Dissected with the attention to detail of a legendary Celebrity Masterchef 2nd episode outcast, your good mate Uncle Bob serves up his weekly Half-Time Orange For Thought; a mental morsel for the sports fanatic with a healthy appetite for wholesome consumables. We at GSV have reluctantly declared ourselves accountable for any digestion difficulties that may or may not occur. Enjoy!
They say that when the legend becomes fact, we ought to print the legend. Mbulelo OldJohn Mabizela has long been heralded as one of the best footballers of his generation, yet he has also been seen as one of the greatest wastes of talent we have ever encountered in our football fraternity. OJ stands out simply because he is a talented and charismatic footballer that had it all; ability, opportunity, the love of the supporters and the leadership ability to inspire those around him to play at his elite level with ease. Yet, with all those tangibles, OJ simply lacked the guidance to be shown the right way to make the most of his God given abilities and shun the darker side of being a professional footballer with the world at his feet.
Substances and football go hand-in-hand, forget how the media blows a drinking and driving accusation out of proportion or how social media almost crashes as people rave about the latest footballer to be caught puffing away in his spare time; substances and football have been united since the days of kick-about in the street for a purse that normally went to procuring a pint for all and sundry to enjoy. It was touching and somewhat eye opening to read Jabu Mahlangu (Pule) discussing his bouts of struggle with the bottle in Soccer-Laduma’s 900th edition, the legendary Shuffle, who also wasted an abundant amount of potential because of an inability to resist the temptation of the dark side, stated that he came into professional football drinking excessively and that fame mixed with fortune only aided in exacerbating the already destructive habit. It’s no secret that many professional football clubs do a dire job at preparing our stars of the future for life during football and ensuring that the lads have thought of a plan for life after their diski playing careers are over as well.
Counselling, life-skills training, financial management and media training have to go hand –in-hand with tactical training, positional training and shooting practise, I say that to say this, there is no youth development complete without players being taught to be more than just footballers on the field. Many of our professional footballers aren’t just celebrities and entertainers, they are also role models in society, breadwinners in their families and pillars of their communities; yet countless footballers aren’t prepared for these roles by the same institutions who they keep profitable through transfer fees. In our society where drugs are easily available and addictive, alcohol drinking is socially permissible before it is legally allowed and HIV/Aids kills off hundreds of our siblings daily, it’s not too much to ask an extremely profitable business like football to do more to ensure that we have less instances where talented players fall victim to social pressures and become yet another sad case of wasted potential.
Mbulelo Mabizela burst onto the scene as a member of an exciting and youthful Maritzburg City side that included Thokozani Mshengu and Bheka Phakathi, the KZN based First Division side shocked the football fraternity by upsetting yet another exciting and youthful side in Ajax Cape Town, who themselves had just signalled their arrival on the elite stage with a 4-1 drubbing of Orlando Pirates in the 2000 Rothmans Cup Final, City knocked their more illustrious opponents out of the 2001 Bob Save Super Bowl and OJ’s star was well and truly on the rise. The former Mamelodi Sundowns academy apprentice was quickly snapped up by Soweto giants Orlando Pirates and it was only a matter of months before he was kitting up to play in the biggest game of his career, a sold-out Soweto Derby. With less than 10 professional games under his belt, OJ was called up by Carlos Queiroz to his Bafana side and at the tender age of 21, with the KZN born lad also going on to become the nation’s youngest ever skipper at 21; Mabizela was made Orlando Pirates captain as his star continued to rise and the accolades piled up. The new millennium couldn’t stop being beautiful for the combative central defender as he lead a talented Orlando Pirates side to the league title, becoming the youngest ever player to lift the league trophy for the Soweto giants. When English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspurs came over for a two game tour of Mzansi in 2003, OJ impressed Spurs gaffer and former England international playmaker Glenn Hoddle with his dominant and assured display as Bucs beat Spurs 2-1 in a thrilling encounter and OJ was boarding the plane back to London with the Lilywhites.
The dream continued for OJ as a successful trial period with Spurs ended with Bucs receiving their requested £1 million asking price for the services of their talented skipper with Mabizela going on to net a spectacular 30-yard strike in his debut against Leicester City on October 19th, 2003; the Bafana skipper was a man on top of the world, and deservedly so. Yet how could it have gone horribly wrong for a man touted as the next Lucas Radebe? A player well on course to eclipse the man he was being touted to replace and establish Mzansi as a genuine producer of top class international calibre talent in the modern age. A change in guard, coupled by rumours of ill-discipline, led to OJ being released from his Spurs contract, having played 9 competitive games for the Lilywhites he was on the lookout for a new club by the end of 2004. It seems as if OJ was on the decline as a professional from 2003 as his off-field behaviour begun to stunt the growth of his career and one can’t help but feel as if we let the lad down when it comes to dealing with his issues. Stripped of his Bafana captaincy by gaffer Stuart Baxter after showing up late for training camp, the man who was meant to lead Bafana on home soil in the 2010 FIFA World Cup became a cautionary tale for talented yet wayward young players across the country.
Having received a 6-month ban and R 70 000 fine after his B-sample tested positive for marijuana while trying to resurrect his career back at Mamelodi Sundowns, OJ seemed to have been running out of chances to make the most of his undeniable ability. Yet chance after chance ended in the player being released from his contract, an occurrence that we experienced again when Mpumalanga Black Aces terminated his contract with immediate effect. Rumoured to have waged a war of words on legendary gaffer Clive Barker and members of his side after he did not feature for the team in the Telkom Knockout Cup clash with Ajax in October of last year, the former Bafana Bafana international was released by the club and the relegation battling AmaZulu snapped him up to try shore up their leaky defence. The determined seasoned campaigner has added some resilience to the squad as they face an uphill battle that sees them having to win their remaining two games and pray that other results go their way as they fight to remain in the Premier Soccer League.
This sad tale could have so easily ended differently, and I for one feel as if it still could; OJ needs to stand up and become an example for young talented lads within our fraternity who struggle with the same dark side he has been haunted by for so many years. We need to take a stand and accept that there are players dealing with worse evils than what OJ has encountered, there is far more money and exposure in the game now and the social pressures have also increased dramatically as our game has evolved. Those that have benefitted off the abilities of OJ in the past need to be accountable, they need to drag the lad to counselling and not only clean him up but also refocus him and allow him to become more than just wasted potential. Mbulelo Mabizela has a lot to offer our Diski, be it as a player agent that takes troubled and discarded footballers under his wing and guides them to realize their potential or as the spokesperson and figurehead of a SAFA/PSL backed organization that seeks to educate footballers on the pitfalls they will encounter in the professional game while offering life-skills and brand management courses along with media and financial training seminars to players across the fraternity. Instead of us pointing fingers at OJ for not being what we expected of him, let’s look to see where we can lend the lad a hand and aid him to become the purposeful man God created him to be, helping OJ is the duty of us all as a fraternity; Bob’s your onkel it could easily be your child, sibling, best mate or relative suffering from the same fate years from now.