In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes tend to be anonymous! In football, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero.
Such is the dilemma of the development coach – working tirelessly in the township, in an unglamorous and unpublicised job!
It, therefore, comes as no surprise that an array of PSL stars have all passed through the hands of little-known Tembisa Sports Centre custodian Mateo Mahwayi.
From the Sundowns duo of Tiyani Mabunda and George Maluleka, ex-Jomo Cosmos star Themba Tshabalala, SuperSport United’s Siyabonga Nhlapho, Chippa United’s Boikanyo Komane, Tsietsi Mahoa, who had stints with Bidvest Wits and SuperSport, Mpho Maruping of Royal Eagles and the retired Raymond Monama – who played for Ajax Cape Town, Platinum Stars, Polokwane City and Mamelodi Sundowns – the list goes on and on. Mahwayi has had a hand in their development.
In fact, when asked about some of the recognised players he has produced, the self-effacing coach is conservative with the information until his prodigy Tshabalala steps in. The former Jomo Cosmos star is convinced the man who shaped his talent is underrated.
“A lot of us came through Mateo. I started with him while I was a youngster in school. Guys like Gladwin Shitolo, Bafana Kali, Rhulani Manzini and Gerald Modabi are also his products. He has an eye for talent and he’s passionate about the game,” Tshabalala says without flinching.
The incessant rise of Tembisa Sport Centre in the last 6 years has been nothing short of phenomenal. The team started off in Tembisa’s promotional league in 2014, before moving to the SAB League in 2015. And then the ABC Motsepe League in 2017. The average age is 21 with just five players aged over 23 in the side.
Mateo Mahwayi’s big goal
“I want to build this team to get into the PSL in the next few years. And I know it’s very much possible,” Mahwayi tells FARPost with visible conviction.
But if it was according to his parents, Mahwayi would be under cars, clad in a greasy work-suit fixing people’s cars somewhere in industrial Kempton Park.
Like any other boy growing in the township, Mahwayi juggled his school books with street football.
But his parents were quite strict and wouldn’t let him focus on football immediately when he was done with secondary school.
Coerced to please them, he picked a mechanical engineering course at Kempton Park College, now Ekurhuleni West Technical, Vocational, Education and Training College (EWC).
“To be honest, I did the course just to please my parents. But what I really wanted was football,” he confesses.
By age 21, he had attained a mechanical engineering qualification up to N6, the equivalent of a Diploma. That qualification could easily land him a job as a mechanic just like his dad.
But Mahwayi had other plans. His next step was inspired by the young boys he saw roaming around aimlessly in his Tembisa neighbourhood, north of Kempton Park on the East Rand.
The fire within him burst into flames as he thought of what could possibly happen if the talents in these boys he saw weren’t harnessed. Some would easily end up in jail, some would end up hooked on drugs while some would be condemned to joblessness and subsequently poverty.
‘I WAS NOT GOOD ENOUGH AS A PLAYER’
“My father is a mechanic and naturally I was expected to go the same route. But my passion lies in football, which my family eventually got to understand,” Mateo Mahwayi adds.
However, at 21, only armed with amateur stints at Peacemakers, a team he joined at 11. And Happy Boys four years later, he felt “at 21 it was too late to play professionally”. A good three years had been ‘wasted’ on the mechanical engineering course.
Of course, 21 isn’t too late per se and Tumelo Mogale is sheer testimony after making his PSL debut at 32.
But for Mahwayi, he is honest that he never thought he was good enough to make it in the PSL as a centre-back.
Nonetheless, he believed he could help groom someone and get them ready for topflight action in years to come. Such was the vision.
“I was an ordinary player and I wasn’t gonna make it. So I had to focus on helping youngsters. I knew to analyse opponents and motivate others,” he says.
And, as they say, where there’s vision, provision follows.
“I met the owner of a butchery called Monaledi & Sons and he offered us financial assistance on condition that we’d name the team after his butchery,” says the 39-year-old.
At that point he had the blessing of his parents after it became apparent that diski was an indispensable part of his life.
“The first group of boys had the likes of Cavann Sibeko, who went on to play for Orlando Pirates and SuperSport and Tsietsi Mahoa, who later played for Bloemfontein Celtic. If I remember well the year was 2000,” says Mahwayi.
In 2006, he worked with former Orlando Pirates duo of Helman Mkhalele and Jerry Skhosana in a scouting programme bankrolled by mining giant De Beers.
“It was an awesome 3 years, I learnt quite a lot working with them as we travelled all over the country looking for players – Gauteng, Northern Cape, Limpopo and Free State. That’s where we discovered Siyabonga Nhlapho in Soweto,” he recalls with joy.
Besides unearthing talent, Mkhalele, better known as Midnight Express, affirmed him for his eye for talent and encouraged him to do coaching courses.
“He had an impact on me. Because of him I then went and did my Caf B, C and D-Licences. I’m now aiming for a Caf A Licence,” he says.
The former Bafana Bafana midfielder, Mkhalele, believes Mahwayi is a living example that you don’t need to have a big name to change people’s lives.
Helman Mkhalele’s IMPACT ON Mateo Mahwayi
“He’s driven by passion; it’s quite encouraging to see what he’s doing. Sadly, some people have taken advantage of him. Despite that he has continued to do what he loves,” says Mkhalele, who was part of Bafana’s France ’98 squad.
Highlands Park co-owner Sinky Mnisi is also aware of the work Mahwayi continues to do and believes it’s key for the corporate sector to partner people like him. Sadly, Mnisi has also noted that clubs that get players from him never compensate him.
“The most important thing is he needs companies to come on board and partner with him financially. The development of a player is the costliest. He can easily run a proper academy,” says Mnisi, whose club was once home to Nhlapho.
After three years of scouting for talent in the De Beers programme, he shifted his focus to Tembisa Sports Centre. At Tembisa, he continues to be a conveyor belt for talent.
Interestingly, although he has never benefited from the boys he has produced. H says his utmost desire has always been to see his prodigies go on to live better lives because of football.
“The most important thing has always been the welfare of these boys and just seeing them change their lives. It’s never been about making a killing out of them. But with the direction we’re taking we’d love to see clubs who get players from us compensate us so that we can run the club smoothly,” says Mahwayi, whose club receives a R70 000 grant from the Ekurhuleni Municipality. The funds are used across all structures that include an Under 11, 13,15, 17, 19 and senior team.
He remembers a 12-year-old Maluleka coming through for tournaments some 19 years ago.
“George Maluleka would come when we were playing tournaments from the age of 12 until he was 17 when he signed for Tuks. It gives us joy to see the way he has risen to become one of the most sought-after players in local football,” he says.
And Monama recalls how the revered coach almost missed out on Mabunda’s talent some 13 years ago.
“I was good friends with Tiyani. And I asked him to come and join us for the Phillys Games,” he says.
Mahwayi adds: “I couldn’t risk playing a guy I was seeing for the first time.
“So I left him out of the team until after the tournament when he came for training. I realised I’d made a mistake by leaving him out. Look at where he is now.”
Mabunda was registered with Tembisa Sports Centre while studying at TUT before being snapped up by Black Leopards.
Of course, being associated with the development of stars like Mabunda and Maluleka gives him joy. But he singles out Moroka Swallows’ central midfielder Brian Senwamadi’s football pathway as the closest to his heart. He met the pint-sized linkman when he was 10 and recalls how many wrote him off.
“The boy was tiny, but he was so brave. He started off as a striker. But I converted him to a winger before I moved him to number 10,” says Mateo Mahwayi.
His mechanical engineering certificate remains tucked in an envelope at home. Still as new as it was when he received it. He has no intention to make use of it. His heart is only in one place, and that is football development.