JOHANNESBURG - Ahead of the start of the 2017-18 PSL season, we will profile captains of the five teams we believe will be among the serious challengers for the league title. Today we zoom in on Mamelodi Sundowns skipper Hlompho Kekana.
“KK”, as his coach Pitso Mosimane and Sundowns teammates affectionately refer to him, has really come out of his shell since being handed the captain’s armband following the departure of Ramahlwe Mphahlele to Kaizer Chiefs more than a year ago. It had come as a bit of a surprise that he had been chosen as the successor, given his reserved nature and hesitance to speak in public especially to the press. But in just 12 months, Kekana has grown into the role and is also a match-winner for the Brazilians, to such an extent that his absence is seriously felt when he isn’t playing.
The 32-year-old is still going strong and will again be looking to play a crucial part as a leader and a contributor of goals in Sundowns’ title charge this season, as well as their attempt to defend the Caf Champions League trophy.
Route to captaincy
Kekana has flown under the radar for much of his career, but has plenty of experience, having played for four clubs - one of them in the NFD - before eventually landing at Sundowns. He has probably been a reluctant leader by nature, with his age and playing on the international stage for Bafana Bafana leaving him no choice but to accept that he is now a senior player who has to lead by example and guide the younger players.
Kekana has also had ideal role models, like the great Esrom Nyandoro. The Zimbabwean has a lot more in common with Kekana than many realise - the playing style, position and the quiet demeanour off the pitch. There was also Alje Schut, a Dutch defender who was brought to Sundowns by his compatriot and former Barcelona legend Johan Neeskens. In his time as skipper, Kekana has already lifted a continental title in Sundowns’ greatest triumph yet - and will be hoping for plenty more.
Kekana is a late bloomer. His game has definitely evolved with time, and like a fine red wine he has matured with age. But he’s always had the same qualities and was often overlooked by previous national team coaches until Shakes Mashaba brought him back into the picture recently. Part of his game that appears to have caught everyone’s attention is the long-range strikes, one of which earned him a nomination for the Fifa Puskas Award last year.
He has always been a deep lying central midfielder who does the dirty work, and sets the attackers free from his time at SuperSport United, where he won the championship twice with Gavin Hunt as the coach. It’s really in the last two seasons that he’s added scoring goals to his playing style, a dimension that no doubt paved the way for his national team inclusion. He managed eight goals in about 40 matches for Sundowns last season, a significant improvement considering he hardly got on the scoring sheet two years before that. He only scored six goals the season before.
Sundowns have the luxury of cover in every position, given the acquisitions they make every season. But when Kekana is not available, a like for like replacement is hard to come by, even with the embarrassment of riches in the squad. Few are brave enough to attempt to score from as far as Kekana has hit them, and often his accuracy from free kicks is unmatched.
He not only offers goals, but can also spray the passes as well to locate strikers to finish the job. Kekana has become the Sundowns workhorse that Mosimane cannot do without. His goals win matches and are hardly ever ordinary, and he’s done it for Bafana, too.