JOHANNESBURG - Daniel Cardoso, the centreback who is a key figure in a Kaizer Chiefs side desperate to end a trophy drought now stretching to a third season, says he was made so many empty promises as a budding young talent before his career could finally take off.
Born in Johannesburg in October 1988, the son of a Portuguese father (who died two years ago) and a South African mother only caught his big break some 300 km from his parents' house when he joined Free State Stars.
“It’s difficult in Joburg, especially being a white boy playing football,” Cardoso said of his journey. “I played for all the youth teams - Orlando Pirates, Bidvest Wits, Jomo Cosmos and SuperSport United. All these are very good teams, but no one noticed my talent. In those days I was a striker, a proper No 9, out-and-out striker banging in goals. I then went to Maritimo in Portugal for three months and came back. It was really frustrating and I told my father I was going to give up football.”
Current SuperSport United coach Eric Tinkler is responsible for converting Cardoso into a central defender, but he, too, dragged his feet in promoting the eager teenager to the Wits first team in those days.
“I felt I had tried my heart out,” Cardoso recalls. “I was promised the world at Bidboys (Wits youth team), telling me they would promote me all the time. But it just never happened, so I moved on to Highlands Park in the Vodacom League (now ABC Motsepe) and played there for six months before Free State Stars coaches showed an interest and wanted to sign me that very night. I didn’t believe it because of all the promises that were made in the past. But this one actually happened and I moved to Bethlehem.”
The three years he spent with Ea Lla Koto well and truly established Cardoso, whose only appearance in a Bafana Bafana shirt, a 3-1 win over neighbours Swaziland nearly three years ago, came while he was a Stars player.
“Being out there made me the person I am today. I think Joburg is this very fast life, people who come here from outside find it very difficult to settle in because there is nightlife, women, drinking and I mean it swallows you up,” says Cardoso.
“I was in a small town, there is nothing there. Really, there’s nothing in Bethlehem. You save your money because it’s football all the time - home and training, there’s no messing around. It was great living there.”
The Amakhosi defender, who by his own admission says the current campaign is his best since arriving at the club in June 2015, at the same time as coach Steve Komphela, found it extremely hard to begin life at Naturena.
“For seven months I did nothing, only rehab,” Cardoso says of his first season at Chiefs. “It was great joining Chiefs, great family and you won’t get any of these facilities anywhere else in the country. Coming here with an injury was hard. I was frustrated going to the gym because I was out for a very long time.
"I really struggled and it was so hard to make it into the team. There are great players here, you can’t just walk into any team, even though I had always done a job for Steve when he was at Free State Stars. He obviously had a good group of players that had been playing for seven months while I was out.”
Cardoso seems to have finally convinced Komphela that he can rely on him again, forcing the coach to leave out his trusted centrebacks over the last two seasons in Lorenzo Gordinho and Mulomowandau Mathoho.
Gordinho was surprisingly sent out on a 12-months long loan to Bloemfontein Celtic in January, while Mathoho has spent a large chunk of this campaign on the bench.
“I have got all the confidence in the world at the moment. It’s been a great season for me, I think one of my best so far. And it would be great to win a trophy. That is why I came to Chiefs - to win silverware,” Cardoso, who has missed just one game all season, says.
Amakhosi host Cape Town City on Saturday at FNB Stadium in yet another Absa Premiership fixture that will influence the direction the league title goes. Chiefs, with the best defensive record, are fourth on the table and trail log-leaders Mamelodi Sundowns by seven points and City are on the same number of points.
“I have never won a trophy in my life, and we have two more to play for this season. Hopefully we can get one. This season is so close. We need to win every single game if we are going to win the championship,” says Cardoso.