Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Denis Onyango wants to make hanging out with the best footballers in the continent a habit.
The Brazilians’ and Uganda’s No 1 goalkeeper was named in the Confederation of African Football’s Best XI, alongside Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in Senegal on Tuesday.
“It’s a very good platform for me and it drives me to aim to be in such positions,” Onyango said.
“This is the third year in a row I am in the Best XI. Of course this time around it was more modified, by calling the Best XI to come and collect the award. It’s good for me.
“I am looking at goalkeepers like (Egyptian legend, Essam) El-Hadary, who has been on top of his game for the last 20 to 30 years in Africa.
“I hope I get to be in the Best XI for the fourth time in a row, but it comes with hard work. I have to stay focused on my game.”
Onyango was rewarded for his exploits with Sundowns and Uganda on the continent.
He helped the Cranes qualify for their second successive appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations, without conceding a goal and with a game to spare. He was the foundation Sundowns’ league triumph was built on.
“I look back at how things weren’t going well for me in the past few years, and I am inspired by where I am now,” Onyango said.
“It’s very difficult to stay on top of your game, year after year. I’ve tried to focus on my career, because I know how it feels when you aren’t playing and you’re out of the game for one or two years without playing.
“When I get the opportunity, I try and maximise it, because it’s not easy when you aren’t playing. Looking at the way things have been, they haven’t been easy, but when I got my chance, I took it with both hands.”
While the 33-year-old was rubbing shoulders with the best players on the continent, past and present, in Senegal at the awards ceremony, his teammates were in Nigeria preparing for their clash with Lobi Stars on Friday in the group stage of the Caf Champions League.
Onyango will miss that clash as he is injured. But the goalkeeper has a big role to play in Sundowns’ Premiership title defence and quest to conquer the continent again.
“It hasn’t been an easy journey for me, where I started to where I am now,” Onyango said.
”We’re incredibly proud of Denis, this has lifted and inspired the boys!” PM pic.twitter.com/0VXZdEQtxG— Mamelodi Sundowns FC (@Masandawana) January 10, 2019
“But I would say that being focused and working hard got me here. I could have given up when I wasn’t playing for two years at Sundowns, and I was sent on loan. It wasn’t easy.
“But I believed in what I was doing and I had hope. I stayed focused on my career, because that’s the only thing I had. I had no other job but football.”
He continued: “It was a little bit difficult, but it was a stepping stone for me to learn that things will not be easy in life. Associating myself with the right people helped me.
Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much! The boys sharing a special moment with a brother! pic.twitter.com/StXPZh3qtg— Mamelodi Sundowns FC (@Masandawana) January 10, 2019
“Being given a second chance by Sundowns was huge. Coach Pitso (Mosimane) recalled me from my loan spell, and that inspired me to work harder.
“Youngsters out there must know that life isn’t going to be easy, you need to be patient and believe in what you’re doing.
“Give your best all the time, and things will fall your way. That’s what has happened to me. It’s a lesson to everyone, that nothing comes easy.”