Maela – a Pirates academy graduate – was eventually promoted to the first team at the start of last season after being sent out on loan to former First Division outfit Thanda Royal Zulu for five consecutive seasons.
The 25-year-old left-back eventually captained the club to topflight promotion in 2016/17, only to see their status being sold to AmaZulu a few weeks later.
Maela has reflected on how he almost quit the beautiful game after losing all hope of one day plying his trade in the Absa Premiership, until an unexpected call came through from ‘The Iron Duke’ during the off-season.
“I never thought this moment [playing for Pirates] would ever come. In fact, in my last season in the NFD – my fifth season – I told myself that if nothing happens next year then I’m going back to school,” said Maela.
“But, God is never late. The chairman then called me and he said, ‘Now you’re ready, you can come back and find for your position’, and look where I am today.
“I could have walked away. In fact, when Thanda got sold, I thought to myself, ‘Maybe this is not for me.’ Because we worked so hard to win the league and I thought, ‘We’re going to the PSL with Thanda, maybe I’ll even be captain’.
“A few weeks down the line, the club is being sold. So, I thought perhaps it’s not for me. But thankfully the chairman called me and gave me an opportunity, and I’ve worked really hard to grab it with both hands.”
The Witbank-born fullback bagged the club’s ‘Shield Prospect of the Season’ gong at Pirates’ awards evening last week, and acknowledged that it serves as a beacon of hope for youngsters coming through the ranks and waiting for their opportunity to shine.
“It is giving hope to other boys out there that you should never give up. As long as you stay true to the process and you believe in it and that the product will take care of itself, then it will happen,” he added.
“When you look at mine or even Mthokozisi Dube’s story, it wasn’t easy for us going out on loan for five years – for me in the NFD and for ‘Mthoko’ at least in the PSL [at Bloemfontein Celtic].
“It wasn’t easy at all, but we believed in ourselves and that we would eventually get an opportunity at the club, and here we are today.”