Being chosen as the captain of a professional football club is always an honour, and it says a lot about the bosses’ trust in you and your leadership skills. But there are those clubs at which the skipper’s armband is as heavy as their trophy cabinet. Great clubs around the world like Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich etc make a big deal about who gets to captain the team.
It is always that one special player. Not necessarily because of their skills or technical abilities, but they are always the inspirational figures that all the other players always look to when the chips are down. Players that wear the hearts on their sleeves and embody the very culture and tradition of the club. Think Gary Neville, Steven Gerrard, Carles Puyol, Iker Casillas, Gianluigi Buffon, and Philipp Lahm.
All of these great players have that factor I’m referring to. There has never been any doubt in anyone’s mind where their hearts belong. When Siphiwe Tshabalala was announced as the new Kaizer Chiefs captain on Tuesday, few would have objected to the choice.
This is a player who, like all those I mentioned above, would die for his club. Since making his move from Free State Stars to the Soweto side, he has been an obvious choice for coaches, has always played his heart out every time he pulled in that gold and black jersey, and he has been loyal. He joins a list of players who’ve also had the honour of wearing the armband at Chiefs, and have all done it with some level of distinction.
One of the most inspirational figures in the game, Neil Tovey spent a staggering nine years at Chiefs, and 341 appearances later, he is third only to Doctor Khumalo and Thabo Mooki. Me being born in 1990, this is actually the only club I know him with. Tovey was for a long time a pillar of strength for the club, and even made his mark in the national colours during this time.
When I actually had enough sense to watch the game, he was playing with some fine talent like Rudolf Gardner Seale, Brian Baloyi, Thabo Mooki, Doctor Khumalo, Shane McGregor, and later the likes of the late Thabang Lebese and Sizwe Motaung. I’ve been blessed enough to have chatted with some of these legends in recent years like McGregor and ‘Tsiki-Tsiki’, who’ve credited Tovey for a lot of inspiration in years gone by.
Whoever was to take over from ‘Mokoko’ definitely had a tough act to follow.
Another one of those I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing, Malawian defender Patrick Mabedi also goes down as one of Chiefs’ most memorable captains. For many years Mabedi led the club selflessly, and won the hearts of their millions of supporters countrywide on his way to 205 appearances for the Glamour Boys. Who can forget his winning penalty in the 2001 CAF Cup Winners’ Cup final against Interclube to secure Chiefs the Mandela Cup?
He led one of the most successful Amakhosi teams that included Cyril Nzama, Muhammad Ouseb, Tinashe Nengomasha, Arthur Zwane, and Collins Mbesuma. League success in the 2003/04 and 2004/05 seasons can be attributed to players such as Mabedi.
When Mabedi left Amakhosi for Moroka Swallows, there were questions over who would take over the leadership of the club, but it didn’t take long for those questions to be answered. Having been at the club for half a decade already, Cyril Nzama stepped up and took the responsibility. He was the natural choice and took to the task like a duck to water. He earned the nickname ‘Skhokho’ due to his hard tackling at right full-back and seldom came second in a one-on-one confrontation.
It was these consistent performances that made him a permanent fixture in the Bafana Bafana back four in those days. He was a great servant of the club, one of those I actually feel had a bit of an unceremonious exit at Chiefs. By the time he left, he had donned the historic jersey on 183 occasions.
On the 20th of August 2005, Jimmy Tau made his Kaizer Chiefs debut in the SAA Super 8 quarter-final against Bloemfontein Celtic. Now this was significant because just a few days before that, he was wearing the Black and White of Orlando Pirates. Tau had even captained the Buccaneers in his time there, and was one of the few at the time who had the guts to cross the great divide.
And even among those who’ve had this pleasure, not many can claim to have captained both these great South African giants. Having managed to unseat Nzama at right back, he went on to lead the Phefeni Boys to many cup trophies, although he did not win a league title during his stay. As much as Tau had many moments to remember at Chiefs, there are some he would rather forget.
The infamous “whistle incident” will forever be a tickle point for most. That day Phenyo Mongala, then of AmaTuks, made a mockery of one of the finest defenders in the PSL. That passed, but a couple of years later he had an altercation with coach Vladimir Vermezovic after a young George Lebese was allowed to take a crucial penalty in a cup match, which he subsequently missed.
This was the beginning of the end for Jimmy at Chiefs, but certainly the club’s supporters will never forget his contribution there. He made 165 appearances for Chiefs.
Say what you will about Itumeleng Khune, but he remains the country’s best goalkeeper right now. When Khune was appointed captain of Kaizer Chiefs, there was a lot of doubters, and I have to admit, I was one of them. I knew he was a fine player with rare talent, but I was sceptical of his role as a leader due to some on-field antics that he was famous for.
To most of us he just seemed impulsive and not the sort of player that had the ability to lead by example. Itu served all of us each a huge slice of humble pie as he came of age and became the face of the club. In that very first season he led them to a first league title in eight years, under the guidance of Stuart Baxter.
This also prompted the national selectors to give him the armband there, and although there wasn’t much success there, he was still the go-to guy for the lads in green and gold. Khune’s exit from Chiefs may seem a bit premature and does not reflect his career there, but don’t be surprised if he is yet to add to his 176 games for the Naturena-based club.
And now we’re down to Chiefs’ most recent skipper, Tefu Mashamaite. Now it is the most shocking thing that this man will not play for them again, having presided over their most successful season in the PSL era. Having tasted the captaincy earlier in his career at Bidvest Wits, ‘Masha’ displayed the perfect skills in inspiring Amakhosi to break at least nine records this past season. He was solid at the back alongside Mulomowandau Mathoho, and the pair was probably the first names in Baxter’s team.
True to his performances he made a clean sweep at both the club and PSL awards, and is the reigning Player Of The Year. Now this is a man who will be tough to emulate. He didn’t leave before he hit triple figures though, having just edged 100 games to his name.
These are all the gentlemen who, at some point were the darlings of those ordinary people who have the Kaizer Chiefs crest etched to their hearts and will always have a special place in there. They have booked their place in the history books for generations to come. Tshabalala may have big boots to fill, but after 207 games, 33 goals and counting, the one thing he doesn’t have to fill is his veins, which are gold and black through and through.
Good luck Shabba.