23 August 2020 will mark exactly 14 years since Eleazar Rodgers made his professional debut in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) for his childhood club, Santos FC.
The lanky 34-year-old made his Absa Premiership debut against Bloemfontein Celtic at Athlone Stadium under former coach Roger De Sa as a 20-year-old.
Since then, the Kuils-River born striker went on to play for the likes of Mamelodi Sundowns, Platinum Stars, Bidvest Wits and most notably, Ajax Cape Town who are at the summit of the GladAfrica Championship log standings.
Where did Rodgers enjoy his football the most? How does he feel about his former club Santos who are now plying their trade in the third-tier league ABC Motsepe League? FARPost chats to Eleazer Rodgers.
FARPost: Let us go down memory lane just a little bit… And talk about your days at Santos. How would you describe your stay at ‘The People’s Team’?
Rodgers: “My stay at ‘The People’s Team”, Santos, was, I think, one of the best times of my life in a sense that I achieved and had the opportunity to play in the top flight which is the professional league.
“Santos gave me that opportunity and you know growing up as a youngster you aspire to make a difference in the world and to achieve our dreams. Being a good player at amateur level you know the ultimate dream would always be to play professional football.”
“And I just developed as a player, I have grown since then. I could say that 6 years was a start of greater things to come if I look back now. If anyone had to write a script from the beginning till the end, it would never be good as it was.”
FARPost – Your partnership with Erwin Isaacs was well known by many defenders in the PSL. How was your relationship with him on and off the field and are you guys still in contact?
Rodgers: “Yes, it was a very good partnership to remember, I believe we were technically a force to be reckoned with. At that time we were a bunch of players that really understood each other’s strength and we played according to our strengths and we had a team that understood not just myself but also Isaacs you know, and this brought out the best in us.
“Between me and him we were scoring a lot of the goals, but I think it was a whole team effort that brought out the best in us. My relationship with him on the field has been funny (laughs) for most part because he’s a funny character and I’m a funny character, we always had fun by making jokes you know just having a laugh you know just enjoying each other’s company when we travel or when we are in camp that type of thing.”
“Off the field we weren’t really that close, we never really hung out that much. When I started playing, I was still taking a taxi to training, and that would be 3 taxis up and 3 taxis down to where I was staying in kuils-river whereas Erwin lived in Lavender Hill which is very far from each other. I think of we stayed close to each other we probably would’ve hung out and done more things together but yes, we are still in contact.”
FARPost – How does it make you feel that Santos are now regarded as a “sleeping giant” and are no longer a professional team?
Rodgers: “When I hear the sound “sleeping giant” I’m almost thinking like, that’s actually not a bad thing because once that giant wakes up you know, there will be chaos hahaha! But anyway, it’s really sad to see where the club is at, not for anything else but just for knowing that that was one of the big clubs in Cape Town in the top-flight football.
“They have so much history that goes along with the club you know, that’s really sad for Cape Town as a whole to have lost a team like Santos.
“I am so grateful that I had that opportunity and to be part of the Santos family. I will always be grateful, and I will always love that team because that is where I started. Who knows maybe somebody will be there and avail themselves to bring the club back and then we can see a lot more Erwin Isaacs, Eleazer Rodgers, Romano Scott, Musa Otieno, Tyren Arendse you know, coming through the ranks. But at least the club is still there, they’re not totally gone.”
FARPost – You then moved to Sundowns when Santos got relegated. Tell us a bit about your move to Sundowns and what impact it had in your career?
Rodgers: This was a very interesting time, it was sad that we (Santos) got relegated that season but on the contrary or ironically I was the second top goal scorer that season you know, I had a very good season. There were a lot of offers but I ended up signing for Mamelodi Sundowns and wow, it was something that I never really expected, or I even thought it would happen.
I never even thought I would ever play for Mamelodi Sundowns but the opportunity was there, Johan Neeskens was there at the time and he was really interested in having me there. It was a new challenge that I expected, and I believe if I was given an opportunity to play, at least I would’ve been able to prove myself.
“So yeah, my time there was good, it was a new different environment and it was also good for me on the financial side, it sorts of set me up, wow, going forward. It was a blessing for me to be part of such a big club, unfortunately we struggled that season as well, we lost in the Telkom Cup final. But it wasn’t overall a bad time at Sundowns, I really enjoyed, it made me better and I learnt a lot from playing alongside such great quality players.
FARPost – You didn’t get as much game time as one would’ve expected at Sundowns, and eventually you were loaned out to Ajax. How did that make you feel?
Rodgers: At Sundowns I think we had like seven strikers that season, so competition was quite stiff, and the team also wasn’t at its best at that time as there were a lot of rotation of the squad. But I think I had a fair amount of games; I should have scored more goals because I had a lot of opportunities.
It was unfortunate that the following season after I joined, I wasn’t part of the plans of the coach, Pitso [Mosimane] when he came there so that is when I was sent on loan to Ajax. But these things do happen (being sent out on loan) it’s part of the game when new coaches come, and coaches go.
“I was still contracted with Sundowns and I was just hoping to perform well at Ajax and then when the season ends and I go back to Sundowns that I would still get another opportunity to play, but unfortunately that too never worked out until I was sold to Platinum Stars.
At that time I felt like I had just achieved something good you know, moving to Joburg to play for Sundowns and then when I went on loan I was like ‘eish now I must go back to Cape Town’ it’s like I felt like my dream was over you know. But God had other plans, he just wanted to re-direct my path.
FARPost – And then you went to Bidvest Wits, where you seemingly enjoyed your best football and even won your first league title.
Rodgers: At Platinum Stars I also enjoyed my time there, I had a very good 2 seasons. Then I moved to Bidvest Wits, wow! My time at Bidvest Wits really stands out above all, because you know, throughout my career at that time I never really won any trophies and when I joined Wits we managed to win the MTN8 (Wits beat Sundowns 3-0 in the Final) and the League.
Then the following season we won the Telkom KO (Wits beat Bloemfontein Celtic 1-0 in the final) all in all it was, yho! Also, very memorable. We were also a very good bunch of players, we worked very hard. I must say whenever you play under coach Gavin Hunt, he makes sure that we work hard. There are very high standards he has very high standards, we were blessed that season to put in the shift that was required of us to win those trophies.
FARPost– How was it playing under Gavin Hunt?
Rodgers: Playing under Gavin Hunt is not easy, to be honest, because he has high standards. He expects nothing less than your best, he wants you to be consistent in your performances and bring in your quality. And I guess as professional footballers that is what is required and expected of us, and yes, he loves of us to work hard. But all in all, he’s good, it’s really good to work under him he’s not a bad coach at all.
“You can also see based on what he has achieved as a coach for himself, he’s allowed to have that high mentality rate. Who knows maybe when I’m coaching one day, I will implement some of those things (laughs)?
FARPost – Most of the players you played with at Santos, either fell off the radar and some have since retired. From that Santos team, only you and Wayne Arendse remain. How did you manage to keep it going and stay relevant for all these years?
Rodgers: Yes, I agree, if you look now it’s only me and Wayne Arendse who are still playing. I think it’s a blessing and also a reflection of who we are as players you know, how we conduct ourselves and how we treat the game. Along that it is the hard work that we put in, ultimately, it’s our attitude you know, if you respect the game you will go far.
It’s unfortunate that most of us don’t get the same opportunities in life, and that is how life works sometimes. But it also boils down to just bring grateful for the opportunities we had. Wayne and I, our characters are similar and that has contributed to a lot. So, it’s something that can be respected or something to look up to.
“I think myself and Wayne have developed that type of attitude and that’s been key in our success as well, along with our hard work.”
FARPost – How does it sit with you that you were never a regular player for Bafana Bafana, despite being in this game for close to 15 years now? Are you disappointed?
Rodgers: I wouldn’t say that I’m disappointed, but what I would say is I’ve been there three times (3 caps) and I think if I had gotten maybe an opportunity to play sooner, I would have been able to grow more as a player and also gain the experience on an international level. With more games you always become a better player, getting to know other players as well who are called into the national team.
“I got an opportunity against Burkina Faso. We also beat Senegal, so yeah, I had a good time playing I really do wish I could have had more time or at least start to play earlier so I an contribute more. But I also accept things as they are, not all of get the same opportunities so jah, I’m grateful for the chance and the opportunity that I got.
By Shane Matsoyane