Keeper Siyabonga Mbatha comes of age


Over the past year the 19-year-old has not only changed shape, shedding a massive 13 kilograms off his big frame, but he is also obviously much more confident and comfortable taking on the role as one of the team's leaders.

In short, while he has been slimming down, Mbatha has grown up.

As a Grosvenor Boys High schoolboy, Mbatha was thrust into the limelight in the Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup 2006 qualifier when he was selected for the South African team being coached by Marcelo Mendes.

The Brazilian coaching guru saw the potential of the matriculant in a frenzied series of trial matches and chose him as back-up goalkeeper to seasoned professional Gary Johnson.

When Johnson was injured, Mbatha earned his first cap and suffered through a nervy start which had the fickle crowd booing him and calling for his substitution.

The youngster showed his steel however by finishing that game with a series of spectacular saves which turned the crowd and convinced the onlookers that he was a star of the future.

Last year, his first year out of school, Mbatha realised some of his potential and was a quiet star of the South African team as they just missed out on qualifying, but in the nine months since there has been a noticeable change in the youngster.

A new diet and a determination to become a professional soccer player means he has identified a few weaknesses and worked on his game to the point where he recently signed up with professional field soccer team Golden Arrows.

There is also now an obvious mental maturity in the 19-year-old. Gone is the quiet teenager who let his team do their own thing in front of him and he now commands a presence on the beach soccer pitch.

In practice this week it was obvious he is not prepared to just let his defenders put him under pressure. He is much more vocal and uses his new-found confidence to help organise the defence.

The new self-assurance was rewarded on Wednesday when coach Lindani Shezi asked Mbatha to be the vice captain of the South Africa team with Lowell Kinsey the captain.

“Being named as vice captain was a nice surprise which I did not expect,” said Mbatha on Thursday, just after the team had been released to the press.

"We are working well together as a team and I am confident we can do well and qualify this year. The team is growing as a unit and gelling as a team as we adapt to the new players," said Mbatha.

"We have spent a couple of weeks working on fitness training and now over the past few days have been concentrating on the tactical training."

Personally Mbatha is very happy with the Golden Arrows setup and while he his happy with the way his soccer career is going the youngster is taking nothing for granted.

“Golden Arrows have been very supportive and were happy to let me take the time off for the beach soccer qualifier. They realise that it is a great experience and if we qualify we will have to negotiate the time off for the finals in France.

“I signed last week for Arrows but I have been training with them for a couple of months and they are very good to me. The older players and technical staff are a big help,” he adds.