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Shuga is happy in the shadows

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TIYANI Mabunda at Mamelodi Sundowns is a lot like air, you don’t see him but you feel his absence

HAPPY WITH HIS ROLE: Tiyani Mabunda of Mamelodi Sundowns will not try to dazzle anyone with his silky skills, as he says thats not his role in the team. Picture: BackpagePix

TIYANI Mabunda at Mamelodi Sundowns is a lot like air, you don’t see him but you feel his absence.

The industrious midfielder does the dirty job, cleaning up from defence to midfield to allow Sundowns’ strong attack to shine knowing that a reliable figure has their back. Mabunda hardly grabs the headlines.

Even his contract negotiations with the Brazilians that were only finalised late last month didn’t make the news as much as that of the mercurial Khama Billiat.

But this doesn’t mean that “Shuga”, as Mbunda is affectionately known, is less important. He is an integral figure who does his job without much fanfare. People only see his importance in his absence due to the gaping hole between the Brazilians’ defence and midfield that’s there when he isn’t around.

“The most important thing for me is for the team to do well without focusing on any individual accolades,” Mabunda said. “If it’s meant to be, it (recognition for his work) will happen. I model my game around players who also face the same challenge, they aren’t seen when they play.

“It’s only in their absence that they are recognised.

“When you watch Barcelona play you will never see much of Sergio Busquets, but when he isn’t around you see that he isn’t there. When you look at Real Madrid, you never see Casemiro much but in his absence you understand his importance. It’s the same with Xabi Alonso whose absence is very loud. I have learned to understand that not everyone is going to be the talisman of the team.”

Mabunda continued, “I am happy that at Sundowns we know and respect each other’s roles. If you master your own role, that’s how you will be recognised and play regularly. I am happy with the role I play, sitting behind the scenes and allowing the likes of Percy Tau, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Themba Zwane to shine.

“There’s a saying that some have to carry the piano and some have to play it. I am one of those who has to carry the piano for the boys to play it.”

Mabunda will carry the piano tomorrow night at Athlone Stadium against first division side Cape Town All Stars in the Nedbank Cup last 32, to allow his attack-minded teammates to produce sweet music. But just because Mabunda isn’t flashy doesn’t mean he isn’t skilful.

The 28-year-old midfielder has a bag full of tricks that he regularly went to for inspiration to beat his man in his days at Free State Stars and Black Leopards where he was deployed as a playmaker.

“It comes down to discipline,” Mabunda said. “You should know your role. A player like (Andres) Iniesta has skills but he never dribbles like (Lionel) Messi. It’s not that he can’t, but he does it at the right moment. That’s down to discipline.

“I could easily do the same thing that our attackers do, but it’s not my responsibility. My responsibility for the team is to pass and provide cover for the defence. That’s what I am happy with doing. Given the opportunity, I believe that one day it will happen (that people see my skills).”

Mabunda has a big engine that allows him to cover as much ground as he does, easily going from cleaning up in defence to providing the muscle in midfield and popping up with an odd goal. He owes his stamina and endurance from his days as an athletics star.

“Shuga” argues that he is a better player in this position, thankful that it allowed him to go to the national team and represent Africa with the Brazilians at the Fifa Club World Cup in Japan.

With all that said, does Mabunda wish he was celebrated more?

“I’ll be celebrated in heaven,” he says.