JOHANNESBURG - “I like it,” Sibusiso Vilakazi responded with a straight face to the question of how he copes at now being in a team whose fans aren’t afraid to voice their dissatisfaction if a player doesn’t perform.
The former Bidvest Wits captain was at the receiving end of mild boos from a section of angry Mamelodi Sundowns supporters after he missed a glorious chance against Golden Arrows on Tuesday. That never happened to him in the seven years he spent at the Clever Boys.
“I like it, because that means that you have to deliver,” Vilakazi said. “I like it! It takes you to a different level. It changes your hunger and attitude because you have to deliver in each and every game and in each and every moment.
"What they say is a second voice I hear. The first voice comes from me, pushing myself and telling myself that I can and should do better. I know that I have to deliver which is why I push myself.
Vilakazi continued, “I take the boos positively. I like a challenge. If you boo me, that means I have to do much better than what I was doing. But at the same time, you can’t make everyone happy. When you are inside that field of play, you just switch off, get into your zone and focus on what you can improve on. Being booed motivates me. I find it very interesting.”
What angered that section of Sundowns’ fans the most was Vilakazi’s body language, jogging towards an on-rushing Maximilian Mbaeva and just shrugging after the Namibian goalkeeper got the ball before him.
“Vila” looks lethargic and almost pedestrian. But that’s his biggest quality as it complements his calm demeanour in front of goal. The Brazilians will need that skill on Sunday at Harry Gwala Stadium in the Nedbank Cup semi-final against a solid Maritzburg United who are a tough nut to crack.
“Playing well is not good enough, when you play for Mamelodi Sundowns, you always have to strive to get to the next level. That's the only way!” Sibusiso Vilakazi chatting to us ahead of this weekends action! pic.twitter.com/H8bhxns0sq
Richard Ofori and the defence that protects the Ghanaian goalkeeper have the joint best defensive record in the league, an honour they share with Kaizer Chiefs. It takes something special to beat them, which means Sundowns will need to have calm heads in the box. Vilakazi and Themba Zwane are masters in that regard.
“It’s a special skill, to be calm under pressure. You have to be able to identify certain things that most people don’t see so that when action happens you’ve already made up your mind what you want to do. You have to be calm to pull that off,” Vilakazi said.
The Brazilians will remain in KwaZulu-Natal after their match on Sunday as they have another date with the Team of Choice on Wednesday in the league. The back-to-back matches require both teams to properly analyse each other to counter anything that they’ll throw at the other.
Sundowns want to win both matches so that they reach the final of the Nedbank Cup and move a step closer to winning a record eighth league title in the Premier Soccer League-era.
“What has worked for Maritzburg is their formation and ability to adapt to that formation and make it their own,” Vilakazi said. “They have perfected it, which is why they have been able to go this far and they are getting better and better.
"They have won games with that pattern, a 3-5-2 with two outright strikers who go wide. The coach has been able to instil certain things in terms of belief and have a number of young players coming up. They are a formidable team and they will give us a strong challenge.”