, Club Africain, Zesco United and CF Mounana in their own backyards.
To do that against the Ravens, their defence has to be solid, starting with the central midfield partnership that should see Mbule play with his idol Dean Furman.
“He is my inspiration and motivation,” Mbule said. “He is a positive person who always motivates people to do better.
“I look up to him in how he gives his everything in a match for the good of the team.
“My dream is to play abroad. I know that to do that I can’t only rely on my talent, but my attitude and work-rate also have to be on point.”
The African Nations Championship (Chan) qualifiers, especially his Man-of-the-Match performance against Botswana, was the turning point of Mbule’s young career.
“Making my Bafana Bafana debut boosted my confidence.
“Things started to change from there on because a lot of people knew who I was and what I can offer. But that was just an introduction. There’s more coming.”