Thulani Hlatshwayo in action against Cape Verde in Durban. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu /BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG - Only a person with a death wish would dare call someone whose nickname is borrowed from the one-time “baddest man on the planet” a teddy bear. So it’s best to let Thulani “Tyson” Hlatshwayo call himself that.

“I am a teddy bear off the pitch but I am a lion on it,” the Bafana Bafana and Bidvest Wits skipper said on Saturday, showing off his teddy bear side by interacting with school children in the Investec Soccer League finals.

The following day the lion came out, roaring in the MTN8 semifinal at Bidvest Stadium. But Cape Town City tamed the Clever Boys to knock them out in one of the two trophies they were defending this season.

“Tyson” might be a lion on the field, but so far he and his Wits’ teammates have been kittens - putting up a weak fight and easily mauled by hungrier beasts.

The same can be said for Bafana Bafana, who went from lions that devoured the Super Eagles of Nigeria to kittens who were dismembered by the lowly Blue Sharks of Cape Verde.

Having basked in the glory of being a record-breaking captain, leading Wits to their first league title in the club’s history and being first skipper to see his Bafana charges finally beat Nigeria in a competitive match, Hlatshwayo now has to account for the slump the two sides he captains are in.

That includes stomaching the name-calling that Bafana players endure from an angry public.

“I always say that if that person is man enough, he has to tell it to my face,” Hlatshwayo said. “We see those comments on social media but we don’t comment because if we engage, then it will be screengrabbed, circulated all over and we would come across as being disrespectful to the fans.

"As the captain I should lead by example. I know how your words can be twisted. For example, when I said that I grew up supporting Orlando Pirates and that I wouldn’t want to retire without playing in a Soweto Derby, people interpreted that as me saying that I want to go to Pirates.

Hlatshwayo continued, “But that wasn’t the case. I am happy at Wits and I have a contract here. That episode taught me that I have to watch what I say and post because of how easily simple statements get blown out of proportion. I have come to accept not to take these comments to heart. But it hurts, a lot.”

Wits will take solace in that the Absa Premiership race is still in its infancy after collecting just one point from their opening two games. They will look to kick-start their league campaign tomorrow night at Bidvest Stadium against Golden Arrows.

The situation is dire for Bafana though. The back-to-back defeats to Cape Verde were a huge blow in their ambitions to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.

And that wasn’t even the worse part - Bafana now have to replay their clash with Senegal, having been stripped their only three points after Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey received a lifetime ban for match manipulation.

Bafana won the clash, in November last year, 2-1

“We will wait and hear the final word from Fifa and take it from there. If we have to replay that game, then so be it. Yes, we saw what happened and I am the one who scored that penalty, which means that they’re taking away my goal,” Hlatshwayo said with a laugh.

“(Safa president) Danny Jordaan said that they will talk to Fifa and get clearance on the matter.”

The difficult times that Bafana and Wits are going through will test Hlatshwayo’s mettle. It’s a good thing then that the 27-year-old from Soweto is as tough as they come.

“I knew what I was getting myself into when I took on the responsibilities of captaining my club and the national team," Hlatshwayo added.

"The armband comes with a lot of pressure. Someone told me that if you don’t want pressure you must go six feet under. That’s the only place where there is no pressure.

"Pressure isn’t only in football. It also comes from raising your kid and being a family man. I have to be strong to endure this and inspire my teammates to bounce back.”

The Star

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter