Thembi Kgatlana has risen to fame after fantastic performances with the national team. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
Thembi Kgatlana might be affectionately known as “Pikinini” due to her height and small body, but she defies that in terms of the career goals she’s set.

She possesses an intimidating outlook that makes her a cut above the rest, proven by the fact that she and national teammate Linda Motlhalo became the first Banyana Banyana footballers to sign for a professional Chinese club - Beijing BG Phoenix FC.

“After my performance at the Afcon, I think people wanted to associate themselves with me, and it was a matter of time before my agent got an offer,” said Kgatlana after an impressive Awcon tournament where she scooped the Best Player of the Tournament award after helping Banyana Banyana qualify for their first World Cup.

With that performance from the continental tournament in Ghana she earned her maiden African Women’s Player of the Year title, while her goal against Nigeria in the group opener was publicly voted as Goal of the Year.

After cutting ties with NWSL side Houston Dash earlier this year, it was fitting that a club such as Phoenix came knocking. The Chinese Women’s Super League (CWSL) is one of the best upcoming leagues in the world that attracts footballers from around the globe.

“It’s growing and everyone is going there,” Kgatlana said. “There are couple of Africans that are also there. Most of the time in the leagues (around the world), we are not accepted and we first need to have had a lot of achievements before someone gives you the opportunity.”

The CWSL is the benchmark for multiple African Women’s Footballer of the Year award winner Asisat Oshoala who was recently recruited by Spanish giants FC Barcelona.

Considering the recent interchange of the tag of the Queen of African Football between Oshoala and Kgatlana, many foresee a brewing rivalry between the two African greats. But Kgatlana’s target is on rewriting her own history.

“She’s been in China and I am only going now, and I think that’s where a lot of comparison comes from,” she argued. “But I am living my best life in terms of exploring my football. If a team wants to give me a job, I go wherever.”

The former University of Western Cape (UWC) striker will join her new teammates and employers next month, as she’s still focused on doing duty for Banyana in the Cyprus Cup from February 25 - March 7.

The Cyprus Cup is a familiar and happy hunting territory for Kgatlana and company. They used it for the Awcon preparations last year, while Kgatlana scooped the MVP title of the tournament.

This year’s Cyprus Cup is scheduled to serve an even greater purpose as it will strengthen Banyana’s World Cup preparations considering that it consists of teams from Africa, Asia and Europe.

“In Cyprus, we are going to play against a lot of European teams, so it’s time to measure ourselves and be adventurous as to see where we are before the World Cup,” Kgatlana said.

Banyana, who flew to Cyprus on Saturday, are in group A alongside Finland - who they’ll open their account against on Wednesday - Korea DPR and the Czech Republic.


Sunday Independent

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