JOHANNESBURG - The death threats Oupa Manyisa and his teammates received four years ago, when he was with Orlando Pirates, remain vivid in his memory.
A relaxed Manyisa, at his new home in Chloorkop as a Mamelodi Sundowns’ player, opened up about his experiences of playing continental club football with the Buccaneers. Manyisa reached two finals with the Sea Robbers, the 2013 CAF Champions League and the 2015 CAF Confederation Cup.
He finished on the losing side on both occasions but the experience he gained makes him a perfect fit with the reigning African champions, who continue their bid to retain the Champions League tomorrow at Lucas Moripe Stadium against Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca in the first leg of the quarter-finals.
“I will never forget the trip to Egypt for the final of the Champions League in 2013,” Manyisa said. “We were up against all odds. The Al-Ahly players told us it’s either they win and we go home or we win and die here. At first it was too difficult to handle that statement, especially seeing the large crowd at the stadium with some even sitting on top of the score board. It unsettled us.
"But once we found our composure the atmosphere created by the fans didn’t intimidate us. It made us stronger because you must be mentally strong to succeed, especially in the continent.”
The Brazilians will face a similar atmosphere in Casablanca next Saturday, which is why they need to make the most of their home advantage. The Buccaneers didn’t do that.
Manyisa speaks about Pirates with affection and not like a bitter ex, even though their almost decade long relationship was rocky towards the end. “Ace” was even accused of being a divisive force at the club, with his move to Sundowns viewed as an attempt by Pirates to remove some of the rot of last season.
“Most people saying I was divisive don’t know what happened. I just kept quiet and carried on playing football while people talked,” Manyisa said. “There were no camps at Pirates and I wasn’t dividing anyone. It’s just that things didn’t go our way. It was a bad season for us. I left Pirates because I was too comfortable. I knew that no matter what, I would play.
“The bad thing about that, is it won’t give you the hunger you need to succeed. That’s why I decided to move. I have nothing to prove by coming here but I still want to win. I want to win the treble and the Champions League with Sundowns. I wanted to renew that hunger so I can succeed as a player because I still have a lot to offer South African football. I still have a lot of trophies to win and I want to return to the national team.”
The 29-year-old spoke with a lot of freedom, as if liberated - unlike the carefully rehearsed and short answers he offered as Pirates’ captain. The diminutive midfielder carried a heavy-load at Pirates as their heartbeat. His teammates and the supporters looked at him to offer the Buccaneers creativity, when he didn’t the team struggled and it led to a barrage of criticism.
It wasn’t out of hate but rather love as the fans knew what he could do at his best and he didn’t consistently reach that level after his injury in 2015.
Without the heavy burden of having to carry a team, Manyisa could be reborn at Sundowns.
“This is a fresh start and could take my game to the next level because I am ambitious and so is Sundowns,” Manyisa said.