JOHANNESBURG – The towering and fearsome Kaizer Chiefs’ defender Mulomowandau Mathoho – whose first name translates to ‘the mouth of a lion’ – speaks with a soft voice that betrays his tough persona on the field.
That voice sounded softer and vulnerable as Mathoho looked back on a year that hit him hard on three fronts with his form dipping, Chiefs continuing on their barren run that dates back to May 2015 and Bafana Bafana’s disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign.
The back-to-back red cards Mathoho got with Chiefs against SuperSport United in August and Bafana in early September against Cape Verde heightened his troubles.
“If I look back on 2017, it wasn’t a good year for me personally, especially knowing what I can do,” Mathoho said.
“But a player is not always on form. That was the case for me. I sat down and checked where to improve, where I was lacking.
“Sometimes things happen that affect you (and how you play). The two red cards that I got affected me until I was right. I think now that I have rested, I’m fine.
“All of that is in the past now. I am looking forward to the future. 2018 will see the old Tower return.”
Mathoho has missed Chiefs’ last five matches, with coach Steve Komphela opting to go with Teenage Hadebe, Daniel Cardoso and Siyabonga Ngezana as the three centrebacks who allow the club’s wingbacks freedom to attack.
For the “old” Mathoho to return, the current Mathoho has to up his game in a competitive environment that sees the club’s best centreback from last season, Lorenzo Gordinho, struggle to even make the match-day 18.
“(Before I was dropped), I was playing as a left-sided centreback, which isn’t my position. The coach was trying some combinations at centreback because if you check, we have me, Siya, Gordinho, Cardoso and Hadebe – five centrebacks.
“So, the coach is trying to rotate the centrebacks so that if anyone gets injured, we don’t have problems because everyone is ready,” Mathoho explained.
“The competition is high. For me to play regularly, I told myself that what I did in 2017 was not good enough, and that’s why I sat down to talk to the relevant people so that I can bring back my game in 2018.
“I know it’s going to be tough because everyone wants to play, but obviously I will fight to play.”
The manner in which Mathoho went from a reliable centreback to a liability hinted that the 27-year-old’s struggle this year could be due to more than just about a dip of form – perhaps deeper problems in his life off the field.
Komphela, a former Chiefs and Bafana centreback, supported Mathoho and appreciated that the club’s fans, who are known to boo their own players, also backed ‘Tower’.
Mathoho admits that having a coach who played in the same position helped him get over his problems because he had someone who understood what he was going through and the pressure that comes with it.
Mathoho’s biggest problem was that after the departure of Tefu Mashamaite, his work suddenly increased, especially in the absence of Tsepo Masilela, which made him the club’s most senior defender.
That kind of workload, and having to also be a leader, proved to be a big stretch for the shy centreback who isn’t that vocal.
“I spoke to someone (about what I was going through). I told that them that I was struggling. I could see that even my game was going down, and I needed to bring back my game.
“That person spoke to me in a good way and motivated me until I was fine. Like I said, I’m ready.”