JOHANNESBURG - You would swear Thulani Hlatshwayo has a split personality, each popping up to suit the occasion he finds himself in.
In one-on-one interactions, the Bidvest Wits captain projects humility and grace in his speech and mannerism; you would swear he was a Buddhist monk.
Out on the pitch, Hlatshwayo, named his team’s Player of the Season at the Wits awards function in midweek, transforms into a beast, a defender so clean but yet aggressive in his tackles, to flummox opponents.
And that’s because the Wits’ admiral hates the idea of losing. “Tyson”, as Hlatshwayo is affectionately known, will stop at nothing to avoid having that feeling at the end of full-time.
It is his coach, Gavin Hunt, who transformed him into the beast he is today.
Stuart Baxter, the new Bafana Bafana coach, saw that special quality in him, too.
Baxter appointed him the new Bafana captain.
The PSL Awards’ nomination panel could not ignore the contribution Hlatshwayo made at the Clever Boys’ camp this season, too. They nominated him for three accolades at a gala occasion in nine days time at the Sandton Convention Centre.
The 27-year old central defender has been nominated for the Absa Premiership Footballer of the Season, Defender of the Season and the MTN8 Last Man Standing awards.
“I’ve worked with a whole lot of coaches who’ve contributed to me being a player I am today,” Hlatshwayo says.
“The likes of Foppe de Haan, Roger de Sa and all my development coaches, all of them contributed. But I have to admit that it was coach Hunt who transformed me into a beast. He awoke something I never thought I had inside of me.
“He (Hunt) just loves winning,” Hlatshwayo adds. “During my stint at Ajax (Cape Town), the team would treat a defeat as something normal, expecting it to happen to any team. But not at Wits. He (Hunt) always calls us for meetings after every defeat.
“Normally, after every game, the team would get a day off. This is not the case when we lose. He would make us train with the rest of the guys who didn’t play on the day. And that’s just the way he is. Hunts builds character in all his players. If you had a bad game, he would call you for a one-on-one session and try to help you improve on your mistakes.”
It was right after Hlatshwayo joined Wits that his game improved massively.
“I scored two goals a season before I left Ajax (Cape Town) to join Wits,” Hlatshwayo says.
“In my first season here, I scored about five goals in one campaign. He (Hunt) always shouts at both Buhle (Mkhwanazi) and I and asks why we're not pressing to score goals,” Hlatshwayo chuckles.
About the PSL awards, he has a preference.
“There’s one category I’m hoping to win this season,” Hlatshwayo says. “And that is the Defender of the Season category. It would mean a great deal to me. Being a defender is not an easy job. In that role, you play against very talented and creative players.
“You have to make sure you close them down at all times. I want this one badly because I lost to both Tefu Mashamaite and Thabo Nthethe in the previous two seasons (2014/15 and 2015/16 respectively). I just kept going because I knew what I wanted. I’m hoping it will be my turn this time around.
“Being nominated (in the other two categories) is an award on it’s own for me because the Footballer of the Season is mostly given to creative players. I’m not a creative player. I’m a defender, the one closing down creative players.”