By FOCUS REPORTER
The winners of the Gauteng Future Champions soccer identification programme for 2010 are getting ready to jet off to Brazil from December 5-12 to spend the week training with two of the biggest clubs in the South American country.
Young rising stars Rorisang Tlhabane, Andile Nqabeni and Sboniso Mncwabe, as well as Coach the Coaches Programme winner Sphiwe Tsotetsi, will spend a week in the southern Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, where they will train with the youth academies of top-flight clubs Cruzeiro and Atletico Mineiro.
The trio finished in the top three positions out of the 70 participants that contested the final stage of the Gauteng Future Champions talent search earlier this year. The final phase was the conclusion of a four-month campaign with the skills of over 6 000 players from Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg central, Motsweding, Sedibeng, West Rand and Tshwane regions all having been assessed.
The overall winner, Tlhabane, is a left-winger who is currently without a team, but has been representing his local side, Akasia FC, and also attends the Akasia Hoer Skool. The 16-year-old’s greatest weapon is his fantastic delivery from wide areas, and his sweet left foot is a striker’s delight as he provides accurate crosses into the middle.
“To win this competition has been fantastic and now to go to Brazil is a dream come true! So many great players come from that country and to see how they train and prepare themselves for a professional career will be an opportunity that I will always cherish,” Thlabane says.
Nqabeni, originally from Qumbu in the Eastern Cape, plays as a striker for the Kaizer Chiefs development side and has signed a professional contract with the team. This season he has been loaned to Vodacom League side Soweto Panthers to gain valuable first-team experience, and he has not disappointed, banging in the goals.
Nicknamed ‘Eto’o’ after Cameroon legend Samuel Eto’o, the 17-year-old was first spotted at Umtata Bush Bucks and was soon brought up to Gauteng to join the Chiefs set-up. He has already represented South Africa at national Under-20 level and currently attends Meadowlands High School in Soweto.
“Brazil is known for producing great strikers and an experience like this can only make me a better player. I am hungry to succeed as a professional footballer, but I know this can only happen if I continue to learn about all aspects of the game, and I will go to Brazil to learn as much as I can,” Nqabeni says.
Mncwabe plays for the SuperSport United/Tottenham Hotspur Academy under the watchful eye of his coach, former Zimbabwe international Kaitano Tembo. He can play either as a second striker, or in his preferred position of right-wing.
He has pace to burn, is skilful and stylish on the ball, and can deliver pin-point crosses, all talents he has honed in the last four years that he has spent at the academy. The 16-year-old, who attends the Rosina Sedibane Sports School in Pretoria, has been praised for his excellent technical ability on the ball, something usually considered a rarity amongst pacey wingers.
“This is an opportunity for us all to learn from some of the best young players in the world and we are grateful for the chance to go to Brazil and represent South Africa as winners of Gauteng Future Champions. It is a dream come true,” Mncwabe says.
Coach the Coaches programme winner Tsotetsi will accompany the trio to take in the training methods of the Brazilian academies. He looks after the Super Eagles FC Under-11 to Under-17 age-group teams in Dlamini, but will now be able to inspect academies that are amongst the best in the world.
The Gauteng Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation MEC Lebogang Maile is delighted that the three youngsters from the province and Tsotetsi will be able to soak up the football knowledge of top Brazilian coaches.
“This is a great opportunity for these boys to learn about football from a different perspective than they would perhaps normally get at home. I would urge them to use the time they spend in Brazil to learn as much as possible, and to bring back that knowledge with them to share with their team-mates. We are extremely proud of their achievements so far, and we know they will represent the Gauteng Province, and South Africa, with distinction,” Mr Maile says.