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Nhlanhla Vilakazi: Ernst Middendorp and Cavin Johnson are the best coaches that I’ve worked with

Nhlanhla Vilakazi AmaZulu
AmaZulu are a team that has faced some ups and downs this season. The club was docked six points at the beginning of the season and that took them right to the bottom of the table. But that didn’t stop the Usuthu players from working hard and getting points under difficult times. Back-to-back away victories over Highlands Park and Chippa United saw them move away from the relegation zone. We caught up with one of the senior players, Nhlanhla Vilakazi, who tells us about the clubs difficult first half of the season and how they have managed to pull through. He also shares with us about some of the best coaches he worked with and tells us what he thinks about the former footballers who are struggling financially after retirement.

Banele Pikwa: Good day Nhlanhla, thanks for your time. What a season AmaZulu are having – some big positives and some negatives. What are your thoughts?

Nhlanhla Vilakazi: Yes, there have been some big negatives that we had to go through this season and I’m glad we are now starting to pick up. We have tried really hard to bounce back even though I feel like we can be in an even better place. If you can look at the players that we have currently, you will realise we have an experienced group and that is why I say we can be in a better place. We have very good players and we can do better than what we have achieved so far.

BP: Last season, the club didn’t make Top 8 due to the court ruling and this season points were deducted. Do you, as the players, feel the league is somehow against the club?

NV: No, we don’t feel like that. Instead, it’s those things that motivate us to do even better. Our job as players is to focus on getting the results on the field and forget about what’s happening off the field. When these things happen, we always remind each other that we have to work extra hard so that we can get more points.

BP: As one of the leaders in the changing room, how do you motivate the team in such difficult situations?

NV: The situation on its own is a motivation, as I said earlier, when such things happen, it forces you to work extra hard because you already know you need more points. We do try to add motivation as senior players, but it’s usually the situation that motivates the players. We accept whatever the ruling is and we tell ourselves that we will work harder than before and that is exactly what we are doing.

BP: You didn’t play Orlando Pirates in your preferred King Zwelithini Stadium. Do you feel the results could’ve changed if you played there? I mean you are unbeaten at the ground.

NV: I wouldn’t say the results would’ve changed for sure, but we are just used to playing at Umlazi [King Zwelithini Stadium] and we are a different team when we play there. We were disappointed not to play there but there is no excuse. The Moses Mabhida is still our home ground, even though it would’ve been better playing at the ground we know in and out. 

BP: Let’s get into the positives, the team has played really well and the points are now coming in. Tell me what’s behind all the success?

NV: As I said earlier on, the situation that we are in motivates us to work even harder, but I also give credit to our coaching staff and I think we have one of the best [coaches] in the league. Our coaches know how to analyse games and that makes it easier for us. We also push each other as amajita (the guys) to ensure that we have a common goal and that we are on the same page. We push each other and that helps the team a lot because we all want to do well.

BP: When the half-time whistle blows, AmaZulu players get together and discuss the game instead of rushing straight to the dressing room. Has the coach ever had a problem with that and see it as wasting some of his time?

NV: The coach loves that, he is the one who always encourages us to be part of the game. He tells us we should give each other instructions and discuss how we, as players, see the game. A person on the field will see a game differently than someone on the bench or stands, so he will cover what we missed. Our coaches are very relaxed and they even tell us as players to come up with suggestions. We are a team and anything that will help us [the club] is welcomed here. I believe that has helped us a lot because it ensures the common goal I was talking about earlier. 

BP: Interesting, who is the best coach you’ve worked with?

NV: Mhmmm, I’d say it’s between [Ernst] Middendorp and Cavin Johnson. Although, I’ve had the privilege of working with other good coaches who know their story. Coaches like Luc Eymael and even [Giovanni] Solinas. I’ve been very fortunate to work with coaches who know football and that helped me a lot.

BP: Tell me about Solinas, how was it like working with him?

NV: Solinas is a good coach, we worked well together and I really rate him. He may be facing difficult challenges at the moment but he is a good coach. It’s normal for anyone to face challenges in football, but he is not a bad coach.

BP: In some countries like England there is no Christmas break. Do you think it’s something we should consider in our country?

NV: I don’t think that would be a good idea, Christmas is a day everyone should spend with their family. It’s important also for us as players to have a break and forget about soccer and spend time with your family. Some of the players are fathers so they also need that small break to be with their children. I’m aware that it seems as a distraction, but it goes down to the players. If you take this break as a time to spend with family, you will not lose shape and you will continue where you left off. It’s not a big break that can affect the momentum, but that off course goes down to how you as the players treat the break. If you see this as an opportunity to do wrong things than definitely it will affect you, it all comes down to professionalism. 

BP: There have been pictures on social media showing how former footballers are struggling after retirement. Is there something you are doing to prepare for life after football?

NV: Can I please not reveal what I’m doing to prepare for life after football, but I think I’m doing enough to prepare, though I won’t say what I do. What I can tell you is that it’s easy for people to judge and comment about soccer players. You must also remember that even though we fall under the same bracket which is abadlali [footballers], you must remember that we come from different backgrounds and we have different situations that we face. As much as we are all soccer players, we all have different beliefs, we like different things and we see life differently. People say soccer players are the same and they like painting us all with one brush but it’s not like that, we are very different. We are like any other profession, it’s unfair to say we are the same and it’s unfair to think we don’t have problems that we face. It all comes down to how we approach life as people and we can’t only blame players like how people do because there are some people who do the same but they are not players.

BP: If there is a youngster who is getting out of hand, do you as a senior player ever intervene and tell him otherwise?

NV: Trust me it’s very hard to see what life style each player is living. When we are at training, we all focus on what we are doing and you can’t tell what each person does off the field, but if there is an obvious situation we try to talk to the boys and tell them what we think is best. It’s really not easy to see what life each player is living.

BP: We’ve seen teams like Baroka, Free State Stars, your local rivals, Maritzburg United as well, reaching finals of some cup competitions. Is that the next step that you feel AmaZulu should be taking?

NV: I think every team would love to play a cup final and even at AmaZulu, it’s the same, those are the things we want to achieve. The coach always tells us about taking the club to the next level and for me reaching cup finals would be taking the club to the next level.

BP: Thanks for your time Nhlanhla, we really appreciate it.

NV: You’re welcome.