Lentjies settled at United for now

2010-04-16 00:00

IT was last season, long before he became a Maritzburg United player, though ironically also soon after he almost had, that Kurt Lentjies introduced himself to the fans of the Team of Choice.

In an explosive display at Chatsworth Stadium, the pint-sized left midfielder carved up the United right side and was the most influential player in a 3-0 win to Mamelodi Sundowns. “That was when Henri Michel was at Sundowns. It was my first game back from injury and that was where I made my mark, and, ja, it was a good performance,” Lentjies chuckled yesterday.

Then Lentjies was just beginning to carve out a name for himself, as a destructive midfielder in a star-studded Brazilians team. When you watch United’s on-loan midfielder’s array of skills, though, it’s hard to believe he’s already 25 and only in his second season in the PSL.

It’s another case of a talented player who was overlooked for too long by South Africa’s woeful talent identification system.

“I should have lots of PSL experience by now,” Lentjies admits. “Cape Town is difficult because there are only two PSL teams, Santos and Ajax, and, no disrespect to them, but they don’t pay well.

“I was given the opportunity to play for them, but I could rather go work for better money. There are lots of players in Cape Town who are so talented, but are just not getting the opportunity.”

For the player from Mitchell’s Plein, the long trip to Premier Soccer League level began as a 16-year-old for FC Fortune, the team of Quinton Fortune and his agent, Colin Gie.

Lentjies’s first full-time contract came at 21 for the ill-fated Fidentia Rangers, who were bought out by Ikapa Sporting after that company’s liquidation.

The midfielder was the National First Division’s player of the season in 2007/08.

Lentjies could have played for Maritzburg sooner, having been scouted by Ian Palmer, who had just won the NFD to promote the team back to the PSL. But it was Sundowns who won the player’s signature.

“I agreed to terms with Maritzburg and everything. It was only Maritzburg and Sundowns who were interested, but the danger of coming here was that Maritzburg were newly promo­ted and I didn’t want to go back to the first division,” Lentjies said.

Lentjies finally did make it to United when he was loaned to the club from Sundowns, halfway through this season, to get more game time.

“At the beginning of the season, I made seven appearances at Sundowns. But then things changed — that’s football.

“One game you’re playing 90 mi­nutes at Sundowns and the next you’re sitting in the stands.

“I felt I needed to be contributing to the team and needed to play more. I spoke to my agent and that’s why I’m here at Maritzburg, and I’m enjoying my stay here.”

In his half a season at United, fans of the team have had the pleasure of being able to stroll down to Woodburn or Harry Gwala stadiums and watch a genuinely exciting player practice his art.

Blessed with pace and dazzling skills, what sets Lentjies apart is his vision and cleverness on the ball.

“That’s one of my strengths. [United coach Ernst] Middendorp likes players to think quickly on the ball, particularly in an important role in the midfield.

“My strength is to make the players around me better players. It’s not about me as an individual but about what I can contribute to the team.”

As the season’s end approaches, though, Lentjies faces the tough decision — return to the glamour of Sundowns and risk sitting on the bench again (as has happened to United’s loan signing from last season, Fanyana Dhladhla), or remain where he can continue playing.

“That is something to seriously think about,” Lentjies admits. “I know whatever coach comes into Sundowns might have a different structure — he might use me in a different position.

“Maritzburg have approached me to extend the loan if Sundowns don’t want to sell me outright. But I’m a player and I have to make decisions. I think I would like to stay at Maritzburg, no doubt.

“My agent is flying up next week to sort out a deal for me to stay here or go somewhere else. We’ll have to wait and see. In the end, if Sundowns want me back, I have to honour that because I have a contract with them.”

Casting an eye around Harry Gwala, where he is being interviewed, with its pristine new pitch and mo­dern facilities, Lentjies admits United are a team going places.

“That’s one thing I can agree with. The people of Maritzburg are hungry for football, and they’re happy to have a PSL team here.

“The training facilities are good here, they have a beautiful pitch, so I can’t see where they can go wrong. They have a good coach in Middendorp, who motivates and brings the best out of the players.

“If I leave here, I will still miss the team and have memories of my time here.”

For a player with so much talent, while it is too late for the 2010 World Cup, surely he has his eye on a place in Bafana Bafana for Brazil in 2014?

“Maybe 2014, but I’m not focused on Bafana. Right now I’m concentrating on my career and enjoying my football and, if a Bafana call-up comes for 2014, I have to grab it with both hands.”

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