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Lekgwathi sees potential in sensational Saleng

Former skipper has an abiding reverence for Pirates jersey

FILE IMAGE: Monnapule Saleng of Orlando Pirates during the DStv Premiership 2022/23 game between TS Galaxy and Orlando Pirates at Mbombela Stadium in Mpumalanga on 30 April 2023.
FILE IMAGE: Monnapule Saleng of Orlando Pirates during the DStv Premiership 2022/23 game between TS Galaxy and Orlando Pirates at Mbombela Stadium in Mpumalanga on 30 April 2023.
Image: Jana Kotze/BackpagePix

Lucky Lekgwathi believes that Orlando Pirates winger Monnapule Saleng has qualities to flourish overseas.

The legendary Buccaneer captain and defender, who proudly wore jersey number 14 for 14 years at the club, has dubbed Saleng the fittest player who is humble and takes advice well. 

“He can carry Pirates . I first met him in Polokwane and we took a picture together and spoke about a lot of things, but most importantly I explained to him what it means to wear that jersey number 14,” said Lekgwathi. 

“I told him the history of that number and that there are people who have worn it before and didn’t represent it properly. I also asked him what he is busy with as it was off-season that time and he told me he was doing some extra training. I further advised him to keep doing that so he can stay ahead of other players and when the season started he was so lethal and uncontrollable.” 

The 46-year-old Lekgwathi said that kind of extra training was important for him while he was a player as it turned one into a fit footballer. This is a tactic he followed when he first became a defender at Ria Stars and says he would get intensive whenever he knew the club would face Pirates. 

“I would jog from home to where we used to train, going up the mountains of Limpopo and coming back repeatedly. Come the day of the match, I would be so fit,” he remembered. 

“I started as a striker. As I used to play for a local football team, people around where I grew up [Soshanguve] used to fear me because of my skills. They knew that I was dangerous when it came to scoring goals.

“When I started playing at Real Rovers, I was turned into a defender. My coach at the time would position me as a defender. At first I refused but he kept putting me there until I started enjoying it. 

It wasn’t long after that when Pirates, the club he admits he admired and favoured because of its success on the pitch, unexpectedly came his way. 

At 24, football administrator and former club owner Ria Ledwaba had talked to Pirates chairman Irvin Khoza to have Lekgwathi sign a contract. And so he jumped in that winning team after the Premier Soccer League bought out Ria Stars for R8m to reduce the number of teams. 

“Mama Ria told me the status of the club was being sold so I should go meet up with Khoza the following day. I came with another clubmate to Joburg from Polokwane. We arrived around 7am and the chairman only came to us at 7pm but it was worth the wait. He signed us the following day. I am always grateful for that,” he explained how he joined the club.  

“My first game was against Moroka Swallows, which used to be my favourite before I decided to start supporting the Buccaneers. We beat them 5-0. I cannot stress enough how great it was at Pirates. I know the veteran, Jerry Sikhosana, always told me that I would play for a big team but I never thought it would be presented to me the way it was,” Lekgwathi said.

Just after a few games with the Soweto giants in 2008, his career was shaken when he suffered a knee injury that almost permanently took him out of the game. Doctors had delivered the bad news that he would not be able to play professional football as the injury was serious and stubborn. How, when he was supposed to be getting started?  

His mother, who taught him to believe in God and prayer, was not going let her son’s career go down the drain at such an early age.  

“My family believed in God so much that we prayed and in no time I was up and playing again. We went two days without eating and even drinking water. The injury was gone after that.   

“When Ruud Krol came in as coach he was reluctant about playing me and went to play a game without me. When they returned from their game he tried me in a friendly match and during that game he substituted other players but I played for the whole 90 minutes. After that I played for the whole season and more seasons.” 

He is one of the club’s most successful captain, winning a treble in both seasons that started in 2011 and 2012. He was voted the Gauteng sports personality of the year and a great leader in South African football.  

Besides coaching young boys from time to time, he now focuses on his clothing label, Fantastic 14 or F14. He also runs his own food joint called Grootman Restaurant, which is based in Southdale, south of Joburg. His delicious sauces and spices are now sold at selected Shoprite stores.

Lekgwathi is all about hard work after retiring smart and shows no signs of being stoppable.

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