Not many PSL players are as easy-going and transparent as Mamelodi Sundowns defender Anele Ngcongca. He chats to Daniel Mothowagae about racism, gender-based violence, money and old interest from Chiefs
Anele Ngcongca says he has unfinished business in the sport.
What difference do you think sportspeople can make to address the gender-based violence scourge in the country?
I am raising a daughter who is turning 10, and I get so worried when I watch news reports of women and children being raped and killed at this alarming rate. Sometimes I look at my daughter playing in the garden and say to myself: ‘My child, the world is cruel out there.’ So I think, as football players, we can follow the example of how the clubs at top European leagues supported the global #BlackLivesMatter movement by carrying the message on their shirts. We, too, can have ‘enough is enough’ on our jerseys to say we are concerned about gender-based violence. For me, that would be a perfect message if the PSL teams were to add their voice to the #NoToGBV campaign.
As you wind down your career, do you think you have achieved all of your goal?
I am satisfied, but I still believe I could have been at another level. But I appreciate that, as a young boy from Gugulethu township in Cape Town, I never dreamt of playing in the PSL, let alone in Europe. I shared the dressing room in Belgium with top players like Kevin De Bruyne [Manchester City midfielder] and Thibaut Courtois [Real Madrid goalkeeper].
I played in the Uefa Champions and Europa Leagues; won many trophies in my nine years with Genk in Belgium; and played in the Fifa World Cup in my own country.
I had offers in Turkey and Portugal, but I was too relaxed in my comfort zone in Belgium. I look at Kevin, who was under my guidance when he was promoted from our reserve side, and Courtois; they made a name for themselves at Man City and Chelsea, respectively. But I won’t complain. I’m still proud of what I have achieved so far, and it also helped me to remain humble and respect everyone around me.
Anele Ngcongca and Kevin De Bruyne, who is now a Manchester City star who teamed up with the Sundowns defender in Belgium a few years ago. Picture: Supplied
Did you experience any form of racism during your nine-year spell in Europe?
That thing is there; racism is alive and we can’t hide it. I have experienced it from my own coach at Genk, Peter Maes. He led to my departure at the club [in 2016]. The incident that got me upset was during preseason training when I got kicked badly on my ankle in a friendly game and he said: ‘I thought Africans were strong.’ I was like: ‘You say an African can be knocked down by a car and just stand up?’ Our fallout was a big story in the media in Belgium. Honestly, Genk were giving me good money and I did not intend to leave the club. But I had no choice because of the attitude and disrespect of this coach.
I was sent on loan to France [at Troyes AC] and when I came back, Maes was still there, but I had already made up my mind [about leaving] after a call from coach Pitso [Mosimane] who was interested in me joining Sundowns. I had also spoken to Chiefs before the call from Sundowns.
So Chiefs wanted you?
Yes, I spoke to Bobby [Motaung], but in the end I opted for a better offer. I am sorry if I let Chiefs down, but football is a business.
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As the country celebrates 10 years since South Africa hosted the World Cup, what was it like being a member of the squad then?
It was a different stage, but my experience of playing in Europe helped a lot and so did senior players at the time, such as [Steven] Pienaar and Mbazo [Aaron Mokoena]. It was one of the greatest experiences for a young player [22 then], and not many had given me a chance to make a breakthrough against experienced right backs such as Bryce Moon, but I made the final 23-man squad. I could also manage the stage because some of the opponents were the same players I had played against in Europe before.
The number of games you’ve played – 29 in all competitions – suggests that you have overcome an injury-ravaged spell from the last three seasons.
It was difficult because I injured my knee in training after joining Sundowns [in 2016] and had to undergo an operation. But I accept that injuries are part of the game.
I am lucky to be surrounded by a sound medical team at Sundowns – from our physios, Sakhi Ngwevela and Godfrey [Sepuru], to the team doctors – who have helped me a lot. Also, I have made sure that I look after myself on and off the field. The difficulty for any injured player is that they must work harder than a fit player to prove fitness and ultimately fight for a place in the team.
Do you think a treble is possible for Sundowns as the team is still in with a chance in the chase for the league and the Nedbank Cup crowns?
It is possible because the good thing is we are well rested this time.
And there are no excuses for why we can’t challenge for all the remaining trophies.
We also have the best supporters, who we must repay because they have been good to us.
When do you plan to retire and have you saved up enough to sustain you beyond your playing days?
I still have three years to play. I am 32 and still passionate about the game, while my legs still allow me to go. In terms of financial security, I am fortunate to have played in a league like Belgium, where they have a pension fund scheme for players, so it is compulsory to save a portion of your salary.
You can access it only once you are 35 or have stopped playing.
It’s something that I wish South African football would implement.
Interestingly, I was in touch with my former club Genk this week and I also got to check the balance of my fund.
People are too careful when it comes to conversations about money, but I can tell you that I have €1.2 million [R23 million] to secure my family’s future.
The people in Belgium still want me to return one day and give back to my former club.