JOHANNESBURG – Getting Andile Jali to open up is like trying to squeeze water from a stone. But if you’re patient enough, and keep at it, you eventually reach a waterfall behind the tough exterior he portrays.
The new Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder doesn’t like to do interviews. He refused to do this one at first, but eventually relented, in the tranquil surroundings of the Royal Marang Hotel in Phokeng. He doesn’t like doing interviews, not because he is full of himself, but because of the field day tabloids have had with his name and marriage to celebrity fitness trainer Nonhle Jali.
“You know sometimes, people tend to turn around what you said and they interpret it the wrong way to sell their papers. It’s not right,” Jali said. “I have seen a lot of people doing that in the media. They create stories about players and then supporters attack the players, but the supporters don’t know the real story, they don’t know what happens behind closed doors.”
Jali fiddled with his phone, which has an image of his twins as a screensaver, at first. But once he relaxed, it became a conversation and not an interview. It’s understandable why Jali consistently has his guard raised.
He is misunderstood by a lot of people. They interpret his brash tone and combative nature as a sign of arrogance, but it’s the confidence that fuels him to boss opponents on the field. In his best performance in Bafana Bafana colours, Jali and Dean Furman teamed up to bully John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi of Nigeria on the field in Cape Town in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.
“How can you say that I am arrogant when you don’t know me? So I don’t care about what people from the outside think about me, I only care about what my family thinks about me and the people who are helping me to grow,” Jali said.
The 28-year-old warms up when he talks about his family and wanting to become an African champion by finally winning the Caf Champions League. His family and the Champions League are behind him returning to South Africa after four years in Belgium after making more than 100 appearances for KV Oostende.
“The hardest part about my time in Belgium was staying alone, busy calling my family on the phone every time. It’s great being back home because I go to my kids after training. I see my kids and I play with them. It’s great to be able to be a physically present dad and do things with them,” Jali said.
“There are too many things that have changed about me as a player because when I went to Belgium, I was still young at the time. I am now better at assessing the situation. The coach can give instructions, but there are some moments where you have to make a decision in a split second. I am a smarter player now.”
Sundowns next month take on AS Togo-Port in must-win back-to-back matches if they are to secure a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
“I came to a team with ambition, a team that wants to win everything they participate in because I also want to win everything,” Jali said.