5 April 2018 – Almost a month after taking part in the 2018 Cyprus Women’s Cup, Banyana Banyana forward Melinda Kgadiete is still in high spirits.
She was part of the squad of 21 players selected by head coach Desiree Ellis to play in the tournament where she featured in all four games where she was on the bench against Slovakia but started the three against Korea, Hungary and Belgium.
The competition was played from 26 February to 8 March.
Kgadiete made her debut for the Sasol-sponsored Banyana Banyana a month earlier when she was introduced in the international friendly match against Sweden in January in Cape Town – which South Africa lost 3-0.
Ellis’ charges finished 6th out of 12 teams. Spain won the competition after defeating Italy 2-0 in the final.
Kgadiete, who is on the books of Bloemfontein Celtic in the Sasol League, is now back home and she relieved the memories of the competition.
How was the Cyprus Cup?
It was a very difficult tournament for me but fortunately for my teammates it was not the first time they took part in the competition. They helped me get up to speed with the requirements of the game because I was only used to playing at club level for Celtic. The national team level was just too fast for me and I am not a pacey player, but I think I am slowly getting the hang of it.
What did you learn at the tournament?
A lot, I don’t want to lie – I learnt a lot and it’s things I will be doing at my club. Some of them are how to behave as a player, how to be a team player and not play as an individual because more often than not at club level you just want to shine as a player and forget that the team comes first. At the national team it’s all about the team and the country. Also, that it is important to play forward, not go around in circles trying to please the crowd.
You played all four games – did you expect that?
To be frank, I didn’t expect to play any game even though I was hopeful I would get a run of maybe ten minutes or so at the end of one of the matches. It was a complete surprise for me that I featured in all the game, it means the technical team saw something in me that they felt I could contribute to the squad. The good thing was that we were playing as a unit and the players helped me a lot, and it didn’t show that I was new to the team. They really helped me to get to their level.
You made your Banyana Banyana debut against Sweden in Cape Town, tell us about that.
That was the greatest moment of my life. The first time I was told to go in, I was very scared because I had really enjoyed watching the national team play not thinking that someday my turn would come. And when it did, I was very nervous but I had to tell myself that this could be the only chance I get so I need to impress. The likes of Mpumi (Nompumelelo Nyandeni) and captain (Janine van Wyk) have long been in the team and have the necessary experience, so they helped me settled quickly.
Did the presence of Celtic teammates Kgaelebane Mohlakoana and Bambanani Mbane help?
Bambanani has also been in the squad for some time and she really did a good job in pushing us (myself and Kgaelebane) to up our game. Before we were selected for the national team, she always advised us to train hard and to believe in ourselves. And when we got to the Banyana Banyana camp she was also here for us, guiding us all the way. When I was announced in the starting eleven she called me to the side and said I must relax and play my own game. Even on the field she kept on encouraging me, which took a lot of pressure off my shoulders.
Was the difference in levels from the club significant? And what advice do you have for aspirant national team players?
I don’t want to sound like I am scaring them or anything, but things are very different at national team level where one has to be alert at all times. At club level we like to hold on to the ball for long, but when you get to the national team and play against top European teams you learn that it’s one-touch football, even though you are allowed to show your skill but only when a need arises.
After the Cyprus Cup, what do you think future holds with Banyana Banyana?
I can safely say now I can see where my football career is going, I can see many opportunities coming and doors opening because the truth is there were scouts at the tournament – and not that I was playing for a contract, but now I know where to fix and improve my game. I believe I made a very good impression on the coaches and could be recalled for the next camp – but that’s where the difficult part is, I have to work harder to stay in the team. I have tasted how it feels like to play for my country and I would like more of that. I cannot afford to relax now, also because there are no permanent positions in the national, more so because we have so many talented players in the country, and a slip-up on my part could cost me a place in the squad. So, nothing but hard work will see me back in the next camp.
Would you like to play abroad someday?
I believe in myself and I also believe I have the talent to make the grade overseas, but as I said with hard work and opportunities opening up I could find myself abroad. We have two players that have just been signed in the USA (Linda Motlhalo and Thembi Kgatlana), which shows that anything is possible. These two players, and many more playing overseas, are an inspiration to all the players, and I am no exception. They are basically saying the sky is the limit, and I can only wish all of them well.
2018 is a very important year for Banyana Banyana
The Cyprus Cup was a very good tournament, which was played at a very high level – and it helped us a lot taking into consideration that this is a very crucial year for Banyana Banyana. With the upcoming games, we will use the lessons we learnt there to improve on ourselves and make sure we qualify for the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations later this year, the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year and the 2020 Olympic Games. The experience we got there was very invaluable and is something we need to put to good use when the qualifiers start.
So who is Melinda Kgadiete and how did you get involved with football?
Football is actually a family thing – my father and my brother used to play the game. My dad is from Kimberly and mother is from East London, so my dad moved to East London. From an early age, he used to take me to matches, even though I was a girl, but that was the beginning of my football career.
When did you start playing?
At a very young age I started playing for a team called Future Stars. Their coach had seen me playing on the streets and asked me to come join them. My dad bought me my first boots and has been very supportive since then.
How did you get to Celtic?
At some stage I played for a team called Birmingham and we got to play in the same tournament against Celtic. They were quite impressed with what they saw, so they signed me and I moved to Bloemfontein. They even paid for my education – I am currently studying for a Diploma in Generic Management and this is my final year, I will be graduating next month (May).
How difficult is it to balance education and football?
It’s quite difficult, but I am doing the best I can to make everything work. The good thing with the national team is that when I was in Cyprus, we had ample time to focus on our books – so it was not all about football, in our daily programme we had study time and it was also encouraging to find that there are many other Banyana Banyana players who are still studying, so it made things easy.
Advise on those who want to suspend education to focus on football?
I would say that is not a good option, because I believe education and sport go hand in hand. And in my view, education comes first because football is your talent and no one can take it away from you. You can play anytime, and on the other hand you can make a living out of education – it is something that can uplift your life. So they go side by side but education is more important because even after your playing days you can fall back on it.
NB: Banyana Banyana’s next assignment is the CAF Africa Women’s Cup of Nations qualifier against either Lesotho or Swaziland in June.
Melinda Kgadiete Fact File:
Date of Birth: 21 July 1992
Place of Birth: Mdantsane, Eastern Cape
Current Club: Bloemfontein Celtic (Sasol League – Free State)
Previous Club: Birmingham City Ladies
Banyana Banyana Debut: vs Sweden (21 January 2018)
2016 & 2017 Sasol League National Champions
2015, 2016, 2017 Provincial Champions & Top Goalscorer (Sasol League Free State)
2 Diski Queen of the Match Awards at 2017 Sasol League National Championships