Downs rising star Mkhulise aims to emulate Tau
Having been groomed and trained by the club’s academy under the astute mentorship of David Notoane, the Brazilians midfielder has the ingredients to be a successful campaigner for most teams in top-flight football.
But such are Sundowns’ standards that there’s only been a handful of players - which include Motjeka Madisha, Keletso Makgalwa and Nicholus Lukhubeni - that have directly graduated from the reserves to the first team.
However, not all is lost for academy graduates. If you can’t immediately break into Pitso Mosimane’s team, that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your future with the club.
After all, the nation’s Golden Boy, Percy Tau, spent a season on loan at then second-tier side Witbank Spurs before returning and inspiring the club to continental and domestic glory in just 18 months.
Just like Tau, Mkhulise had to do it the hard way. The 24-year-old spent two successful loan periods at National First Division (NFD) GladAfrica Championship sides Black Leopards and Richards Bay before fully assembling as a Sundowns squad member last season.
Life as a ‘Sandawana’ got off to a slow start for Mkhulise, making only four appearances in all competitions as he failed to break into the star-studded team that had won almost everything in domestic and continental football in the last six seasons.
“I think last season was all about learning for me. I thank the coaches and players for the lessons they gave me. I am happy with the progress that I made but still think there’s still a lot that I need to learn and work on - like my finishing,” Mkhulise said.
From just being another member of the team, Mkhulise has risen to the prominence of making it hard for coach Mosimane to leave him out of the starting line-up - having made 23 appearances in all competitions this season.
This season Mkhulise’s highlight has been conquering the African safari, where the Brazilians crashed out of the CAF Champions League quarter-finals after a 3-1 aggregate loss to Egyptian giants Al Ahly.
“Playing in Africa is a bigger stage and every player’s dream. It’s a dream that I still want to explore more because you grow in every aspect of life,” Mkhulise, who made four appearances, scored two goals and registered an assist in the Pan African competition, said.
“Each and every year, I want to play in Africa. If I can conquer the continent then it will be easier for me to go and play in Europe and follow in the footsteps of players like Percy Tau (who’s playing for Club Brugge in Belgium).”
Mkhulise knows that Sundowns’ ticket back to the African safari is accessed via domestic glory in the Absa Premiership, where they’d qualify for the Champions League, or the Nedbank Cup, which guarantees a spot in the Confederations Cup.
And to say the Brazilians have done well in that regard would be putting it mildly. They are second on the standings with 44 points, four behind leaders Kaizer Chiefs, who’ve played a game more. In the South African premier club knockout competition, they are in the semi-finals where they are pitted against Bidvest Wits.@MihlaliBaleka