The 2018-19 PSL season kicks off today, with City hosting SuperSport United at the Cape Town Stadium (6pm) – and Mthembu, facing up to the media this week in his first interview since his arrival in the Mother City, was fully prepared when asked whether this opportunity was, finally, the season in which his true potential would be revealed.
It’s, unfortunately, the nature of this beast called football – people have long memories. When the hugely promising Mthembu hit the PSL in 2008, after signing for Kaizer Chiefs from Maritzburg City, expectations were huge. Since then, he’s played for Orlando Pirates, Bloemfontein Celtic, Golden Arrows, Platinum Stars and Free State Stars – but, even though he is now 30 years of age, at the start of every season he is regularly bombarded with the question about whether he has done justice to his potential. Does he feel that he still needs to prove himself?
In answer, Mthembu replied: “They said the same thing about me when I was at Free State Stars. But I’m a hard worker, I’m dedicated. For me, it is not about proving to people how good I am it is about helping the team that I play for, and creating a history for that club. I let people say and think what they want; for me, I’m just in my zone.”
There you have it. Whatever people may think, the burly striker is not prepared to wrestle with matters beyond his control; no player can dictate what supporters think – all he can do is his job, to the best of his ability. While this is the attitude Mthembu has adopted, it’s nevertheless evident that he is fully aware of the perceptions that have, perhaps, placed a damper on his CV.
Originally from Melmoth in KZN, Mthembu’s demeanour and words were filled with hunger and determination in anticipation of the new season. At City, he believes he can change people’s opinion regarding his career.
“I only have one thing on my mind and that is to score goals,” said the new City striker. “Obviously I have to work hard and earn my place, but goals are my focus.
“I like City’s style of play. They are creative. I’m at an age where if I want to be the leading scorer then I have to be at a club where I can achieve my objective. The net never gets full – I am really hungry in my career to score and I hope to get as many as I can. I’m hungry to do well. I studied City and the way they play. Teko (Modise) and Benni (McCarthy) have been supportive, but they have also been very aggressive in urging me to work even harder. I still have a lot to learn.”
Mthembu was an influential member of the Free State Stars side which won the Nedbank Cup last season. But not even that could deter him from making the move to the Cape. And already McCarthy has been impressed with what he has seen from Mthembu – he is tipping the player to have a major role in the team this season.
“It’s a new environment for me,” said Mthembu. “But it has been good, and everyone at the club has been supportive. I felt at home right from the beginning, this is my new family. Here at City, there are good players, with a good coach and they have a winning mentality – and the key thing is for the team to be better this season and to leave a legacy for the next generation.”
City played some entertaining football last season, but were let down by poor finishing. They created a host of scoring opportunities, but their work in the penalty area simply wasn’t good enough. It’s an area McCarthy is desperate to improve on this season – and, in Mthembu, the coach believes he has a player who can contribute to strengthening this department.
With Mthembu so important for City’s attack this season, does he feel under pressure to deliver?
“I believe that it is better to work under pressure than to work in a comfortable environment,” said the striker philosophically. “Benni understands, he was a striker too, and he knows the challenges we face as strikers.”