JOHANNESBURG – The armband that Hlompho Kekana wears at Mamelodi Sundowns and the people from Zebediela who look up to him are the fuel that drives the 33-year-old to be the consistent player that he is.
The Brazilians’ captain has been nominated for Footballer of the Season at the Premier Soccer League awards for the last three seasons as a mark of his consistency.
Sadly though, he has lost out on all three occasions - with the top prize going to Khama Billiat, Lebogang Manyama and Percy Tau respectively.
The failures have not dampened the central midfielder's spirit. In fact those snubs have pushed the man from Zebediela, Limpopo to do even better than he did in the previous campaigns to the point he has become Mr Consistency.
“It’s the responsibility that I have as a player and captain that pushes me to be this consistent,” Kekana said at the Royal Marang Hotel in Phokeng where Sundowns are based for their pre-season camp.
“I am representing a club that’s ambitious. We really want to do well with the time we have at Sundowns. I am representing people who look up to me, from the villages where I come from. They strongly believe in my abilities, so I can’t let them down. I have to make sure that I always do well for myself, for them and my family. It pushes me to always up my game every time I step on to the field. I am motivated by the reminder that I carry a lot of people’s hopes.”
This is a tricky period for the Brazilians as they are in pre-season and also at the middle of the season. They are in pre-season in the Absa Premiership campaign that starts in August. Their programme to sharpen up for that campaign includes taking part in the Shell Helix Ultra Cup on July 21 against Kaizer Chiefs at FNB Stadium.
That match will come four days after the Brazilians faced AS Togo-Port in Lome in their third match of the group stage of the Caf Champions League. That makes this time an intricate balancing act for the technical team who have to continue their programme while also blooding the new players.
“We really needed this break,” Kekana said. “As players we are excited to resume so that we can sharpen-up on some of the things that we didn’t do well in during the season while also accommodating the new guys who have just joined us. It’s important for us to show them how we play and how we do things here at Sundowns. We have to prepare well for the upcoming season. We have seen the programme, it’s going to be even tougher than last season.”
Kekana ended last season all smiles, lifting the league trophy for the first time as captain. That was his fifth league title in a professional career that started in 2004. His appetite for success is still the same as it was when he started with Black Leopards 14 years ago.
“The drive is always the same, to try and improve from last season and do better than I did,” Kekana said. “I have to raise the bar to better everything I did. I am not satisfied with the trophies that I have won. I want more.”@NJABULON