Thursday, 22 August 2013

South Africa's Vieira: Legohonolo Maselesa on the African Champions League, his first Soweto derby, Turfloop and keeping his feet on the ground

South Africa's Vieira: Legohonolo Maselesa

Legohonolo Maselesa is not your ordinary 20-year-old. The former South African Under 17 captain is rapidly proving that as he settles in to the Orlando Pirates squad with uncommon calm.

Forced to replace Andile Jali early in the Buccaneers’ 3-0 win against Egyptian giants Zamalek last Saturday, his coach Roger de Sa said simply: “Maselesa looked like he’d been playing in the African Champions League all his life.”

Now Maselesa faces his first Soweto derby – the MTN8 semi-final against Kaizer Chiefs on Saturday is getting close to a sell-out – insisting he is ready for the 90,000 baying fans.

Perhaps better known as Vieira – after the former France World Cup winning midfielder Patrick – Maselesa explains: “I was playing for an academy in Joburg, Afrika Sports, when they started calling me Vieira. I was 12 at the time, back in 2004. Every since then, I’ve been Vieira.

“As a footballer you have to be prepared to come on at any moment. When Andile went down injured, I can’t really say I was nervous, there was the TP Mazembe game, that may have been harder than Zamalek!”

So is he living the dream following his move from Bidvest Wits last year? “I can’t really say that this is the dream, I still hope things get better from here! Obviously, as a young boy it IS a dream to play for Pirates, it doesn’t happen to everyone. For me to be here is an honour, a privilege.

“But I can’t say I’ve arrived, I still have to push myself.”

And playing for De Sa? “Roger for me, because I worked with him before at Wits, is everything in one. I’m not trying to say things that he’s not. But he can be that leader, put the foot down. But when it’s time to joke around he can do that too.

“He’s all in one, serious guy, funny guy, all in one.”

In a football world where coaches are fiercely protective of their young stars – Sir Alex Ferguson never let Ryan Giggs or David Beckham near a microphone until they were in their mid-20s – “Vieira” is able to give us a unique glimpse in to the pressures of breaking in to the professional ranks.

When I asked about the pressure, the problems of super-stardom, his answer was spot on.

“I come from a very humble background, it’s easy to keep my feet on the ground. I have people around me who criticise me a lot. They give me a call and give me a bit of stick for my performances!

“It’s never like I get good reviews. People might say I’m playing well but when I get home it’s a different story, the people who really matter and give me advice, never tell me I’m the finished article.

“To be honest I feel amazing. It’s not every child who gets to play for Pirates and for me that’s no pressure. Every day I learn different things, I learn and I play better.

“I’m from Turfloop near Polokwane – I don’t know who said I was from Alexandra. I’d like to believe most great footballers come from Limpopo! There is a huge amount of talent coming from the north.

“I’m not a physio, I can’t tell you if Andile Jali will be fit for Saturday. But this will be my first Soweto derby. If it happens, I’ll be willing to give my best and hopefully, to earn a good result. But anything can happen!

“My biggest crowd before this was 50,000 when we played Pirates in the Nedbank Cup final in 2011 and lost 3-1. This will be my biggest crowd ever.

So how will the huge gathering affect him? Can he shut it out or will it inspire? “I played then and only about 1,000 of the crowd were supporting Wits, this time about half of them will be supporting me, at the stadium and millions on the television. I can only get fired up you know!”


 BOLLOCKZ! my show on www.ballz.co.za, airs every Thursday from 10am-noon. The full interview is on video below.

You can also follow me on www.twitter.com/nealcol for all the latest sports news… and read my “Neal & Pray” column every Tuesday inwww.thenewage.co.za

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