JOHANNESBURG – Following his older brother Tsepo Masilela's departure from Kaizer Chiefs at the end of last season, Orlando Pirates left back Innocent Maela hopes to represent his family with distinction in the Soweto derby.
It’s a new dawn for Maela as his household – in a family allegiance or not – will be likely backing him when the two Soweto giants bring the country to a standstill at a sold-out FNB Stadium today (3.30pm).
To him, it’s also about continuing with the momentum over their rivals, as Maela and company won 3-1 in March.
The victory was sweeter as Masilela was still on the books of Amakhosi, but couldn’t compete due to an injury.
“It’s always important as a footballer to play such games, so that you can calculate and see where you are,” Maela said.
“When you are able to play against the best in the country, I think that’s when you are able to measure yourself (in terms of growth).
“I also think that I’ve grown in terms of my progress, but at all times, I always have to remain humble and grounded.
“On the other hand, I also acknowledge that there’s always a room for improvement.”
Both sons of former Black Aces defender Eric Maela, Masilela and Maela Jr inherited the left back role.
However, Maela Jr admits that his brother’s illustrious career – which included a five-year stint abroad with Maccabi Haifa in Israel – is what moulded him to the player that he is today.
“Growing up and seeing your role model doing well always motivates and pushes you to work even harder,” Maela said.
“I always strive to reach the same achievements that he has. Now that he’s no longer playing for Kaizer Chiefs, we talk a lot.
“We call each other in most cases and whenever I need advice, I call him.”
Having featured in the last derby, the 26-year-old will be tasked with guiding debutants such as Linda Mntambo, Ben Motshwari, Vincent Pule and Caio Marcelo.
Pirates are yet to back up their ‘championship pre-season talks’ as they’ve endured an inconsistent run of form so far, but the quartet have fitted like a glove in the Sea Robbers’ camp.
Last Saturday, they inspired Bucs’ progression to the Telkom Knockout quarter-finals.
However, the derby is a different kettle of fish, and Maela has urged the newbies to remain calm and play their normal game.
“As a footballer, you always want to be surrounded by other good players. Ultimately, the goal as a team is to win trophies and make our supporters happy,” Maela said.
“So when we get new players into the team, there are no threats or something like that because at the end of the day, it’s only them that can push you into becoming a better player.
“So, they must not play the occasion but the game, because this is another league match that we need to collect three points from.”