Growing up Siyabonga Ligendza had this incredible attachment with his paternal grandmother. Understandably so, after his birth in Leicester, in the East Midlands, England, he returned to stay in Pretoria with his granny for just a year.
Of course he was young then, but that connection never died down even when he lived the next 18 years away from her. In fact, it has made the heart fonder, he says.
And so, in 2021 when the teenager was called up to come and be part of a provisional team that would do battle for South Africa at the Tokyo Olympics, he was elated. It was the third time the youngster was coming to South Africa, the last time being five years ago.
Mind you, England had been tracking him, Wales knew about him while Germany – his dad’s home country – were potentially a national team he could represent.
The lanky forward has previously played for the Wales Under 18 national team before. And the fact that one of the biggest clubs in the tiny nation bordered by England to the east, the Irish Sea to the north and west offered him a two year extension barely three months after signing his first professional contract says he should be a priceless gem at least in their eyes. Not just for now, but for the long haul!
Anyone who has watched him in action would testify that the boy has the world at his feet. He has the knack of scoring goals – both ordinary and extraordinary. He just knows where the net is. Deadly in and around the box, pacey, skilful and technically gifted are all attributes he holds.
The boy also has the necessary physique and that predatory instinct in the box. It’s tonnes of potential, no doubt.
With all the promise and opportunities to play for teams abroad Ligendza chose to don the Bafana Bafana jersey. For one simple reason – his grandmother.
As he set out to Johannesburg early in May 2021, it was the beginning of a new journey – one filled with so much hope and fulfilment.
Even having to pay for his own flights was no big deal. But just days into his visit to South Africa, a crude tackle left him with a broken left foot. A player invited for the national team shouldn’t have been training with trialists at AmaTuks. Nonetheless, the worst had happened. A rude awakening awaited the teenage sensation.
That injury, which cost his club R100000 to fix, would keep him on the sidelines for a good six months. His hosts, by extension of course – South African Football Association [Safa] – were nowhere to be seen.
“They put metal to align the bones. I’m told orthopaedic surgeon who helped Siya has helped a lot of top footballers in South Africa,” Mama Evelyn told FARPost.
The boy admits the journey back to fitness was a steep one. “It wasn’t easy……,” he admits in a telephonic interview from his Wales base with FARPost. Perhaps what made it even more difficult was the neglect from Safa. And the fact that he would not get a chance to show the Under 23 coaches what he is capable of.
Maybe like Manchester United’s Garnacho he was going to get a chance to represent his national team before his club senior team debut. Who knows?
The injury set him back significantly. While the leg and his heart were broken, both were mending as he sat it out on the sidelines.
“I decided to come and play for South Africa because I want to do it for my grandmother,” the well-spoken teenager tells FARPost.
“As I grew up, my grandmother has always been a huge inspiration for me and that’s the only thing I really want to do for her and play for my country one day.”
Once beaten twice shy, so goes the old adage. Ligendza says he will be open to coming should Safa show that they want to do the right things.
After all, a run out in Bafana colours may just be the ideal opportunity for granny to watch her boy. “My grandmother has never watched me play football. She probably thinks I just play on the streets, she doesn’t know I do it professionally.
“My heart would be glad for her to see me in Bafana Bafana colours one day,” he says. Granny, who lives in Makapanstad, doesn’t know her grandson is on the verge of breaking into The Bluebirds first team.
Maybe she’s still stuck up with Siya – the street dancer. But the boy has long evolved into a prolific striker responsible for 51 goals in three seasons at different age groups.
He came into the limelight when he emerged as the top goal scorer in the 2019/20 season at Under 16 level after netting an impressive 24 goals before being promoted to the Under 18 side and subsequently the Under 23s.
“Siya used to be a street dancer, he loved dancing and was good at it,” his mom says as she bursts into laughter.
For a moment, it sounds like a joke, but she is dead serious. Ligendza chips in to explain the dramatic transition from busting a groove on the street to notching goals on the football pitch.
With their move to Swansea, a soccer crazed town, a flirtation with football was just inevitable. ”I enjoyed my dancing but my friends would often invite me for football. So one day I gave in.
“When I was young, my mom and I were always late for everything, so we turned up at half time and we were losing 4-0. I scored six goals and we won the game. That’s how Cardiff saw me,” explains the former Wales youth international.
Thereafter, what was meant to be a six-week trial, ended at just 14 days after they were convinced he was a talent for keeps.
He has been at the Skybet Championship club for the past 10 years and now looks forward to gaining promotion to the senior team.”I want to be playing for the senior team by the end of this season,” he boldly declares.
With such determination, the sky won’t even be the limit!