He was hoping this would be his chance to really live up to his name.
His time at Orlando Pirates would show that Brilliant suits him perfectly. But Nhlanhla Brilliant Khuzwayo never realised his dream. It ended before it even began with him running out for Pirates only once.
He’s accepted his fate after an ankle injury ended his dream of achieving great glory with the Buccaneers. At the age of 29 he’s hung up his boots because he can’t play at the level he needs to.
It was the toughest decision of his life to give up playing but it needed to be done, he tells DRUM. He’d been for countless consultations with specialists, but he’s now developed arthritis in his ankle.
There’s no treatment he hasn’t tried, he says. “But once you have arthritis it’s very difficult to compete on an elite level of football.”
Injuries are a part of the game and he knows this, having played with them be - fore. “But it becomes a problem when the injury becomes severe. I have a knee in - jury that is not troubling me.
I used to have a shoulder injury which had moderate pain levels. “Every athlete has some sort of pain but as long as it is moderate you can play with it.
“I cannot play anymore because my ankle problem is severe. The Umlazi-born goalkeeper, who began his football career with the AmaZulu FC development side as a teen, was ecstatic when Amabhakabhaka signed him in June last year.
“Destiny has brought me back to Pirates. I am grateful for that,” he said at the time, adding that his mission was “to take Pirates to the next level”. The memory of his old friend, the late Senzo Meyiwa – who was also from Umlazi and who had been the Buccaneers goalkeeper at the time of his death in 2014 – inspired Brilliant to make the move from Kaizer Chiefs.
Like many professional athletes Brilliant has had his share of injuries, but his knee and shoulder problems didn’t keep him off the pitch.
Yet an ankle fracture, the result of an injury during training, saw him spending time on the bench. He went under the knife for it in August last year then kept on training, determined to fulfil his dream.
Fans were relieved to see him back where he belonged when Pirates beat Chippa United 2-1 in the MultiChoice Diski Challenge in January this year.
Ahead of that game he urged his followers to be patient, saying he wasn’t going to rush back into the game. But that would be the only game he’d play for the Bucs. His life has been a glorious dream for the past 10 years, he shares. Some of the moments that will forever stay with him include his international debut for Bafana Bafana in 2012, signing with Chiefs and playing for them against Pirates in the MTN 8 final at Moses Mabhida Stadium in 2014.
“That game was in Durban, my hometown. It was a game that brought a lot of emotions. In the poles was me against Senzo Meyiwa, who was also from the area. My relationship with him at the time was that of a scholar and teacher.
“He was grooming me. He used to make sure everything was in order for me back in Joburg. So at that moment it was time to see who was the best between us,” he says, chuckling. Brilliant came out tops when Chiefs beat Pirates 1-0.
He will always treasure the friendships he’s made in the football fraternity, especially those who taught him the ins and outs of the beautiful game, on and off the pitch. “I made sure when I moved to Joburg I didn’t just make friends, but brothers and family,” he says.
“Getting advice from people who have your best interests at heart makes all the difference.” He lists those closest to him, “Tsepo Masilela, Siyabonga Nkosi, Morgan Gould, Reneilwe ‘Yeye’ Letsholonyane, Itumeleng Khune and Senzo Meyiwa, to name a few.
Those guys took me under their wings. I consider Siyabonga Nkosi my brother because we come from the same area.” T HE end of his soccer career “is not the end of the world”, Brilliant says.
“I’m still part of the football fraternity. I’m just outside the pitch now. I got into football for the love of it, not because of money, so that passion is still there.
“As much as money can pay the bills, you need to follow what you love first because the day the money is no more, you will still be able to fall in love with what you do.
“I’m happy to say I’ve lived my dream and God decided that it ends here. It has been 10 years, and I’m lucky enough to have spent a decade in football and to have made an impact on people’s lives. That is all that matters to me.”
His next chapter will be finding a new path. “You cannot worry about the things which you cannot change,” he notes, sagely His back-up plan has always been soccer.
There was no plan B for him that didn’t involve the sport, he says.
“Society will always tell you to have a plan B, get a BCom degree in accounting, or something.” But there is still a place for him in football, he explains.
“You become a coach or an assistant coach, you become a technical director, you can also start your own development side, or you can become a presenter or an analyst. That is where we manoeuvre.” He’s considering training to become a coach.
“And at age 35 I can be done with my Fifa licence and I can start coaching.” He accepted his lot, he says.
“It was either I retire or I die. People could have woken up to news of my death or of my retirement, so which one is better?”
His future is not yet set but helping kids is part of it, he says, as too few footballers are being properly developed from an early age.
“There are so many rugby fields in schools compared to soccer. We don’t have a six-, seven- or eight-year-old debut player being properly developed.
We barely have players debuting at 16. Most players sign contracts in their late teens and only debut in their 20s.” He’d like to get involved with developing talent in Durban, he says.
“That is where I was born and bred. I would like to put my hand up to try to assist.”