As long as I get the appreciation from the team and the club, I’m fine – Sundowns’ Rivaldo Coetzee

Rivaldo Coetzee is undoubtedly the epitome of perseverance and hard work and that has been evident throughout his football career.

Riva, as affectionately known by his colleagues, was born for football and his impressive career is testament to that, from being the youngest player to ever represent South Africa at the age of 17 to getting a nod from international clubs. In the Pitchside Podcast, Riva spoke about the genesis of his football career and how he fell in love with the sport.

“I have always wanted to play football. I think if you ask my mother, she will tell you that I told her from a very young age that this is what I want to do for a living. I have enjoyed it since I was a young boy. After school, no matter how hot it would be, I would have a ball with me, get some friends and play football on the streets. That was what made me to fall in love with the game at a young age,” he said.

Riva is a product of the Ajax Cape Town Academy, where he spent less than six months before he was given his first taste of professional football at the age of 17. The debut into the first team, that revealed his skills and composure at that age, was what made people fall in love with the then teenage defender. Riva explains his transition from the development to professional football and how it forced him to grow up quickly.

“I was actually quite surprised by how quick the transition from Academy to the first team was. I played in the Academy for one year only and six months into the being in the Academy, I was training with the first team while still playing league games for the U19 team. Training with the first team gave me the exposure and I think that’s what helped me. That transition also showed them that I was ready and I would add value to the team,” Rivaldo explained.

In the same year, the Kakamas-born centre back made his international debut that saw him be the youngest player to ever represent Bafana Bafana. Riva reminisces on how he found out he was a part of the squad and the pressure that came with representing his country.

“I was actually at training at Ajax cape Town. I had just finished training at the time and I was told that I made it to the squad and I didn’t believe it. I felt there were a lot of defenders they could have chosen. I only believed it when I checked my phone and saw it myself,” he said.

“Going into camp was tough, especially what the media was saying about me. Obviously, they had people they expected to see in the squad which didn’t make it. There was also a bit of pressure, considering the quality of players that were selected. The likes of Thulani Serero, the late Senzo Meyiwa and Itumeleng Khune. I was still in my shell that time but I tried to stay competitive in that environment, that was important for me,” he continued.

His performances saw the defender receiving a nod from international platforms and almost signed to an international club but the deal fell through due to an injury. Riva explained how he persevered from inconclusive move that affected his mental health.

“It’s still tough to talk about it even to this day. When you have such an opportunity to go to such a big club, for it to fall through at the last minute, I thought about quitting after that. I had already signed the contract. I spoke to the coach at that time, Brendan Rodgers., over the phone and from the conversation that we had, I could see myself using that as a stepping stone to go even further,” said Riva.

Riva concluded by explaining that the move to Mamelodi Sundowns helped him heal and to begin his recovery journey. Furthermore, he stated that the backlash that he received during his injury lay-offs might have caused the football fans to appreciate his skills a lot less but he is appreciative that he is in a team that recognises his hard work.

‘I still don’t know exactly how I made it through that situation. But I also think when Sundowns came in, it helped a little bit to make it better. I think if I had to stay at Ajax Cape Town I wasn’t going to recover. I don’t pay much attention to the backlash but I feel like a lot of people don’t appreciate what I offer. For me as long as I get the appreciation from the team and the club, I’m fine,” he concluded.