A football god. Class and humility!
Local football stakeholders scrambled for the right word combination to pay homage to Reneilwe “Yeye” Letsholonyane after the 39-year-old announced on Thursday that he had officially retired from the game he had served at the highest level for nearly two decades.
Letsholonyane was among a handful of the remaining class of the 2010 Fifa World Cup who were still actively involved in the professional ranks alongside Morgan Gould (Sekhukhune United) and Bongani Khumalo (SuperSport United), as well as Siphiwe Tshabalala and Tsepo Masilela (both AmaZulu).
Letsholonyane, who was until recently on the books of TS Galaxy, announced via his social media accounts that he had hung up his boots. In grand style, Yeye is literally seen tossing a pair of boots away at the end of the minute-long farewell video that captures his journey. A class act to signal the end of an era.
His departure from the professional scene has triggered an overwhelming reaction from his colleagues – current and yesteryear stars – right through to administrators, coaches, journalists and the fans.
The well-wishers hailed Yeye as the true legend and the ambassador of the game.
“Modimo wa Bolo [football god],” reacted Mamelodi Sundowns senior coach Steve Komphela on Letsholonyane’s Twitter timeline.
“Class and humble!” offered South African women’s football pioneer Fran Hilton-Smith.
“If there’s one person I’d bring back, it’s definitely you... Watching you was like watching Xavi... Simple football! You’re a true legend, my brother,” wrote Cellular Maake, the son of Kaizer Chiefs superfan Freddy “Saddam” Maake.
Cellular was referring to the Spain and Barcelona legend Xavier Hernández.
Defender Gould, who was Letsholonyane’s team-mate at both Bafana Bafana and Chiefs, wrote on Yeye’s Instagram timeline: “You have done it all and won it all too…in your words…inspire before you expire…”
Another former national team-mate, Teko Modise, also paid tribute to his hometown legend, who was born in White City Jabavu and raised in Meadowlands in Soweto.
“Thanks for your contribution to this beautiful thing we call football. Forced me to step up my game at 15 years old. Enjoyed all the midfield battle we had all those years... Bona o legend son,” wrote Modise on the Insta timeline of the video that attracted over 70 000 views a few hours after Yeye had posted it.
Accomplished Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder Hlompho Kekana said:
“May the next chapter be as memorable as the last one. Have enjoyed our battles through the years, [and you] helped me grow as a player.”
Orlando Pirates icon from yesteryear, Tebogo Moloi, dubbed Letsholonyane “GOAT”, an abbreviation for Greatest Of All Time, which is normally associated with sports stars.
Letsholonyane – who came to prominence with amateur side PJ Stars in the early 2000s – racked up more than 300 appearances in South Africa’s top-flight football across stints at Jomo Cosmos, Chiefs, SuperSport United, Highlands Park and TS Galaxy.
He won two league titles with Chiefs, while his medal haul also includes the MTN8, Telkom Knockout and the Nedbank Cup.
Yeye earned more than 50 caps for Bafana.
Letsholonyane is currently doing roadshows as one of the ambassadors of the Carling Cup in the build-up to the popular off-season tournament featuring Chiefs and Pirates.
In an interview with regional Limpopo radio station Energy FM this week, Yeye revealed that he had completed a SAFA CAF C Licence coaching course. He explained, however, that the move was not necessarily a confirmation that he would venture into coaching.
“I am now left with about two to three months to complete my Scottish UEFA B Licence. For me, it should be a norm, whether you are going to be a coach or not. The point is, you are equipping yourself,” he explained, while elaborating that players can enrol for coaching courses while they are still active. “In Europe, these things are encouraged.”