If Cape Town City boss John Comitis had a few million to spare, he would have been able to bring Lebogang Manyama back to his club. But this will remain a wish for Comitis as his former player was the “one that got away” – he signed with Kaizer Chiefs two years ago.
“I had a meeting with Lebogang when he returned from Turkey, but there was no way we could compete with Chiefs because their offer was big,” Comitis told City Press this week.
“So, Chiefs are blessed to have him at his best.”
The Cape Town-based businessperson first worked with the player at Ajax Cape Town in 2010, and they reunited at City six years later. He sold Manyama to Turkish Super League club Konyaspor in 2017.
This came after an impressive season with the Citizens as they won the 2016 Telkom Knockout and finished fourth in the league in the Cape club’s first season in the PSL. Comitis had acquired the status of now-defunct Mpumalanga Black Aces.
Manyama, City’s captain at the time, was influential in the heart of the team’s midfield. He finished the campaign with 13 goals and was voted the 2016/17 PSL player of the season. But 2017 proved a difficult year for Manyama as he struggled for game time in Turkey and was let go by Konyaspor.
Despite an injury-ravaged spell last year, Manyama has regained his form.
His consistent delivery so far this campaign has given insight into why he is an important component in Chiefs’ chase for their first league title in almost five years.
Comitis and former Bafana Bafana midfielder Maimane Phiri, who is Manyama’s mentor, agreed that the midfielder had a mind for the game and was showcasing his true potential.
“Lebo has got a football brain. He has an immense amount of confidence and he plays the number 10 position so well,” raved Comitis.
“He knows how to link the defence and the attackers. If you have a player like that, you have a big number 10 and a leader,” added the football administrator, who is a former professional player. In his heyday, he played for Jomo Cosmos and Wits University FC.
Phiri, a former amateur club owner, vividly remembered a starry-eyed Manyama arriving in “battered maroon [soccer] boots” looking for a spot at FC Alex, which was campaigning in the third division at the time.
“He insisted that he was a good midfielder, but we used him as a striker in a friendly game and he scored two goals.
“That’s when we continued to use him as a target man or anywhere across the front three positions. He scored more than 30 goals for us,” said Phiri.
“When he joined Ajax, they played him more as a winger, with Khama Billiat operating on the other wing, but I still believe City got the best out of Lebo while deployed at number 10.”
Phiri is a former Ajax player. The retired maestro from Alexandra township reckoned, without bias, that Manyama’s exploits make him a candidate for the PSL player of the season award.
“I think he has come to Chiefs as a matured player, which is different to when there was interest in his services a few years ago.
“His progress might have been interrupted by injuries and a car accident last season, but I can say he has come out of his shell and his best is yet to come. I would nominate him for player of the year, for sure,” Phiri said.
Hanging out with Samuel Eto’o
Phiri added that his protégé also learnt a “thing or two” from former Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o during their short spell together at Konyaspor.
“It was like a dream come true for Lebo, who didn’t expect Eto’o to be his team-mate. They spent most of their time together on and off the field. Lebo told me that Samuel used to take him out a lot and share his football experiences,” said Phiri, who spent six seasons in Turkey during his spell abroad.
During his tour of South Africa late last year, the four-time African footballer of the year said Manyama had not been given enough chances to showcase his talent at Konyaspor because of the coach.
According to Phiri, another Turkish club, Antalyaspor, was keen to sign the Bafana midfielder, but Manyama opted to return home after Konyaspor terminated his contract by mutual agreement.
If the 29-year-old can help Chiefs break their silverware drought this season, the PSL return may prove to be the best decision Manyama has made.