Mahlambi takes 2016 Olympic Games disappointment in his stride and sets sights on Tokyo 2020

BidVest Wits attacking Phakamani Mahlambi. Picture credits: Gallo Images
BidVest Wits attacking Phakamani Mahlambi. Picture credits: Gallo Images

Phakamani Mahlambi is philosophical about missing out on the Olympics in Brazil in August‚ saying he’s obviously disappointed but also aware he will still be young enough to qualify for the next Games in Tokyo in 2020.

Bidvest Wits’ 18-year-old striking prodigy‚ the club’s Young Player of the Season for 2015-16‚ will still only be 22 in 2020 and young enough to qualify for the Olympic men’s football tournament’s under-23 ruling.

Mahlambi played a key role in the South African Under-23s’ qualification for Rio 2016‚ his raw pace and devastating skills creating problems even if the young striker was unable to get on the scoresheet as Owen da Gama’s team finished third at the Caf U-23 Africa Cup of Nations in December.

But the Wits starlet picked up every footballer’s dreaded injury‚ to his anterior cruciate ligament‚ in February that School of Excellence product Mahlambi says could keep him out until November.

“I was disappointed but for now I’ve accepted that I’m not going to the Olympics. I’m looking ahead at the moment at doing my rehab and coming back even stronger‚” Mahlambi said.

“I have to heal properly before I try to play. I don’t want to try to force it‚ then get injured again and have to go through the rehab again.

“I think I’ll only back well into next season. I still have six months to go to be fully ready to play.

“It was going to be a great opportunity for me to go to the Olympics. Now I’ve lost it.

“But at my age I can still qualify for the next Olympics. I’m happy to sit back and wait for those four years.”

Such a lengthy injury for a player so young‚ at a crucial formative stage of his career‚ could be viewed as a major setback. But Mahlambi sees the positive side of his situation‚ choosing to highlight that he has time on his side.

“I think I’m the luckiest person because some of my team-mates have been through this injury. Sibusiso Vilakazi had it‚” Mahlambi said.

“He told me that it’s something that usually can happen at some stage in football. He told me just to look forward and be positive – that’s all.”

Mahlambi’s injury might well have scuppered his chances of a move overseas in the current off-season‚ where clubs from Germany and Portugal are reported to have shown an interest in the forward.

“I’ve been told there have been offers‚ but my team has never informed me about any offers. I hope they’ll tell me soon‚” the player said.

Mahlambi was spotted playing amateur football in his home town of Vryheid in northern KwaZulu-Natal in 2011 and recruited to Safa’s School of Excellence in Johannesburg.

He joined Wits’ U-19s at the beginning of this year‚ but was promoted to the senior team by coach Gavin Hunt within six months.