Late Bloomer: Nkosinathi Sibisi

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  • Post published:May 23, 2023

Nkosinathi Sibisi has been a revelation at Orlando Pirates this season, but the best may be yet to come, writes Mazola Molefe.

Nkosinathi Sibisi is another classic example of a late bloomer in South African football, according to one of the coaches who saw the defender work his way up to what he is now: a Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates player.

“We call him ‘Bhodlela’, a kid from the villages in Maritzburg who loved this game from a very young age and made his way to Mangosuthu University of Technology to study. I believe that’s where he found his calling,” explains Lindani Shezi, who is currently the reserve league coach at Lamontville Golden Arrows.

He met Sibisi when the youngster, then 18, took a chance as a trialist and immediately impressed those who were assessing the talent on offer.

“The university side was playing in the then Castle League, which is now called the regional leagues [in the SAFA amateur structures].

“I recall there were more than 1 000 hopefuls, and to my surprise, he was the only one spotted by coaches Mandla Ncikazi and Vusumuzi Vilakazi – that’s how his professional career started,” Shezi says.

“He is such a reliable player, hence the nickname, which means ‘bottle’ because he is almost unbreakable.”

Years later, Sibisi was handed the Arrows captain’s armband, following that up with his national-team debut under newly appointed head coach Hugo Broos in June 2021, when Bafana hosted and beat Uganda 3–2.

“I can say he does not burn bridges. That is the mistake a lot of players make. As soon as they hear of interest from elsewhere, they want things to happen in that moment. But that is not the kind of personal ‘Bhodlela’ is,” the coach adds, emphasising that Sibisi has often waited for the right moment.

“He is a guy who takes his football seriously, so humble and dedicated. In my opinion, he is an all-rounder, having played all the positions at the back when he started, before it was then decided that he would only play as a centre-back.

“I believe he is a leader by nature. He is very patient and loyal, someone who is not too forward – people can see that. I think, possibly, he can still get a move abroad.”

The agency that represent Sibisi, now 27, is led by veteran agent Mike Makaab, so the notion that he could leave Pirates for Europe is not a pipe dream, with Prosport International having a credible network abroad.

“I believe he is ready. When you play for a team like Arrows, you have a chairlady, sis Mato Madlala, that teaches you something unique and that’s what he has inherited. Sibisi has that mentality and I was not surprised when he was made captain.”

But is his height not an issue? He is not the tallest for a centre-back, at a little over 1.7 metres.

“I don’t understand why that would be a concern in football, honestly. If you can look at the shortest players in the world, they are the ones that jump the highest. Look at the majority of the best defenders in the world, they are not the tallest,” Shezi insists.

“We can even look at some of the best goalkeepers around the world – again, they are not that tall. The strikers, they have a low centre of gravity. With his height, he was still able to outjump everyone in the box.”

At the time of publishing, Sibisi had scored one goal for Pirates, a header during a goal-mouth melee against Stellenbosch FC in only his second match for the club back in August.

Perhaps this is evidence enough to back Shezi’s point.

“He has scored goals with his head,” the Arrows youth coach points out. Sibisi has become a key player for Broos over the past two years and was part of Bafana’s tour to Europe to face Guinea and then world champions France last year.

Despite not yet becoming a regular, Shezi says the defender should have had more appearances for the national team by now.

“I think he was overlooked and this delayed the call-ups. But maybe it was a blessing in disguise, because he was included by previous coaches while at Arrows and I think they thought he was not ready at the time,” he elaborates.

“But now he seems to have cemented his place in the national team on the back of his performances at Pirates. As much as people criticise Hugo Broos, he is the one that has proven to us that he believes in the young players and for him it is not about big, high-profile names. He believes in the players he has called up and follow his instructions.”

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