The dusty playgrounds of the South Western Townships (Soweto) have been the breeding ground for many of Mzansi Diski’s most talented footballers for decades now, the talent that has come out of Soweto seems to deserve its own separate Hall of Fame to include some of the playground legends that never made it into the professional ranks yet remained stars in their own right. Although many aren’t blessed with the opportunity to become established stars or even decent professional footballers, we have been fortunate enough to have borne witness to some of the talents that have come out of the football star conveyor belt that is Soweto. One such talent is a lad that will go down in history as this generations premier cross-over football superstar, a player that had the physical gifts to compliment his technical blessings and the illuminating smile to top it all off. Mpho Gift Leremi was and still is one of the greatest footballers Mzansi Diski has ever produced, a star that shone brightly and will continue to light up our football realm from up above; in this edition of Gone But Not Forgotten, we give our own ode to one of Soweto’s favourite sons.
Continental was spotted playing for youth side Pimville Giants by scouts for Orlando Pirates after dominating at the Godfrey Moloi Goodwill Games at the Mapetla Sports Complex as a fresh faced teenager with a skill set that was beyond his years; known for churning out top class talents like clockwork, the games have long been a scouts version of Willy Wonker’s Chocolate Factory and it came as no surprise when Soweto giants Orlando Pirates swooped in on the skilled magician amply named Gift. Drafted into the famed Orlando Pirates Academy in 1999 under the tutelage of revered developer of youth talent Augusto “Njenje” Palacios, the fifteen year old Leremi would continue to grow into a well-rounded football wunderkind while he was under the nurturing wing of Mzansi Diski’s Mister Geppetto; Vum-Vum remains one of the greatest footballers to have ever been developed in Mayfair by the famed Orlando Pirates Academy. The teenage sensation did not take long to make his way up the ranks at a star studded Orlando Pirates and the Mzansi Diski landscape was changed when the 17 year old Leremi made his unofficial debut for Bucs in Telkom Charity Cup clash against Soweto arch-rivals Kaizer Chiefs as a late substitute while The Sea Robbers were a goal down, this drive and enterprising play were evident from the offset and when Pirates had an equalizer chalked off for off-side, Gift was the player adjudged to have strayed off-side although the lad was not interfering with play. Although Kaizer Chiefs ran out 1-0 victors in that encounter, the Mzansi football fraternity had just witnessed the birth of one of its greatest ever players; Gift would later make his official debut in another Soweto Derby clash as Bucs trumped Moroka Swallows 5-1 with one of the goals coming from a spot-kick that was won by the mesmerising Leremi.
Orlando Pirates went onto win the 2002/2003 league title in Gift’s debut season with a healthy six point margin and an even healthier goal difference of +25, that Orlando Pirates squad was overflowing with talented young players that were part of a blessed generation of skilled 80’s born Mzansi footballers that seemed to be carrying the hopes of the nation on their shoulders as the fraternity was in dire need of an injection of youth at the elite level. Gift Leremi was a decade ahead of the curve in modern football, starting his runs out wide on the left hand channel, Gift was also blessed with the uncanny ability to take on his opposite fullback at pace with his trickery before using his quick turn of pace to cut inside and leave his marker flat-footed and making full use of his impressive technical prowess to unleash a trademark pile driver at goal with his right peg, the well balanced Leremi could also take full use of his ability to play well with both feet by taking his marker on and going down the line before whipping in a quality ball with his left foot and creating a goal scoring chance for his side. The Inside Forward position was a less heralded phenomenon then, but Gift Leremi epitomised that position already as a teenager and he showed that he was cut from a different cloth with his ability to play at a higher level and literally have his peers doing all they could to play catch-up. Although he never truly got the chance to solidify his status as one of the premier Mzansi footballers on the international stage, Gift will forever be one of the most talented footballers to don the Bafana jersey; an elite level superstar that shone brightly while he was still in our galaxy, the potential was there for the lad to become one of the best footballers to ever grace the football pitches of Mzansi.
The truth of the matter is that Gift was not immune to the darker side of Mzansi Diski, an evil that seems to haunt many of our talented footballers that come from a less privileged background, his legacy should not be tainted by his off-field antics as they never stopped the lad from being one of the most competitive and driven footballers in the Mzansi Diski fraternity; Continental’s physique was the result of hours put into building a body that would ensure that he could compete against the best of them and still shine, we may acknowledge that his off-field behaviour may have limited him from going even further than he did as a footballer, yet that would only serve to highlight the abundant potential that the lad was blessed with. When we talk about Gift Leremi today, we should remember the young lad that broke down barriers in social culture with his football abilities and his overall endearing persona; one of Mzansi Diski’s foremost marketable players of his generation, the player that rival supporters would happily praise for a moment of brilliance even if he performed it against their beloved side. Mpho Leremi was truly the epitome of what Mzansi footballers aspire to be when they are kicking a football about in the streets while harbouring ambitions of becoming elite level superstars before they even reach their peak; Gift may have left this earth as a young man with so much unfulfilled potential, yet he used the time he had to amaze, astound and entertain us with the talents that God gave him. There id no denying that we still crave for a player or two of Gift’s calibre in Mzansi Diski, the lad was truly in a league of his own as a footballer and we will forever appreciate him for all that he taught us; we pray that they are enjoying watching the lad mesmerise the angels in Heaven’s 5-a-side tournaments because Gift Leremi nne e le mpho ya Badimo.
Full Name: Mpho Gift Leremi
DoB: October 13th, 1984
PoB: Soweto, Johannesburg; Gauteng
DoD: September 3rd, 2007 (22)
PoD: Alberton, Johannesburg; Gauteng
Clubs: Pimville Giants, Orlando Pirates F.C, Mamelodi Sundowns F.C.
Development Academy: Orlando Pirates Academy
Appearances & Goals: 72 Apps, 16 Goals
National Team Caps: South Africa u/23 (21 Caps), Bafana Bafana (4 Caps)