JOHANNESBURG - The confetti and balloons from his initial homecoming haven’t even been cleaned up yet, but Thokozani Sekotlong is already at another homecoming that will be emotional but not friendly.
The lad from Mamelodi, who left Bethlehem to join the club from his township Mamelodi Sundowns, returns to Goble Park to face Free State Stars on Monday night for the first time since his departure last month. Ea Lla Koto revived the 26-year-old striker’s career after his fall-out with Maritzburg United in 2014 that took him to the wilderness and eventually the National First Division (NFD).
“I didn’t have a team for about six months after that fallout. After those six months I went to play in the NFD for Cape Town All Stars on a free transfer for about six months,” Sekotlong said. “I was very positive in those months because I needed to be positive for myself as I was going through a difficult time.
"But I didn’t look at it like that, I looked at it as a test of my resolve. It was a chance to get back on my feet, keep fit and work hard. It was a time of self-discovery, to get my mind in the right space.”
Sekotleng's tenure in the lower league was not fruitful, as he scored just twice in 14 matches under coach Dan Malesela. Like many footballers before him, he found himself at Free State Stars after joining them at the start of the last campaign.
Edward Manqele played his best football at the club and it launched the careers of Kennedy Mweene, Thabo Matlaba, Mpho Makola, Dove Wome and Siphiwe Tshabalala. So what is it about Stars that make players find themselves there?
“I think it has to do with where the team is situated,” Sekotlong. “It’s far away from everything. There aren’t a lot of distractions. You have time to think and settle your mind there.
"Success in football is 80 percent mental and the other 20 percent is talent and physicality. Your mental state is important. You need to be focused on what you are doing. I think Free State Stars gives players that chance and that’s why they are a perfect breeding ground for talent and for players to find themselves.”
Sundowns are a different beast altogether. Despite being one of three players from Mamelodi, along with George Lebese and Lucky Mohomi, sentiments won’t take Sekotlong anywhere with the African champions. Hard work and being a reliable scorer will.
Sekotlong could have scored a hat-trick on his debut last month against Polokwane City in front of his home crowd at Loftus Versfeld. But the forward fluffed a number of chances. Pitso Mosimane and the club’s impatient fans didn’t mind, they applauded him for getting in good scoring chances and quickly gelling with his teammates. That leeway though will not last, he has to score - fast - so that he settles and moves closer to dispelling the talk he might not be Sundowns’ material.
“People will always have opinions. It’s up to you to come to the party,” Sekotlong said. “You’ve got to raise the bar when given an opportunity. I feel like it’s all up to me. There are people that you don’t expect much from and they surprise you.
"There are a lot of players here that I can learn from. I look at where they come from and how they transformed at Sundowns and they inspire me. They all started somewhere. It’s not like they were born into this team. This is my opportunity to also do something special and transform into a world class player.”