The soccer manager finding stars in the dust
It’s been 21 years since Bafana Bafana lifted the African Cup of Nations trophy. It feels longer. Our only major triumph in the world’s most popular sport, the days when Lucas “The Chief” Radebe and John “Shoes” Moshoeu dominated the continent have been overshadowed by two decades of inconsistency during which just qualifying for tournaments has been a treat. Nonetheless, soccer is still idolised around the country. It’s the beautiful game, and Yohanna Mathevula is trying to ensure that it feels that way again.
For gifted young South Africans, the prospect of becoming a professional soccer star is an ambitious, but viable, way to better their circumstances. Mathevula, who grew up in Xikukwani village outside Giyani, realised that for these players to have a chance they’d need someone fighting from their corner. In 2014 he founded the Sundani Sports Agency and committed to becoming a scout and manager for athletes outside of major metros. Still a Grade 10 student at the time, the first players whom Mathevula represented were friends from school.
Over the past three years he has organised trials and secured contracts for talented youngsters with teams from the top three tiers of local-league soccer. Beyond the top flight, three of his junior players represented the national team at the u12 Danone Nations Cup in France. It’s all about building towards regaining Bafana Bafana’s former glory and Mathevula is convinced his country has the raw talent to again be a global competitor in the sport. “There are many stars to be found just outside the main cities in South Africa,” he explains. “I don’t want to play sport myself, but I want to help young players to succeed.” Spoken highly of by those he manages, the young man from Limpopo is on course to do just that.