Sundowns’ Caf winner Onyango reaping rewards after the tough years

Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Denis Onyango holds his Caf award trophy surrounded by his technical team.
Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Denis Onyango holds his Caf award trophy surrounded by his technical team.
Image: Mamelodi Sundowns/Twitter

Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Denis Onyango says he is reaping the rewards in his profitable years having suffered the lean years‚ after being selected for a second time this week to the Confederation of African (Caf) Football’s Africa Best XI.

Onyango was the only African-based player chosen for the Best XI for 2018 at the Caf Awards in Dakar‚ Senegal. He rubbed shoulders receiving his award with fellow selections including the Liverpool pair of Mohamed Salah‚ who won Caf Footballer of the Year‚ and Sadio Mane.

The Downs goalkeeper‚ also the talisman of Uganda’s revival‚ has had his years of struggle.

Before becoming a star of Sundowns’ 2016 Caf Champions League victory‚ making Caf’s Best XI that year and winning Local-based Player of the Year‚ Onyango had played second fiddle and struggled for game time at a string of Premier Soccer League clubs.

Mamelodi Sundowns Ugandan goalkeeper Denis Onyango.
Mamelodi Sundowns Ugandan goalkeeper Denis Onyango.
Image: Mamelodi Sundowns/Twitter

He uses that period as a motivation.

“Definitely‚ I look back at how things were not going well for me for a few years‚ and I take every opportunity now‚” the big‚ affable 33-year-old said.

“Because it’s very difficult to stay on your game year after year. But I’ve tried to focus on my career because I know how it feels when you’re not playing‚ and staying out of the game for a year or two years without game time.

“I had some years where things were not going well. But when I play now I take it with both hands‚ and it drives me every day.”

Onyango was second in the pecking order to Andre Arendse arriving in South Africa in the third season of SuperSport United's three successive PSL titles from 2008 to 2010.

He played just two cup games‚ and no league matches‚ for Sundowns in 2012-13. He earned only four league appearances at Bidvest Wits on loan in 2013-14.

His second Caf Best XI selection has confirmed the Ugandan‚ who helped steer the Cranes to a first Africa Cup of Nations finals in 38 years at Gabon 2017‚ as one of the most respected goalkeepers on the continent.

“Of course it means a lot to me‚ and to the club‚ as well as to the national team‚” the Downs man said.

“It’s an honour to be part of this history. And it gives me more motivation as a goalkeeper to work hard because you don’t know who’s watching‚ and people recognise you when you perform.”

Sundowns meet Nigeria’s Lobi Stars in their first group stage game of the 2018-19 Champions League at Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu on Friday night (kickoff 6pm SA time).

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