JOHANNESBURG – Denis Onyango has four main reasons to remain at the top of African football, even if three of those “reasons” involve being in bed with the “enemy”.
The Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper started the year on a high note by being named the best goalkeeper in Africa.
Onyango was also the only Africa-based player in a star-studded Caf’s Best XI that featured Egyptian star Mohamed Salah, Senegal’s talisman Sadio Mane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon.
This nod was another feather in the Ugandan’s cap.
Onyango captained the Cranes to their first Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) appearance in almost 40 years in 2017, and then helped them earn a ticket to this year’s continental showpiece in Egypt without conceding a goal and with a game to spare.
He was also the bedrock of Sundowns’ successful league triumph last season.
Onyango will look to continue his impressive run by helping the Brazilians get past Chippa United in the Nedbank Cup last-32 in Port Elizabeth today (3pm kickoff).
“I’ve got four boys, they all love football,” Onyango said. “Three of them are training with (Sundowns’ cross-town rivals) SuperSport United’s academy in Fourways.
“Of course, only God knows if they are going to play professionally, but they love the sport. It keeps them busy and motivated. I hope that one or two or three of them play professionally, and they pick up from where I left off.
“I believe that what I am doing is something that can inspire youngsters. Football is like life – sometimes it’s good, and sometimes things don’t go your way.
“If they can learn a few things from me, with their mom also telling them how difficult it was for me when I wasn’t playing, they will understand how life goes.”
Onyango had it rough before he was the toast of the continent.
He went from club to club, struggling for game time at SuperSport, Bidvest Wits, Black Aces and even Sundowns. The Brazilians loaned him to the Clever Boys at one point.
But the man who brought him from Uganda to South Africa, Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane, recalled him from that loan spell and started the journey that took the 33-year-old to being Africa’s finest.
“I am motivated by being in the best XI in Africa,” Onyango said.
“This is what we are working for. Why play in the league when you don’t want to win the league? Why compete in the Afcon if you don’t have the ambition to win it?
“For me, it is about winning all the time. Of course, it won’t happen all the time, but these are the things that drive me.
“I was out for two years not playing competitive football, and I got the opportunity. That’s what drives me to do well. I must grab the opportunity and make the most of it.
“Looking back at my targets when I was in Uganda, I always wanted to be in the group stage of the Champions League. I exceeded that with Sundowns by winning it in 2016.”
Onyango continued: “Every time I am playing, I call my mom and my kids are watching. I want them to see a fighter in me.
“I want them to be motivated by what I do, that if our dad can do it, they can do it better.
“These are the things that drive me every time.”