Portugal-based midfielder Thabo Cele is the first overseas-based player to join the Burger King-sponsored South African u20 Men’s National Team in camp.
Amajita are in camp to prepare for the upcoming 2017 FIFA World Cup to be played in South Korea next month.
Cele is on the books of Premier League side Benfica FC with whom he has signed a pre-contract and will join in the new season – he currently plays for third division side Real Sport Clube de Massama in Portugal.
He spoke to SAFA Media upon arrival from Europe.
Namhla Mphelo: Thabo thank you for your time. Firstly welcome home, talk to us about how you ended up playing in Portugal at the tender age of 20 years old.
Thabo Cele: Thank you very much, it feels good to be back home. I am really happy to be here. The last nine months of my life have been pure bliss. I am overwhelmed by how much it has changed. One moment I was part of the KZN Academy last year and we participated in the U19 KZN International Tournament, the next I am selected to go to Real Sport Clube Massama for trials. Before I knew it I was chosen to play for them and I moved to Lisbon, Portugal in August, and the rest is history.
NM:You have signed a pre-contract with Benfica F.C, a huge club in Portugal. How did this happen?
TC: (smiles) Yes from next season I will officially be a Benfica F.C player and I am really looking forward to that new challenge. The deal came about unexpectedly for me – we played Benfica along with many other teams in the Premier League in practice matches, and I suppose I did something in those games that really impressed the Benfica coaching staff to such an extent that they made enquiries about me and got my signature.
NM: Congratulations are in order. Turning to the national team, you have been called up a few times to the Amajita camp, but this is the first camp you have honoured, why is that?
TC: Every player wants to represent their country, it is one of the greatest accolades to be bestowed on any footballer. While I wasn’t able to join my compatriots, my heart has always been with the boys from the first time I was called up. Unfortunately, I was new at my club and was trying to settle in at Real Sport Clube Massama and getting used to my new surroundings. Also I had to fight for my place, which has now paid dividends, as I will be on the move next season.
NM: So now that you have finally made it to the camp, how do you feel?
TC: I am excited to be here and meeting all the players in camp. I know some of them, and I can’t wait to be on the field with them again. As a footballer all I want to do is play – so being here with a group of such talented players, going to such a prestigious tournament like the World Cup is truly an honour for me. Words can’t describe the excitement in my heart at the moment.
NM: How would you describe yourself as a footballer?
TC: I am a possession player, I like to control the flow of the game. I like to create goal-scoring opportunities and I enjoy demolishing the opponent’s midfield, but I know I will have to earn my spot in the final 21 for the FIFA World Cup, as there are many players who have the same qualities as I do. I just hope I can bring some positive contribution to the squad.
NM: Thank you very much for your time, and all the best going forward.