Nhlanhla Vilakazi is hoping to lift the Nedbank Cup trophy before he leaves Free State Stars. Photo: Frikkie Kapp/BackpagePix

The Nedbank Cup final will take Nhlanhla Vilakazi on a trip down memory lane, just before he starts his new chapter in Durban.

The Free State Stars’ playmaker will come up against his former team Maritzburg United tonight in his former home in the Mother City at Cape Town Stadium. Vilakazi was on the books of Ajax Cape Town before he joined the Team of Choice. 

His stay in both those clubs was disappointing due to the long-term injuries he sustained there which saw him spend a combined year-and-a-half on the sidelines.

Ea Lla Koto gave him a lifeline, rescuing a career that looked destined for the grave before South Africa had fully seen the talent of the 32-year-old from Benoni. He made the most of that opportunity, pulling the strings in midfield of a club that went from fighting to avoid relegation for the past couple of seasons to being one match away from winning the country’s premier trophy.

Vilakazi has been professional in the colours of Stars even after he signed a pre-contract with AmaZulu which will see him return to Durban in July.

“It’s all about hard work and being a professional,” Vilakazi said. “When you sign a PSL contract, you need to be professional with everything. Whatever situation you are faced with, you must be a true professional throughout. That’s what I did here. I gave them 100 per cent since they were still my employers and I was still a part of this team. I needed to make sure that I give them my 100 per cent. Winning the Nedbank Cup would mean a lot. It would be a good send-off. It will be a good thank you to the club. I'll be able to take the trophy to (the general manager) Rantsi (Mokoena) and say this is what I came to do in this team and I have done it so thank you for everything that you and the club have done for me.”

Vilakazi started his professional career in Durban a decade ago at Golden Arrows.

“Durban is a nice place, knowing that that’s where it all started and I am returning there again makes it more special because I have come full circle. The difference between this Nhlanhla and the young one who started his career in Durban is that the young one was still too excited and liked the flashy life. But now I am more mature. I have been around the game and have been in a number of different teams. I know what I am working for, I have young ones that I need to take care of.”

Vilakazi has three young ones, a girl Palesa (12) and two boys Lolo (7) and Lungelo (6). They are the reasons why he signed for Usuthu, driven by the desire to take care of them with his career winding down. But before they can all move to Durban he has one last mission: help Stars get the better of Maritzburg to win a major trophy for the first time since 1994.

“I am glad that I took football as my job because it motivates my children, especially my two sons. All they think about is football. The way they talk about it, they know a lot about it and they can tell you a lot about the game. They even tell me that today - like, ' you didn’t have a good game'. They drive me. That’s why I remain a true professional on and off the pitch so that I set a good example for them. They also motivate me to take care of them because I want to teach them the importance of taking care of your family.”

Saturday Star

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