JOHANNESBURG - Ahead of the start of the 2017-18 PSL season, we will profile captains of the five teams we believe will be among the serious challengers for the league title. Today we focus on Thulani Hlatshwayo of defending champions Wits.
Hlatshwayo can claim to be among the greatest to have ever captained Wits and Bafana Bafana. “Tyson” did after all lead Wits to their first league title in almost a century and captained Bafana in their first victory over Nigeria in a competitive match in Nigeria.
Hlatshwayo prefers to do his job with little fuss and attention but is still effective nonetheless. Tyson isn’t in your face, on and off the field, but you always feel his presence. He takes the spotlight when he has to and on his own terms.
The 27-year-old centre-back always rises to the occasion when the chips are down, whether it’s coming up with a crucial block or scoring a timely goal.
Hlatshwayo is assured of his qualities enough to allow other teammates to “take over” the team if need be without feeling threatened of his role as a captain.
Route to captaincy
Hlatshwayo exhibited qualities of a good leader from an early age. He wasn’t a vocal one, but preferred to let his performance do the talking and lead by example instead. He was an influential figure in the national Under-20 team that played in the 2009 World Cup in Egypt.
His reserved demeanour never really changed with age, even though he grew as a leader. Gavin Hunt saw he was captain material and gave him the armband two years ago to decrease the workload that Sibusiso Vilakazi had.
This allowed “Vila”, Hlatshwayo’s friend, an opportunity to focus more on his game without the heavy workload that included inspiring his teammates. That job came naturally to Hlatshwayo as it was something he had been doing for a long time without the armband. Now he will go down in history as the first Wits captain to lift the PSL title in the club’s 96-year history.
In the three years that Hlatshwayo has spent at Wits, he has transformed into a phenomenal player, a beast of some sort.
“I’ve worked with a lot of coaches who’ve contributed to me being the player I am today. The likes of Foppe de Haan, Roger de Sa and all my development coaches. 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 me,” Hlatshwayo said after winning the) PSL Defender of the Season award.
The beast that Hlatshwayo has transformed into is a rugged defender with a scoring touch from his ferocious headers. Hunt lived up to his promise after the club won the MTN8 last year, that he will turn Tyson into a powerful force if he can wake up the beast within him. That beast is awake and has been causing havoc.
One of the most iconic pictures of Hlatshwayo isn’t that of him lifting the league trophy or of him standing tall in Uyo after Bafana beat Nigeria for the first time. It’s an old image of the versatile defender in the colours of Ajax Cape Town in 2012. In that picture, Tyson has a big grin despite a bloodied mouth after losing three teeth. He quickly returned to training after that injury as if nothing had happened, further proving why he is nicknamed after Mike Tyson, who was once called the baddest man on the planet during his boxing days.
Hlatshwayo gives his all on the pitch, inspiring his teammates to do the same. His attitude, high work rate and dedication make him an ideal role model and a great leader. Hlatshwayo doesn’t say what needs to be done, he does it. His form last season played a role in Buhle Mkhwanazi coming out of his shell as the two defenders pushed each other to form a solid partnership at the back.