On the day of Themba Zwane’s unveiling at Mamelodi Sundowns eight years ago, the press room was filled with news hounds, but none were on his trail.
No one bothered to ask him a question or pose for pictures with him. He was overshadowed by superstar Teko Modise, who was joining Sundowns from Orlando Pirates. At the press conference, Zwane, who hails from Tembisa, cut a shy and lonely figure as journalists pestered Teko with a barrage of questions. No one bothered Zwane but they all wondered.
“This is Themba Zwane. We signed him from Vardos. In fact, he plays in the same position as Teko. So, he will be competing with him,” said Trot Moloto, who was Sundowns’ technical director.
For some time, as Modise and other stars shone and owned positions at Downs, Zwane had to go hone his skills on loan at Mpumalanga Black Aces, where he was under the tutelage of Clive Barker, whose comments on Zwane raised eyebrows.
Fast forward to the day that will go down in the annals as one of the best days in South African football, a man kept calling one name.
Inside a jam packed Lucas Moripe Stadium, which turned slaughterhouse when Pitso Mosimane’s yellow men showed Al Ahly red, the man, an ardent Sandawana sitting in the VIP section, called one name constantly invoking memories of a 1930’s event where an inmate on death row cried: “Save me Joe Louis” before being asphyxiated.
Sundowns didn’t need saving but Al Ahly did.
“Mshishi! Mshishi! Mshishi!” the man called repeatedly, and he would later explain to another. “When Mshishi plays, Sundowns plays.”
Zwane, who answers to the moniker Mshishi, was the conductor of the Brazilians orchestra during Downs’ historic 5-0 annihilation of the African Team of the Century last Saturday. Zwane scored the opening goal thus making way for four of his teammates to join him on the scoring list. It was his sixth goal in the Champions League for Downs, who are hell-bent of getting the second star. Mshishi has come off age. He has lived up to expectation.
Five years ago, Bafana Bafana’s Afcon winning coach Barker stunned all and sundry by elevating Zwane above luminaries such as Doctor Khumalo and Shoes Moshoeu.
“I coached Sugar Ray Xulu in the 70s, some great players in the 80s, and the likes of Doctor Khumalo, Shoes Moshoeu, Phil Masinga and Mark Fish, but Themza Zwane is the best player I have ever coached in my career,” said Barker to the ire of many a football follower.
However, with Zwane’s growing stature in the game, his virtuoso display suggest he is worth of a place in South African football folklore. His uncanny ability to shepherd the ball (he rarely gets dispossessed), the beauty of his caressing the ball and his vision and subsequent sublime passes catapult him to greater levels with the best to have donned the Sundowns jersey. Even Mosimane waxed lyrical about Zwane comparing him with Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta, who has been described as the master of space and time.
“You can’t trace or track him. He is in different space‚ always find himself in different areas on the field and he helped us to control the midfield. Never mind the goal he scored‚ he is skating, and they can’t find him. He reminds me of Iniesta,” said Mosimane in the aftermath of Downs’ historic win.
Mosimane will be hoping Mshishi is on song and continues with his repertoire of trickery when Sundowns take on Al Ahly in the second leg of the CAF Champions League quarterfinals in Cairo this Saturday evening.
The Author: Hosea Ramphekwa