CAPE TOWN - Thamsanqa Mkhize has let his form and consistency speak volumes, so much so that Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter could no longer ignore the Cape Town City right-back.
Named this week in the SA national team squad to play Burkina Faso in a 2018 World Cup qualifier at the FNB Stadium on 7 October, the hard-working defender’s selection has been a long time coming, and is richly deserved.
His elevation to the Bafana squad is undeniable proof that, whatever the circumstances, football still rewards patience and diligence. A beacon of humility, he goes about his job in the Cape side’s defence with consistency and selfless, unflagging commitment. But the 29-year-old City defender is not looking too far ahead; he will only shift focus to Bafana when the time comes. For now, his top priority is ensuring that he makes a contribution to the Capetonians getting back on track when they host Polokwane City at Cape Town Stadium on Friday nigh(8pm kickoff).
“I am very happy and grateful for the opportunity to represent the national team,” said Mkhize. “I am thankful.”
The defender’s laconic response is typical of his self-effacing personality. He prefers to shun the spotlight, intent only on doing what he loves most: playing football.
Truth be told, though, Mkhize’s Bafana selection is a little late in coming. Since signing for City in September last year, and forcing his way into the starting team ahead of experienced vice-captain Vincent Kobola, the player has been, in the opinion of many, the best right-back on show in the PSL. But, despite not getting a national look-in, Mkhize just continued his impressive form for the Cape side. The idea has always been to batter down the Bafana door, to consistently deliver top-class, consistent performances to ensure that, eventually, Baxter couldn’t ignore him anymore.
Originally from Cato Ridge, a town about 30km south east of Pietermaritzburg, and from the Kwaximba community, Mkhize cut his football teeth at Brains United in his home town before moving on to NFD team Nathi Lions. His first PSL contract was with Durban-based Golden Arrows - but it was later, during a successful spell with Maritzburg United, that Mkhize caught the eye of Soweto giants Orlando Pirates. Unfortunately, things never went according to plan, the Soweto club changed its mind, and Mkhize was left out in the cold. But, fortunately, Pirates’ loss was City’s gain
Clubless last year, Mkhize was persuaded to come down to Cape Town by City’s former director of football, Craig Rosslee, who had first come across the player when coaching AmaZulu in Durban. Eric Tinkler (City’s former coach) had a look at the defender during training, was immediately impressed, and Mkhize was signed up. The rest, well, as they say, is history. The right-back is now in the Bafana squad.
But, before Mkhize can contemplate, or even celebrate, his national call-up, there is a much more important task: to get City back to winning ways tonight.
“We want to do well against Polokwane,” said Mkhize. “We have the objective to always do well at home and to make sure that we pick up most of our points at home. In our last two games, we failed to get maximum points and now want to make sure that we start winning again. Friday night against Polokwane is an opportunity to do so, and we also want to make sure that we keep on improving.”
After a five-game winning run under new coach Benni McCarthy, City have since slumped to successive defeats - against Kaizer Chiefs and Pirates. Despite the losses, the positive for City and McCarthy is that they were the better team in both games. It was just their inability to convert their dominance of possession and territory into goals. City were also unlucky with a game-defining referee error in the Pirates game, when the match official disallowed a perfectly valid goal. But, as McCarthy well knows, these are the type of issues a coach has to deal with in football.
So, against Polokwane, especially with the Cape side looking for goals, it’s likely that McCarthy will hand Nigerian striker Victor Obinna a start. A former teammate of McCarthy’s at West Ham, Obinna came off the bench late in the second half against Pirates. But tonight could be the ideal opportunity for the 30-year-old forward to demonstrate his undoubted prowess in the scoring department.