JOHANNESBURG - The armband that once felt like an albatross around Hlompho Kekana’s neck has transformed into something that will make the medal which could dangle on his neck on May 12 extra special.
Kekana is searching for his first domestic trophy as Mamelodi Sundowns’ captain, a role he didn’t think he could perform until Surprise Moriri convinced him otherwise.
On Sunday, Kekana watched helplessly from the stands as his team got knocked out of the Nedbank Cup semifinal by Maritzburg United at Harry Gwala Stadium as he was serving a one match ban. He will return to that venue on Wednesday night to lead the Brazilians in the Premiership against the Team of Choice.
Sundowns are on the brink of winning the league, sitting pretty at the summit with six points between them and second-placed Orlando Pirates with three games to go.
“It’s going to be very special for me (to lift my first domestic trophy after lifting the 2016 Caf Champions League and 2017 Caf Super Cup),” Kekana said. “A lot of people, especially the people who appointed me and backed me to be the captain of this club, have a lot of faith in me and I want to repay them for that faith.
"I would be happy to lift the trophy on behalf of those people, the players, the club and not forgetting the people from Zebediela where I come from. They would be proud of the team’s work.”
Moriri was at Highlands Park last season when the Brazilians lost the league to Bidvest Wits, denying Kekana the opportunity to lift what would have been league title number eight for Sundowns in the Premier Soccer League-era. That disappointment has driven everyone at Sundowns to work extra hard to ensure that they win the league this time around.
Unlike last season, when Moriri was on the opposing team on the last day of the league, this time around he will be in Bloemfontein on May 12 as a Sundowns’ coach - serving as assistant coach of the MultiChoice Diski Challenge team.
“It means a lot to me that he is now back at the club,” Kekana said. “I always bother him whenever I need advice. He is always there for me. It’s nice to have people like Surprise, people who have been in the team for a long time because they help the young guys understand the team’s culture.
"I speak to Surprise about life in general and a lot about football especially in regards to the position that I play because I am a crazy player so at times I lose my mind. He is always there to calm me down.”
The “crazy” Kekana is a popular figure in the Sundowns’ dressing room. He helps his teammates keep their sanity with his composure in difficult situations. Wednesday night's match is one of those difficult situations. Maritzburg have knocked Sundowns out of two competitions already this season. The Tshwane giants have to forget about that and focus on winning.
“With the amount of support we have at this club, as players we just have to ensure that we apply ourselves,” Kekana said. “You can’t stop learning. Everyone wants to learn and everyone wants to improve their game. I am trying hard to work on my limitations and be a better player.”