29 May 2018 – Not so long ago Gift Links was unknown to many football fans in South Africa, but he is now in the Bafana Bafana squad that will participate in the 2018 COSAFA Cup tournament, which is currently underway in Polokwane.
Formerly with Platinum Stars, the winger, who is turning 20 in October this year, could not hold down a regular place in the club but made a surprised move to Egypt where he is on the books of Alassiouty Sport.
He believes is back to his best after a change of scene where now finds himself playing in the same league as former Bidvest Wits player, Phakamani Mahlambi, who is with Al Ahly.
“Things are going very well for me in Egypt. I have started about 12 of the 15 games we played, it was a great opportunity for me and I believe I played well in all those games. I am confident that the next campaign I will improve so I can play more games. I have been there for only four months but I have managed to adapt,” said Links from the Bafana Bafana camp in Polokwane.
Even though things are different from home, he is getting used to the new lifestyle.
“Egypt is a different country from South Africa – they are very strict in terms of their religion and culture. I am staying at a resort, which is about two hours away from where Phakamani is based, but I visit him often. In terms of the language I already know the basics. There are some players who try to speak English with me, even though its not that perfect I can understand. As for food, I live on rice and chicken daily, because there is no pap which some of us are used to, but I am getting used to everything,” added Links, who grew up in Rustenburg.
“On the field things are even more different. You see here in South Africa they give you a lot of space to play and turn, but in Egypt there is no time on the ball – immediately you receive it you have to be smart and know your next move quickly. They are also physically strong, but I am adapting well. We finished 9th(18-club league) on the table but hopefully next season we will come back strong. We will see because they have now acquired a new coach, which means starting afresh to adapt to his style of play. But we will try our best to finish in a better position.”
After the end of the season in Egypt, Links returned home to North West. He was the first player to report for national team duty in Polokwane. He is still excited at the call up, which he says came unexpectedly.
“First of all I would like to thank the Almighty, it’s a great opportunity for me to play for the national team. If I get a chance to play I will make sure I use it. I would like to thank the coaching staff of Bafana Bafana for giving me my first call up. I was very happy after I got a text from my agent to inform me that I had made the final 20 for the COSAFA CUP,” said Links.
“Despite them finding me here, the guys gave me a warm welcome because most of them have been in various national team camps, and it is my first time here. I know a few of them, (Siphesihle) Ndlovu, (Fortune) Makaringe, (Lebo) Maboe, Gift (Motupa) because in January before I signed in Egypt I went to Maritzburg and I had already met some of them during my time at Platinum Stars. Gift, who I share a room with in camp, told me to relax and play my own game and also be free.”
Links is one of the seven uncapped players in the squad (others are Khulekani Kubheka, Taariq Fielies, Siyabonga Ngezana, Fortune Makaringe, Abednego Mosiatlhaga and Lyle Foster) – with combined caps of only 45 among the 20 players.
The highest capped player is Motupa with nine appearances. Despite that, Links is optimistic of Bafana Bafana’s chances in the COSAFA CUP.
“I watched the tournament when it was hosted in the North West province last year, and all I can say is with the quality we have, we can do very well in the tournament. In my view, each and every position is sorted; all we have to do is to work hard,” he said.
Having not played for junior national teams does not faze him, but he is excited at the opportunity.
“My family is more than happy with my call up, in fact my mother was very surprised because I was never called for the U17 or U20 national teams before and when the call came through for Bafana Bafana she just said God is great and I believe that – that is why there is a saying that goes ‘opportunities don’t come the same way.’ I will make use of the chance I get,” said Links.’
Bafana Bafana will only start the competition on Sunday, 3 June in the quarterfinals when they meet the winners of Group A, which has Madagascar, Mozambique, Comoros and Seychelles – and Links will be hoping plays some part during the tournament.