In a family of footballers, Mihlali Mayambela already had older brother Mark to look up to when he cut his teeth at grassroot level.
Johannesburg – Mihlali Mayambela is finally reaping the rewards of his hard work after overcoming his mental battles to become a Bafana Bafana international.
Born into a family of footballers, Mayambela already had older brother Mark to look up to when he cut his teeth at grassroots level.
However, that proved to be a double-edged sword when Mark’s career started to blossom at Soweto giants Orlando Pirates.
Known for his tricky feet, Mark was part of the team that won Pirates two domestic trebles in 2011 and 2012.
And while he was being lauded by ‘the Ghost’ and celebrated at home for his exploits, Mihlali, then in his teens, was also ridiculed for not being good enough to be on the same level of the Pirates talisman.
— Bafana Bafana (@BafanaBafana) March 22, 2023
“I think it is (in our DNA to produce footballers). He has paved the way for me I can say,” Mihlali said this week. “But that has had a lot of positives and negatives for me.
“I was being compared to him while I was still young, and I felt that wasn’t fair. I doubted myself a lot when I was young because of that.”
Thanks to that comparison, Mihlali was close to walking away from the game. But a first overseas move for Mark to Swedish giants Djurgaden in 2014 changed his mind.
“I suffered a lot because at some points I didn’t want to play anymore because I was tired of being compared to someone, meaning I couldn’t be my own man,” Mihlali said.
“It was tiring. But when I had to move to Cape Town after he moved to Sweden that’s when I realised I can really play because I had a lot of doubts and backlashes from people prior to that.”
Mihlali spent only a year in the Mother City, moving between ASD Cape Town and All Stars, before Djurgaden also snapped him up after his brother parted ways with the club.
And since then, the 26-year-old hasn’t looked back. He’s moved to Portugal and Israel, while he’s currently calling Cyprus home where he’s on the books of Aris Limassol.
In his debut season for the Cypriot-based team, Mihlali became a key figure in the team’s attacking unit.
“Moving abroad is no child’s play. What’s kept me there for so long is that I knew where I wanted to be. I wanted to be there – not anywhere else,” Mihlali said.
“When things were not going well, I had to look at myself and ask: ‘Am I going to give up on something that I wanted for myself?’ No-one pointed a gun at me to move that side.”
And thanks to that thick skin, overcoming adversities and getting his brother’s support, Mihlali attracted the eye of Bafana coach Hugo Broos, who recently gave him a call-up.
Mihlali scored on his international debut as Bafana trounced Sierra Leone 4-0 in September, while he featured late in the 1-0 win over Botswana.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, really. I cannot explain it,” Mihlali said. “When I first received the call, I couldn’t believe it until I saw it on TV and was then on the plane home to represent the country.
“I am super, super grateful to the coach because he believed in me and brought me an opportunity to represent the country, which is every player’s dream. I am living my dream.”
— Bafana Bafana (@BafanaBafana) March 21, 2023
Mihlali will want to continue his fine form when Bafana faces Liberia in back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers on Friday in Orlando and Tuesday in Monrovia.