South African footballers are still considered as very skillful and rare to international football, very few of them ever get the opportunity to ply their trade aboard. However Lebogang Phiri has grabbed the opportunities presented to him the by horns and sees that there is a bright future for South African players aboard.
SAFA Media’s Namhla Mphelo took some time to speak to Lebogang as the National u23 Men’s teams continues with their preparations for the 8 Nations Tournament scheduled for 28 November -18 December 2015 in Senegal.
NM: Lebogang thank you for time, firstly give me a brief background on yourself and how you started playing football?
LP: I actually can’t remember at what age I started playing but I became serious about football at Balfour Park football club at the age 10 years, I grew up in Alexandra playing in the dusty streets like any typical child and Coach Mocks always said I was something special. I played at Balfour for about 3 years until Coach Lee Chalmers asked me to join his apprentice called Shooting Stars in which I played in for a year. We competed in a lot of tournaments which made Bidvest Wits interested in me. This was in 2009 where I played at Bidvest Wits Academy under Coach Makhanya, at that time Bidvest Wits had a partnership with Brondby where a small number of us would go participate in tournaments there and a few of us were chosen to stay at Brondby for a couple of months to train with the team, and the rest is history.
NM: You play in the Danish league for Brondby IF F.C how is life in Denmark and how different is the football there compared to back home?
LP: The football in Denmark is much more physical than back home, there aren’t as many skillful players out there and therefore the league is a bit more tactical and technical. The lifestyle there is less political than back home, there aren’t many issues between people. The language there is something else, when I first got there I thought Danish was similar to Afrikaans but to my surprise the language is in its own league similar to Swedish, and the weather *sighs* is horrible “its like Cape Town seven times worse”, but I’m a survivor.
NM: You must be happy to be amongst South Africans at the moment even though you aren’t in South Africa, you gelled with Masuku, Dolly, S.Ntshangase and Mothiba as though you have been playing together for years, how are you finding this team?
LP: It is an honour to be here, a call up to the national team is priceless. Playing alongside the likes of Dolly, Masuku, S. Ntshangase, Mngonyama and Mothiba makes football so much more easier and fun, they make me look *laughs*world class. The communication too is wonderful because we speak the same language whether Zulu or Sotho but I don’t have to first translate what they want, it comes naturally. I enjoyed the combination play which is rare in Europe, the running with the ball and quick one twos, I enjoyed playing the old South African “Shoe shine and piano”.
NM: What is your favourite South African club and international club and why?
LP: Up the Bucs *giggles*, Ive always been a fan of Orlando Pirates, ‘Duku Duku Makhaya, the late Gift Leremi, Cheeseboy Mokoena and Tso Vilakazi made football look so easy, wow those were the days. Their skill and technique was world class and those are some of the players that inspired me to be where I am today. Internationally I have always been a Liverpool fan, yes over the years they have not been having a good run but my blood is red.
NM: As a South African who do you look up too and why?
LP: My father, any day!; and Coach Ashley Makhanya. I respect them for the men they are, it is because of them that I am the man I am today. They have always been my biggest critics and fans; without their presence in my life I think I could have fallen to back ways because growing up in a place like Alex isn’t easy if your foundation isn’t laid correctly.
NM: In your opinion do you think more South African players should play abroad and why?
LP: Most definitely, we have the potential to achieve overseas. South Africans are gifted with technical ability that world football needs, so I would firmly advise every youngster to make use of the opportunities offered to them. Yes it is tough out there in Europe the game is more physical then the build of South African players but we have the mental strength to make up for where we lack in physic.
NM: Lastly, what are your future plans with regards to football?
LP: I want to part of this u23 squad that qualifies for the 2016 Rio Olympics, this would be a great stepping stone for our local football as it has been 15 years since we last participated in the Olympic Games. I would also like to have more Bafana Bafana call ups, even though my cub didn’t release me the last time, I hope that the coaches still consider my abilities for the future. As far as my club career goes I would like to help my club Brondby to win some accolades and once that box is ticked off I would love to move to a bigger league in Europe, and go one to be Mzansi’s best ever exports.
NM: Thank you for your time and good luck for the future, we are glad to have youngsters like you in our football.