Being the very vocal advocates for youth development that we are, we need to accept all the possible downsides to more and more people embracing the notion of investing in younger players and their development with the belief that this ideology will always afford the beautiful game a solid foundation for growth. With all those positives brought into consideration, it’s not a rarity for one to see many young players succumbing to the heavy expectations paced on them and the media circus that comes with being so gifted in this age of technology and the increased pressure to perform at a level that justifies the increased levels of remuneration, for so many diverse and often bizarre reasons an alarming number of these players ultimately fail to become the super talents that people predicted they would be and thus the common question in the barroom over a pint as the football plays, “what happened to that boi?”
Introduced himself as
A peroxide haired young playmaking genius with the touch of a magician and the creativity of a seasoned artist, blessed with a right peg that had the power to amaze the world. Sipho Nunens was Mzansi’s next golden boy, a footballer that exemplified the beauty of Mzansi Diski at its most marvellous peak. Able to not only dictate games and make his teammates play at his level of genius, Nunens was also a very able and talented goal scorer that had fans from Mamelodi to Makurung raving about his abilities. The Transnet School Of Excellence graduate was a breath of fresh air in the Mamelodi Sundowns side, a footballer that seemed tailor-made to excel playing that delectable Shoeshine & Piano brand of football Downs are renowned for. Surrounded by household names that were stars in their own right, Sipho became a star that amazed all and sundry with his ability and his potential to get even better and become a mainstay for Downs and Bafana Bafana. The future promised to be bright for the central midfield general who had all the tools to become the next Mzansi player in line to take our unique style of football to the world and alert the football fraternity to the calibre of talent we are able to produce.
Where did it go wrong?
Even before the dawn of social media and YouTube video stars like Neymar and Xherdan Shaqiri, Sipho Nunens had all of Mzansi in a state of frenzy, his abilities were so outstanding that even he begun to believe his own hype, allowing media reports and lifestyle choices to affect hi level of professional performance and his application to furthering his development and ensuring that his current benchmark was now considered a bare minimum that he had to surpass through harder work and more dedication. The fact that true swagger met arrogance in itself is not troubling, there was an air of confidence about Thierry Henry, Jay-Jay Okocha & Zinedine Zidane, it’s the fact that it was allowed to get to his head that became the root of his problems. Tiger was as active and entertaining off the field as he was mesmerising on it, a young man with the world at his feet and an appetite to live it to the fullest, Nunens became a constant feature on both ends of the Sunday papers and his reputation grew as a troublemaker, growing his personal reputation more than his professional one and creating an avenue for his development to suffer and his overall game to stagnate before it begun recessing when he should have been approaching his peak. Reports of excessive partying and house calls by authorities coming in to break up rowdy parties followed the lad like a holding midfielder would on the pitch. Mamelodi Sundowns became understandably upset with their wayward but talented superstar and farmed him out on loan twice, to Bloemfontein Celtic and Dynamos respectively, hoping that a break from the Gauteng night life would refocus the skilful midfield playmaker and make him realise that he could lose it all if he wasn’t careful. Those endeavours proved futile as they eventually ran out of patience with the lad and released him from his contract; an attempt at a career resurrection with Mpumalanga Black Aces was unsuccessful as the skilful playmaker tried to make the most of his abilities at the elite level; the potential was there, but the question marks around his desire to get to where he should have been already always arouse when one saw Tiger. Sundowns had plenty of talented yet troublesome lads on their roster at the time as they had begun rebuilding their side after enjoying enormous amounts of success with their previous generation of stars; players like Nunens, Joseph Mthombeni, Lucky Qaba, Jonas Mavimbela and Vuyo Mere could have done with more nurturing at the time, but the club was not in the business of nurturing players, they had a mandate to win. It’s a pity that Tiger has to go down as a one-cap wonder that never fulfilled his potential at the elite level, yet his story is one we can hold up as a cautionary tale for the wunderkinds on the rise today; you could be a star today and turn out begging teams for a shot tomorrow, potential without application is a waste of God given ability. This game rarely seems to favour those that aren’t willing to apply themselves and continuouslytake the privilege they have been afforded for granted.
At 32 years old, Sipho should be reaching the end of a rewarding and eventful football playing career, yet the lad has been club less for the duration of his peak years and his potential as a footballer went wasted. Yet, unlike many before him, Tiger has refused to let his past determine his legacy; taking his football knowledge to the next level, the lad has passed his SAFA Level 1 coaching qualifications and he now aims to aid talented young footballers go further than he did as a professional. Our football fraternity should count itself lucky to have such a man tutoring our stars of the future, a man that experienced the pitfalls of our beautiful game firsthand and has the desire to teach our future stars how to be more than just skilled footballers but dedicated professionals that take up the responsibility of being an elite level athlete as well. He may have been lost to us as a talented but troublesome boy, but Bob ke rangwane wa hao Sipho “The Sensational” Nunens has returned to us as a true football man.