MONDLI Cele, who died in a car accident recently, will be Maritzburg United’s 12th man for the rest of the season. These were the words of defender John Paintsil, who was speaking on behalf of the team at Cele’s memorial service at Life Bible Church last Thursday.
Paintsil paid tribute to his teammate, describing him as a hard worker who “carried the team on his shoulders when the chips were down”. This was the case, as Cele opened the scoring in their last two games against Gauteng giants SuperSport United and Orlando Pirates.
“At the beginning of the year, he carried the team on his shoulders and played as a leader. He was somebody you would never hear argue with anyone in training. You could kick 10 times, a million times, he would get up and continue. He would never complain. The way he trained was the way he played … we have lost somebody that was very important to us. We believe and trust that from now, wherever we will be and any game we play, we know we are going to be 12 men on the field because his spirit will be with us,” the former West Ham United defender said.
Among those in attendance at the service was former coach Steve Komphela, who gave Cele his break in the big league when he plucked him from relative obscurity and shoved him into the limelight that eventually saw him earn a call-up to the national team.
Now the head coach of Kaizer Chiefs, and representing his employers, Komphela attempted once more to inspire his former players just as he had when the club achieved its highest ever league finish of eighth place last season.
He called on the United squad to use the tragedy as a unifying factor, and dedicate every game they play from now until the end of the season to their departed team-mate.
“I watched the game against Pirates. There was intensity, and each time you broke, he was there. And I’m sure in the next team sheet, you would not have thought twice,” Komphela said to Ernst Middendorp, tasked with lifting the club out of the relegation zone.
Representing the league, PSL chief operations officer Professor Ronnie Schloss reminded the gathering that it was not so long ago he was attending a service for Ajax Cape Town’s Cecil Lolo, who also died in a car accident in October 2015.
Cele was buried in Mkhomazi on Saturday after a funeral service at Durban’s Folweni sportsground.