Bennett Mnguni: Bafana Bafana would do better if we have more players playing in the Champions League


In the early 2000’s, there were a lot of South Africans playing abroad and it was almost a guarantee that if you’re doing well locally, you might end up in Europe. Some of those players were not just there to add numbers, but were league champions and faced some of the best players in the world. Former Bafana Bafana midfielder Bennet Mnguni is one of the few South Africans to have won a top-flight league in Europe and that saw him play against Ballon d'Or and World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane in the UEFA Champions League.

Mnguni explains what he thinks is the problem in terms of not being able to produce such players anymore and why the number of players playing in top leagues has dropped so much. The former Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder also shares with us what he’s currently busy with.

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Banele Pikwa: Mr Mnguni, you’ve played in both the CAF Champions League and UEFA Champions where you played against some of the best players from your generation. How was it like featuring in such big tournaments?

Bennett Mnguni: To be honest, it was very nice and I learnt a lot from playing in the Champions League. For me, it was always my dream to be amongst the best in the world and the experience was just amazing, I can’t explain it in words but it’s definitely one of the highlights of my career.

BP: Playing in the UEFA Champions League should be every player’s dream. What made you push so hard in achieving this and what advice would you give a young boy who dreams of playing in this competition?

BM: In football, you need to be hungry and when you’re hungry you can achieve everything you want. I want to tell you something; if you’re a footballer, you should be ready for anything and with hard work and hunger you will achieve things you weren’t even thinking of or you will see most dreams come sooner than expected. But you also need to be humble and tell yourself that you need to work hard no matter what. For me, I was hungry and I always wanted to achieve more so maybe that’s why I worked so hard and that’s why I managed to play overseas with some of the best players at the time.

BP: Being someone who comes from the African dust and you enter the field, you see Zinedine Zidane, a FIFA World Cup winner. What was going through your mind?

BM: I was very excited to be honest, it was something I’ve always dreamed about. I wasn’t scared at all but I was just excited that I’ll test myself against the world’s greatest like Zidane and Roberto Carlos. Remember these are the players we all admired at that time and to come up against them was the best thing I could’ve asked for. Before that game, I told myself that I needed to make a point that us Africans are not here to make numbers, but we are there to compete so that’s what pushed me so much to play the best football and not to be scared of them.

BP: In the last 10 years, we’ve seen more Africans featuring in the Champions League but sadly there hasn’t been much South Africans. What do you think is the problem?

BM: Maybe it’s the level of football that we are conducting in South Africa, but we have other quality players like Percy Tau. It’s only about how you prepare yourself mentally. The most important thing is knowing what you want to achieve as a player, be focussed and listening to your coaches. The players we have now have so much quality and there is no need for them to try and overdo things. They just need to stay focussed and work hard then they will achieve what they want.

BP: During your days, it was extremely difficult to get in the Bafana Bafana squad and the team would be amongst the favourites in AFCON tournaments. Now, we struggle to even qualify. What do you think is the cause of that?

BM: I think mentally our players are not strong and that’s not something we should take for granted. Playing for the national team is a privilege and it’s very important because that’s where Europeans usually scout players because if you are good enough at international level then you are good enough to play in Europe. So being called up by your national team is an opportunity for players to then showcase what they are about. But maybe our players just don’t want to go overseas and unfortunately, they will not reach their full potential and Bafana Bafana will keep struggling.

BP: There’s been a lot of uncertainties about Molefi Ntseki, what do you make of this appointment?

BM: I’ve got nothing against Ntseki but maybe this time we can look at the players and ask questions because the way we played against Ghana was very poor and we didn’t show any hunger. We can’t be blaming coaches for everything and sometimes the players should look at themselves and take the blame. They really need to work hard if they are to bring back Bafana Bafana back to the top and it’s fine to make mistakes because football is about mistakes but you have to rectify those mistakes and you will improve. You can’t do the same mistake over and over. Players need to cover up for each other and give information but if you look at that game there was no communication and when a player makes a mistake they will throw hands and that’s a very bad attitude. 

BP: So what are you busy with right now?

BM: Right now I’m mostly involved in the development, I’m running an academy and also coaching Allys Tigers FC in the ABC Motsepe League in North West.

BP: So the plan is to stay at grassroots level or will we eventually see you at professional level?

BM: I’m one person who works very hard to achieve whatever I wish to achieve and one day you will see me coaching in the PSL.

BP: Thank you so much for your time Mr Mnguni and I hope your academy produces more players like yourself and I wish to see you return to the PSL.

BM: Thank you so much. 


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