The Unapparent Heir Apparent; Michael Nkambule

Michael Nkambule
Michael Nkambule

There is an outstanding bit of banter that has been doing the rounds in the Mzansi football fraternity over the last few seasons; whenever Khosi fans rant about the quality of their squad or the strength and accomplishments of their establishment as a whole, many in the know are quick to chirp them about how Itumeleng Khune is the last first team regular that they have developed and promoted themselves, making them akin to the Chelsea of development in Mzansi. Although many Khosi fans with a tad bit less knowledge of their side allow the laughter to flow while they don a nervous grin, a very knowledgeable and opinionated Khosi supporting mate of mine once returned the banter by pointing out that the AmaKhosi had “technically developed” Mandla Masango; I acknowledged Rabotoko’s reasoning and then confuted his claim with the fact that S’Mindlos arrived at Naturena as a highly touted 18 year old wunderkind and had been largely sidelined during the key developmental stages in his career, the lad ‘technically developed” himself by putting in extra shifts after training whereas many of his peers would have been content with just picking up the cheque at the end of each month while seeing out their contracts or waiting to be sold on while amassing more appearances in Joburg night clubs than they would on the field.

Now that we have got that out of the way, let us return to the reason why that chirp makes for outstanding banter; before the self enforced closure of their youth development, in an effort to fumigate their youth ranks of age recalibrating academy footballers, Kaizer Chiefs were rumoured to have been spending in the region of R 2 million Randela’s a season on their would-be stars of the future. It is for that fact that many feel like the AmaKhosi make it too easy for one to poke fun at their “developmental policy” as they constantly seem susceptible to pulling a Chelsea like move again by releasing academy graduates like they did with Siphiwe Tshabalala as a teen before paying a very handsome fee to buy him back after he had an opportunity to garner some game-time and truly develop into an elite level footballer at Alex United and Free State Stars; the fact that Mr. Delivery himself is truthfully the last Kaizer Chiefs academy graduate to break into the first team and establish a place as a fixture in the side is actually appalling for a side that has invested such a substantial amount in the development of their youth players over the years.

Super Mike Nkambule was a talented young footballer who seemed to epitomise the quintessential modern age Mzansi trequatrista in all its glory; a skilful and diminutive footballer that seemed to blend the creativity of a football genius with the technical proficiency of a purist artisan to execute what his beautiful mind conceives on the field, it was not surprising that the artist named Michael would attract attention from top scouts across the fraternity and it honestly came as no surprise when the wunderkind found himself flying off to France as a teenager. The more learned of Mzansi football purists will know that we now regard Michael Nkambule as one of the biggest wastes of potential in his generation, yet one gets the feeling that it could all have been a lot more different for the lad had he been treated like the precarious yet prodigious talent that he is during his two spells as a Khosi player; Super Mike was supposed to be the next Doctor Khumalo for the AmaKhosi and Bafana, a player that would become the midfield general for a thriving and entertaining Kaizer Chiefs side and a benchmark for talent in the national side for a few years before stepping up onto the next level in global football by moving overseas when he was more developed and emotionally mature.

When I put this conversation to our Talent Scout and our Super Agent, we all eventually concluded that the best deal for all parties involved would have been for Khosi to sell the lad and retain his services on-loan until he was 20; this would have allowed the lad to play regularly in the Premier League and further his development while spending his off-seasons in France acclimatising to the standard of play and lifestyle that awaited him. It is something we all feel Orlando Pirates should have also done with Nana Ntuli when they sold him to FC Twente, the lad could certainly have benefitted from playing regularly in Mzansi before being gradually allowed to prepare for a chance to move to Holland; he would have a season in their reserve side before breaking into the first team as a more complete and experienced 21 year old with a better grasp of his abilities and the responsibilities he has to make things happen on the field as a pure trequartista.

The yarn has been spun in many a watering hole after a less than enthralling game on the telly, Michael Nkambule initially returned from RC Strasbourg on-loan to SuperSport United after failing to establish himself in the team; his return in 2006 was reasoned through the player stating that he had aspirations to be in the view of the national team coaching staff as he aimed to become a fixture in the Bafana side before 2010. It still baffles me a talented 18 year old lad would think that playing the occasional game of football in Mzansi would be better for him than a loan spell in the lower French leagues or out at a side in Belgium, that irksome fact is one of the main reasons why this narrative should be a cautionary tale for all talented young Mzansi lads that are blessed enough to have the opportunity to further their game overseas; you cannot run home when the going gets tough, you need to show the resilience to rough it out and earn the right to be respected for your ability through committed performances. We have seen premier young talents like Philani Khwela and Kermit Erasmus return home when they should have ensured that they fought to establish themselves in Europe as they had the ability to excel at that level; not every talented returnee gets the opportunities that Kermit has earned and taken, far too many of the lads seem to end up in-between the Khwela’s and the Nkambule’s, stuck as a fond yet unsavoury memory in the minds of a true Mzansi Diski purist.

Allow me to end this rant with a prayer, I pray that we elevate our thinking as a fraternity and ensure that our talented young lads are mentally prepared to make the most of the opportunities they receive, I also pray that we start affording our lads more of a platform to establish themselves as elite level professionals in their mid teens to allow for a more well rounded developmental process. To some, Michael Nkambule could merely be another Daveyton born wayward talent that wasted his potential; yet to your mate Bob, Super Mike will always be the Unapparent Heir Apparent to the legend that is Mdokies. I honestly feel as though we lost one of the most talented footballers of his generation to mismanagement on many fronts; I’m personally grateful that I did eventually manage to aid Super Mike in becoming a genuine star, even if it was on a 03/04 Championship Manager save, Bob’s your FC Paris adoring oncle mate the Mzansi Diski fraternity lost out on one of the most unsurpassed talents we have ever had.

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