Surprise Ralani: Like Father Like Son

You are currently viewing Surprise Ralani: Like Father Like Son
  • Post published:March 27, 2024

Surprise Ralani is a top talent in the local game, and his son Emile Witbooi could be the future of South African football, writes SoccerClub writer Dylan Appolis.

Surprise Ralani has experienced it all in his career, from playing in Europe to returning home and featuring in South Africa’s top flight, and his legacy is being carried on by his son, Emile Witbooi, who has the potential to take local football by storm.

Kimberley-born attacker Ralani graduated from Farouk Khan’s Stars of Africa Academy in 2009 before departing South Africa for Sweden without playing in the local league.

He spent most of his career in Sweden after joining Helsingborgs, including time on loan playing for IFK Hässleholm and Landskrona BoIS, and for Lyngby BK in Denmark, in his nine years in Europe.

He later returned home for his first stint in South Africa’s top flight when he joined Cape Town City during the January transfer window for the remainder of the 2017–18 PSL season.

The winger went on to spend four years at the club and feature 118 times for The Citizens, scoring 16 goals and registering 27 assists while helping them clinch the 2018 MTN8 title under coach Benni McCarthy.

His impressive performances saw Ralani being picked up by Mamelodi Sundowns, where he spent the next 18 months, winning three trophies, including a pair of league titles as well as the Nedbank Cup, in addition to contributing to nine goals in just 29 appearances for the Brazilians.

The skilful dribbler parted ways with the club when his contract expired in June 2022 after he was deemed surplus to requirement by the Tshwane giants.

Ralani, 36, contemplated retiring from professional football after becoming a free agent but admits his son Emile reignited his love and passion for football.

“That has also pushed me into saying, ‘do not to give up’,” Ralani explained to iDiski Times.

“Because I even got calls or messages asking, ‘Are you going to retire?’ and stuff like and I said, ‘No. It has not crossed my mind yet. But I’m going to wait for the right moment to join a team where I feel like I’m going to be appreciated again’.

“Because, you know, of what happened just recently with me, I just felt like I lost a little bit of being in touch with football,” he continued.

“And at some point, you wouldn’t believe me, watching my son on TV, or while I was in Joburg, going to his games, watching him live, watching him play, he actually inspired me.

“He actually inspired me to stay strong and not give up. Seeing how good he plays made me happy and made me fall in love with the game again and say, ‘I have got to do this again, because there’s someone that’s still looking up to me as a role model.’

“He might not say it, you understand, he might not say it and he might have his own role models in South African football or in Europe, or whatever, but I am his first reference, because I was the first one that gave him the ball and said, ‘Come, let’s play’.”

Ralani bounced back and returned to the Mother City after landing a deal with Cape Town Spurs, and his son has now followed in his footsteps in becoming a football player.

Witbooi has been in the spotlight since his breakthrough at the School of Excellence and the junior national team, which ultimately led to him joining Cape Town City’s reserve team this year.

“I was the first one that gave him soccer shoes. I was the one that made him fall in love with the game, carrying him to football matches locally and saying, ‘Come and watch me play’, and stuff like that,” Ralani said.

“That’s how he fell in love with the game. And his family from his mother’s side also is very big in football. So there is a love of football from both sides, me and the mother. So ja, at some point, seeing him play made me believe and fall in love with the game all over again, because of the things that he is doing on the field.

“And then I got in touch with football again. And I thought to myself, ‘No ways. I can’t give up this easily, because there’s a slim chance of me and my son playing together – against each other, actually’.”

The future looks bright for the prodigy and like his father, Witbooi has now been tipped for a move to Europe, even being linked to the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona, who are both hungry for his signature.


Emile Witbooi was part of the South African under-16 side that took part in a UEFA development tournament in Poland last year and caught the eye of several clubs, including Manchester United.

“He is very skillful and creative,” his u/16 coach Zipho Dlangalala told SABC Sport. “He and many other players like him – and they are many – we need to give them special treatment.

“We need to accept that some players are very special and different. Players like your Neymar, [Lionel] Messi and Ronaldinho will not be where they are if they were not given special treatment.”


Surprise Ralani is considered by many to the best South African player in the post- isolation era never to play for Bafana Bafana. He is likely vying with former Polokwane City and SuperSport United midfielder Jabu Maluleke for that title.