Last weekend Happy Jele not only reached a 400-game milestone in an Orlando Pirates jersey, but this special occasion also served to remind many that he has been a one-club man.
Since he joined Bucs in 2006, the 34-year-old defender has seen players come and go, yet he remains an influential figure in the club’s ranks, more so defying the notion that players his age are over the hill.
“Hard work and discipline, that’s all that makes me relevant,” Jele told City Press.
With his magical mark of club appearances, the player from Mhluzi township outside Middelburg in Mpumalanga has surpassed the 300-game mark that has for many years been the threshold in the PSL era.
And the majority of local players who have clocked this number have all retired.
“The dedication and hard work that I have been putting into the team over the years has carried me this far. I feel that maybe I was the chosen one to play for Pirates,” said Jele, who has won every domestic club trophy on offer since he made his dream move from his home town amateur club Walter Stars 15 years ago.
Stars was founded by popular television presenter Walter Mokoena, who also doubled as Jele’s business manager.
Recalling the events of last weekend, during which he was presented with a commemorative jersey emblazoned with 400 on the back, before Pirates’ DStv Premiership game against Swallows FC, Jele described the occasion as special.
The 1-0 win courtesy of a late Tshegofatso Mabasa goal marked Bucs’ first league victory of the season and Jele was voted man of the match.
Asked if he had ticked all the boxes during his career, Jele believes he should have donned the Bafana Bafana jersey more than the three caps he has accumulated.
“I didn’t represent my country the way I had wished. Yes, I have been in the squad and I appreciate that, but I wanted more and it didn’t happen. It was still a great thing for me to be part of a national team set-up. It was also a huge setback for me when I got injured [in 2011 and stayed out for a year].”
Jele, who signed a year’s extension to his contract last month, believes that there is still significant mileage in his legs and is not thinking of retirement as yet.
“I’ll just keep on going for as long as my legs can carry me. I want to win more silverware until the end,” he vowed.
Jele said that, in his time at Bucs, he had realised the magnitude of rivalries in the PSL and how much emotion was invested in the games, particularly those involving Pirates against Kaizer Chiefs or Mamelodi Sundowns.
“One of the most painful experiences in football is losing to your rivals,” he said.
Pirates will host Sundowns at Orlando Stadium on Saturday, still smarting from three defeats in all competitions from last season.
But Jele, who was preparing for Bucs’ league clash against Chippa United yesterday, parked the Sundowns talk in favour of focusing on the task at hand.
Looking back at his career, he said winning the double treble with Pirates between 2010 and 2012 ranked among his career highlights.
Jele captained the Buccaneers in the final of the 2013 Champions League and the 2015 Confederation Cup. They lost both deciders to Al Ahly and Étoile du Sahel of Tunisia, respectively.
He was nicknamed “MaGents” by a childhood friend and former school-mate after Pirates legendary defender Edward Motale. It is the reason he chose to wear jersey number 4, which Motale had donned during his spell with Bucs in the 1990s.