The national lockdown to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus came at the right time for Polokwane City, who were going through a rough patch before the PSL matches were indefinitely postponed in the middle of March.
City captain Jabu Maluleke believes the team will come back with a renewed sense of energy to complete the season on a high note and avoid relegation.
City are 14th on the Absa Premiership table and in danger of going down to the GladAfrica Championship, but Maluleke said that won’t be the case as they will make sure they win the remaining six games to survive.
The 38-year-old veteran midfielder said the lockdown was a blessing in disguise for the team as it gave them a chance to regroup and come back stronger.
Like most clubs, City have been conducting their training sessions through the Zoom Video Communications platform. Maluleke confessed that he, like many others, had not heard of Zoom before the lockdown was enforced.
“We learn every day in this life,” he said with a chuckle. “I never knew anything about Zoom until now, but I’m not complaining. It has added to my vocabulary and we have all embraced it. It’s technology.”
But he was quick to point out that the national lockdown was too demanding on players and they have to remain disciplined to succeed: “You need to be focused because you can’t miss a minute of training because of this or that [excuse]. You know that, at that particular time, you must be ready for training because everybody else is ready wherever they are.
“But I must say it has taught us a lot, and big ups to the guys who have all come to the party.”
If anything, said the player who was born in Chiawelo, Soweto, the lockdown has brought the players closer together.
“We talk often in this time, and try to motivate each other by keeping the spirits high. It has not been easy because we are not used to training far away from each other, but this virus has brought us together. We talk all the time as players, making up for the distance. We can’t wait to be back [on the training ground] to put what we have been doing individually to the test.”
Battle for survival
He was adamant the team would not be fighting for survival when the league resumes.
“I don’t want to reflect on what happened in the past, but rather look forward to what is ahead of us. We started well, but went through a rough patch, however, it is something that happens in football.”
Personally, the lockdown-enforced break has helped him to recharge his batteries, he said.
Maluleke has been used sparingly this season by coach Clinton Larsen to preserve his energy for when he is needed in important matches. He has no qualms about that as he understands the coach’s thinking.
He said he has been in the game for far too long to question a coach’s decisions.
“I can’t be selfish to expect to play every game and sulk when I’m not playing. I must show leadership by encouraging those who are not playing. We are one team and, whether you are on the field or not, we are one. What matters are the results. As long as the team does well, I won’t have a problem.
“My job is to lead on and off the field, motivate the players and bring unity in the team. I can’t be the one pulling away from the rest,” Maluleke said.
He said the good thing about Larsen was that he explained his decisions to all the players: “Even those on the field know why they have been chosen for that particular game and this has brought us even closer. He keeps us on our toes, and that makes us even hungrier for action and when you get action, you are fired up.”
What really keeps Maluleke going at 38?
“Hunger and the desire I have to play the game,” he said matter-of-factly. I’m not driven by money, but by passion. I love what I’m doing and I’m doing what I love. I’ve learnt through the years to know that if you enjoy what you are doing, you tend to be happy and that drives you to want more.
“I cherish being on the field of play. Every day when I wake, up I look forward to doing what I love. Football is my first love and my everything. And as long as I still have that hunger to face new challenges, I will keep on playing.”
Although he has no plans to hang up his boots anytime soon, he said he was already thinking about life after football – with a few projects already in the pipeline.
“I know I won’t play forever, hence I am working on few other things outside football,” he said.
Many youngsters could learn one or two things from Maluleke, who said dedication, discipline and respect are key to any player’s success.
“First of all, respect is earned. This is what I always tell youngsters – hard work, discipline and dedication will earn them the respect of others. The other thing is that they must not focus on money a lot; it will destroy their careers.
“I know most of them want instant success and see football as a way of making a quick buck, but they end up nowhere because they are putting money ahead of everything else.
“Football is a funny game and most things happen unexpectedly in life. If you focus on money, you won’t focus on playing, and that hunger won’t be there to keep you going. For me, it’s about putting a good shift in first and the money will follow because of the hard work you have put in.”
Preparing for life after football
His advice to players is that they should invest in property at the beginning of their careers. “Imagine where we’d be if we had all bought properties when we started? Every month end, you’d know you are working towards repaying the bond and that would keep you going because you have a goal in life.”
But, he said, it all starts with good behaviour.