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NFD Star: I thought I wasn’t playing because I was a Venda

Many footballers experience difficulties on and off the pitch, with Tshakhuma’s Takalani Ratshilima being the latest to open up on his story. The 18-year-old striker tells us that there is no time to relax in the NFD and that breaking through to the first team demands a lot of hard work. As we know, tribalism has also been one of the major issues in recent weeks. Being a Venda, Ratshilima clears the air on this topic.

Banele Pikwa: Sho’ Takalani, how you doing? thanks for taking the time out to chat with us.

Takalani Ratshilima: I’m good thanks, no problem, it’s always a pleasure.

BP: Firstly Takalani, life in the NFD, how’s it going for you?

TR: It’s okay, it’s going very well, just that the NFD [National First Division] is a tough league, you know, and you have to work very hard so that you can be seen as a star. This is the league that brings the stars, so I’m working very hard to achieve the goal that I want to achieve. 

BP: Making a name at such a young age can always be difficult, have there been any moments during your career when you’ve thought that football wasn’t for you? If so, how did you deal with it?

TR: Yes, there was a time where I went to Bloemfontein to do trials with Bloemfontein Celtics. I was selected as the best striker at the first trials, but, unfortunately, come January they didn’t invite me again. I also went to SuperSport United and there, also, I wasn’t selected. I felt like this is not a career for me. I once wanted to quit, but my father told me not to quit because he was also a soccer player. So, if you want to succeed, you have to be strong, you have to be strong at training, you have to be more focused and you have to dedicate yourself to what you are doing in the field. Football is for people with heart, with a big heart, and a strong heart.

BP: If you weren’t a football player, what profession would you have gone into?

TR: I was going to be an I.T [Information Technology] specialist. I was going to do IT, because I like gadgets very much. 

BP: Interesting. So, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

TR: I’ve been struggling to play, but I’m almost there. Last season, I played about six games, but this season it’s a tough one. It’s a tough one for me because if I can say that I am good, then I am good, but if the coach is not ready to select me, there’s nothing I can do so it’s not really going that good.

BP: So, would you say breaking into the first team would be your biggest highlight?

TR: Yes.

BP: Tell me, who were some of your role models in football that you looked up to when you were coming up?

TR: It was Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, those guys use to score lots of goals.

BP: And locally?

TR: It’s Siphiwe Tshabalala, he has a very good technique of shooting, he knows how to score goals and takes very good free-kicks.

BP: Being a young South African football lover growing up, we tend to focus on the ‘Vula-Vala’ side of the game. Tell us, who is the most skillful player in your team?

TR: It’s Ndlondlo, Phillip Ndlondlo.

BP: Tshakhuma has done very well this season, you are amongst the early challengers at this stage. How’s the mood in the camp? 

TR: The mood (sigh), we are working very hard, it’s not easy for us to relax. Even if its FIFA break, we are not relaxing, we are training very hard to show that we need to win this league. Everyone is very dedicated.

BP: Talking about winning the league, do you believe that you can go all the way and get promotion?

TR: Yes, because of our style of play. We are the best in this league, because we do not play that football of showing the fans that we playing for ball possession. Our game is about scoring, we haven’t scored as many goals but we are showing signs that we want to score. 

BP: What are some of the targets for the season? Have you set any and what are they?

TR: Yeah, we have a system that from every five games, we fight for 12 points. So we want to take 12 points from every five games. If we fail to get those points, then it should be 10 or nine points. So we have set that as a target because we want to be number one. 

BP: Your coach, Sello Chokoe, has a very good reputation of working with young stars since his days at Baroka. How important has he been in your career?

TR: He’s a good motivator and he knows how to groom the youngsters. He doesn’t want someone who is weak and I like the way he encourages me to work very hard so that I can break through the first team.

BP: Tribalism has been a worrying factor in recent times, especially in football. Being a Venda, how has that affected you and have there been in difficulties that you are willing to discuss?

TR: Firstly, last season, when the league was starting, I wasn’t registered, and they [the club] told me that they’ll register me after 10 games. That’s where I thought that because I’m a Venda, these guys do not want us [the Venda’s] to be the stars. It was hard, even now, some of the Venda guys are underestimated. You can see guys from Joburg when they come here, they underestimate us because in Venda we don’t have those training facilities which are good. You may find that when you make a strong pass, some of us [the Venda’s] can struggle with the first touch, unlike those guys from Joburg. It’s very hard for us to compete with guys from other provinces.

BP: Tell me more…

TR: These guys know that we don't have those training facilities which could improve our passing, our trapping and style of football. We, here in Limpopo, don't have those academies that develop players, unlike in Joburg, there’s teams like Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates who develop players at an early age. Even Black Leopards doesn't have a development where you can say there are good Venda players. If you are given game time, you can improve more and there’s no one who can underestimate you. So, that was affecting me very bad last season because they were underestimating us, as Venda’s. We were a group of seven in the team but the other four guys were released. They were told that they are not good at all.

BP: Have you ever felt that you are being mistreated?

TR: Yes, last season, because when the team was training at Tshifulanani Stadium during pre-season, we [Vendas] normally played outside the ground and the other guys would play inside. We would play outside from the start of training until the practice is over. But now, they can see that Venda's are hard workers, for example, look at [Eric] Mathoho, he came from nowhere. He was playing in the dust but Celtic took him. They now respect that in Venda there are very good players and they now respect us and treat us equally in everything. 

BP: You’d say the situation has improved?

TR: Yes, the situation has improved because we are one now and the team is from Venda so there's nothing we can do. 

BP: Can you share with us any lessons that you’ve learnt in football that you can later apply in life off the pitch?

TR: I've learnt be disciplined, to be strong and to love people.

BP: Thanks a lot for your time, Takalani, all the best for the season my brother and I hope you go all the way.

TR: Thanks, all the best to you too.