Chabangu reveals his softer side

Lerato Chabangu, the Mamelodi Sundowns goal ace, is a contradiction.

Lerato Chabangu, the Mamelodi Sundowns goal ace, is a contradiction.

On the field, Chabangu is quick, expressive and energetic. Not to mention the wild, exuberant, hip-shaking goal celebrations for his club. Off the field, Lerato is calm, soft-spoken and swears he does not party quite as hard as people make out.

The player has been criticised in the media for holding on to the ball too long and for a lack of vision sometimes, but also praised for his pace, work rate and the spectacular goals he scores. As a member of national coach Carlos Alberto Parreira's Africa Cup of Nations squad, Chabangu made time to chat to Sowetan about himself.

Linda Moreotsene (LM): Most soccer lovers started to know you when you played for the SuperSport United Academy. Tell us about your journey before all that.

Lerato Chabangu (LC): Well, my brother Fanankie was the first person I was close to who was passionate about the game. He used to play for Tembisa Classic and Spartak, and I learnt a lot from him. While playing in Kempton Park one day, I was spotted by Sam Maluleke, who took me to the SuperSport United Academy where I worked with the likes of Steve Haupt, before moving over to University of Pretoria (Tuks) in 2001. I stayed there for three years until I moved to Sundowns.

LM: Why Downs?

LC: Because they showed a real interest, and were in agreement with my representatives on most things. In any case, it was the right time for me to move.

LM: Before you got to this level in the game, did you set yourself any goals?

LC: I did set myself targets - I had dreams. I have achieved some of them, and some, like the Beijing Olympics, have gone up in smoke. Other than that, I think I have made the most of the chances I got. Being chosen to play at the Afcon is one of the highlights of my career, obviously.

LM: In hindsight, was the Olympics campaign a complete waste of time?

LC: I don't think so. It was disappointing, but the senior side now has five players from that team: myself, Bryce Moon, Excellent Walaza, Lance Davids and Tsepo Masilela. So it was not a pointless exercise at all.

LM: Why do you think the coach picked you?

LC: My game has gotten better. At the beginning I struggled and I didn't play because of knee and foot injuries. I have since recovered and worked very hard to develop the aspects of my game that needed it, something that I continue to do every day.

LM: I don't mean to undermine our players, but our team to Ghana does not boast many players in the world's top leagues, like Nigeria and Cameroon do, for example. How will that affect us?

LC: You see, Sister, we are all soccer players at the end of the day, regardless of where you are plying your trade. They are not superior just because of where they play. I think that our coach has to make do with the material at his disposal. Secondly, the players also want to be successful. They know what they want, and appreciate how lucky they are to have been given this opportunity. Those other African players have their strengths, and so do we.

LM: How far do we think we can go? How can we prevent what happened in Egypt from happening again?

LC: Personally, I want us to make the finals. We learnt some hard lessons in 2006, and I'm confident we won't see a repeat of that any time soon. The unknown players have a point to prove, especially since some people have said we are only capable of winning the Cosafa Cup, but not a tournament like Afcon.

LM: Which has been your best season so far at Sundowns?

LC: My first season at Sundowns was incredible. In my first year at the top, I managed to break into the first team without struggling too much. Also, the years that we have won the league championship also rate up there.

LM: You will have your club teammates Benson Mhlongo, Vuyo Mere and Surprise Moriri in the national team. Does that help?

LC: Having my friends there helps in things like communication and also reduces fear of the unknown to some extent. We know each other well, and I'm happy they are there with me.

LM: Just how much do you party, because you have quite a reputation?

LC: Like anyone my age, I love parties. But every time some people coincidentally see me having a good time, the timing, in their opinion, is all wrong. I do know when, with who and how to have fun, though.

LM: You announced you will be a father soon. Are you nervous?

LC: The baby is due any time soon. I am looking forward to being a responsible father. It's a huge step, but I can handle it.