Mothobi Mvala’s voice is filled with excitement as he talks about how Highlands Park masterminded their quick return to the Premier Soccer League and why their stay there will be longer this time around.
The Lions of the North will win the National First Division this afternoon should they get a point from University of Pretoria at Makhulong Stadium in what has been a dominant performance for the side that was relegated after just one season in the élite league.
Mvala had to make a tough decision after that disappointment - remain loyal to Highlands, or think about his blossoming career that saw him represent his country in the Olympics Games in Brazil in 2016.
“It was very tough for me when we got relegated,” Mvala said. “I wanted to remain in the PSL and had offers that would have helped me in my growth and build on the experience I gained from being at the Olympics. But the club’s management told me that they wanted me to stay.
“They said I was key in their plans of gaining instant promotion from the NFD. I decided to stay. The turning point was the conversation I had with coach Owen da Gama. He told me how much he rates me and how he can help me take my game to the next level.”
Mvala and Da Gama worked together in the Olympics as “Rubber Doll” managed the South African side that took on hosts Brazil, Iraq and Sweden.
Da Gama has been instrumental in Highlands’ success this season. The Lions of the North roared to first place under his guidance which started in September last year and stayed there after a stuttering start.
But just because Da Gama and Mvala have worked together before doesn’t mean that the 23-year-old has it easy.
“He is very hard on me,” Mvala said. “When I do wrong and don’t have a good game, he shouts at me in front of everyone and when I do well he tells me in front of everyone.”
It’s quite fitting that Highlands could confirm their return to the élite league at the venue they were relegated at in the last match of the season in the last campaign.
“What has helped us be this dominant this season is the unity and drive for a common goal. We knew it'd be hard but we had a strong belief, good work ethic and more importantly a strong brotherhood. We scored a lot of goals, not relying on only one scorer because everyone scores in the team,says Mvala.”
Peter Shalulile leads the club’s scorer’s chart with 12 goals. Mvala is second with 10 – a good return for a defensive midfielder.
“The main target for us as a team is to survive,” Mvala said.
“What would be a dream is to win a trophy with the team in the PSL. And we are capable of doing that. My own personal targets are to at least win an individual award and score a lot of goals; who knows I could even win the Golden Boot. I also would like to go abroad and follow in the footsteps of players like Keagan Dolly and Bongani Zungu.