Had it not been for the School of Excellence, then South Africa’s profound football academy, Solomon Letsoenyo wouldn’t have had the opportunity of showcasing his talent against some world-renowned teams.
The Bloemfontein Celtic defender recently had a memorable 10-day tour to London, together with his teammates and technical team, as part of their reward for winning this season’s PSL reserve league, the MultiChoice Diski Challenge.
In the UK, Letsoenyo played in both of Celtic’s matches, against West Ham United and Fulham reserves respectively - producing a sound defensive performance, while he was sharp in his attacking duties as well, scoring his team’s second goal during their 2-2 draw with the Cottagers of Fulham.
However, the Free State-born player credits two of his academy coaches for his recent eye-opening visit in Europe.
“The coaches James Mabena and David Mathebula at the academy played a very important role in my life,” Letsoenyo acknowledged.
“I never thought that I’d perform the way I did because playing these teams was nerve-racking - hence I am still shocked of my performance.
"But thanks to the guys for backing me through it all.”
Mabena and Mathebula moulded Letsoenyo for four years, from 2012 until 2015. And, that proved to be an integral pioneering stage of his career, as his agent later secured him a deal to the Braamfontein-based Bidvest Wits reserves.
Letsoenyo had an indifferent debut in the MDC, but due to the influential role of his then-coach Glen Salmon, a former Bafana striker, he played into his usual game and was subsequently voted as the Man of The Match in that encounter,
“It was very good to play at Wits because I understood coach Glen very well,” the soft-spoken left-back said.
“The system that we were playing there was favourable, and I really enjoyed myself.
"So, it was fulfilling being coached by Glen - and that was because he understood me from the first game.”
'Solly' spent two seasons with the Clever Boys, before an opportunity to return home came begging after spending a better part of his career on the road - in Eastern Cape and Gauteng.
Prior to the inaugural Diski Shield last season, Celtic approached him for a possible return home, and the 21-year-old footballer heeded the call and made his way back to Bloemfontein.
Despite the club’s financial woes, Letsoenyo has cherished his first season with the team, especially playing all 15 matches that ensured they claimed the reserve league title.
Letsoenyo and the rest of the troops who joined the team this season were arguably the missing link in Phunya Sele Sele’s attempt to challenge for the reserve league honours, considering they had to endure a runners-up spot for two successive season - 2016/17 and 2017/18.
“I told myself that I wanted to help the team to win the League,” Letsoenyo said.
“The impact was there and my game grew as well. But our last few games were scary because we lost against Baroka in the penultimate round and we had to face Kaizer Chiefs in the final match. But I was so happy that we went to Makhulong and won the game that clinched us the title.”
Letsoenyo’s aspirations of playing for Phunya Sele Sele’s first team might be far-fetched for now, but such performances from the UK will give the first-team selectors something to talk about.