Age turns out to be nothing but a number for Mamelodi Sundowns and their evergreen skipper
WHILE many younger players are fretting about their futures as their contracts approach an end, Mamelodi Sundowns’ veteran captain Hlompho Kekana is all smiles having just extended his for a further three years. It is a testament of the midfielder’s quality and his value to the club.
Kekana is turning 35 in May – an age at which many a local player has long been declared surplus to requirements by most clubs and coaches.
And so it will be that the Brazilians’ captain fantastic will add his name to that special list of players who remained active in the elite league into their late 30s and early 40s – a list that includes legends such as the late Shoes Moshoeu and Siyabonga Nomvethe, to mention just two.
“I just want to thank the team and the president (Patrice Motsepe) for always believing in me as a player than just looking at my age,” Kekqna told Independent Media yesterday.
“When I look at it, it tells me that people are not ignorant if you look at how players are judged in South Africa. There are players who play until the age of 40 years overseas but there is never even a question why are they playing. But it is difficult in South Africa because you are under (the) microscope once you reach 30.”
Like Moshoeu and Nomvethe before him, Kekana has appeared to be getting better the older he got – the man from Zebediela in Limpopo having become a key member of Pitso Mosimane’s squad with his on- and off-the-field leadership traits. His performances have belied his age, Kekana often outrunning and outplaying youngsters while being the conductor of Sundowns’ brilliant play.
“It doesn’t mean that when you are 34 you can’t walk and think anymore. You can still play the game. You can still do more. It is just a matter of taking care of yourself because as people we differ (in terms of how we live our lives).”
Aware as he is of his value to the club, he admitted to having been taken aback at the contract extension.
“I was shocked when I found out that the club has decided to hand me a three-year contract. I am really thankful for how they have changed the South African football mentality. Before, when you turned 30, you were seen as old yet when you are 19 you are still young.”
He pointed out that the local football structure is unlike in Europe or even South America where players get opportunities at an early age.
“We are not blessed with football academies. Sometimes players turn professional at the age of 29. It is a challenging situation because when you are 30, you are told that you are old. I won the CAF Champions League at the age of 30. To them it will mean I was too old to win the Champions League. It doesn’t make sense. I’m just grateful with the opportunity the team granted to me to continue to lead Mamelodi Sundowns.”
By giving him a three-year contract, Sundowns have broken from the general trend that has seen players over 30 being offered year-on-year contracts, an indication that the clubs do not have the faith in a particular player’s ability to keep performing for an extended period.
“People were judged based on their age rather than talent. But this shows that Sundowns are not like that. It was a pleasant surprise for me.
“And I was not the only one surprised because I got calls from Morocco and Egypt congratulating me because it is something that is rare in South African football.”
He added: “The club made a statement really. This is a huge statement for the rest of the teams in South Africa to say that players should be judged on performance instead of age.”