How Pitso Mosimane’s student unearthed Sabelo Radebe & Boitumelo Radiopane

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Themba Dlamini couldn’t sleep nor eat on Sunday after the Carling Cup Soweto derby pitting Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.

Even though it’s more common to binge eat and struggle to get some shut-eye when anxious, it was the opposite with Dlamini.

He justifiably had all sorts of emotions. Joyful, nostalgic, a sense of pride, feeling rewarded, thrilled and reflective of past, present and future!

It was the proudest moment for the Vaal-based development coach. Understandably so, two of his prodigies – Sabelo Radebe and Boitumelo Radiopane – had just featured for the Glamour Boys and Buccaneers,  respectively. On the same evening, in the same game albeit for two rivalling clubs.

The sight of Radebe, a boy he long dubbed the next Doctor Khumalo, playing the entire game for Chiefs left him adrenaline-charged. Seeing his other prodigy ‘Radio Pain’ trot onto the turf of Orlando Stadium to replace Fortune Makaringe for Bucs in the 77th minute was an absolute goosebump moment for him.

It all got him pondering deeply on his journey. A journey full of thorns and thistles, starting right from his time at the Barney Molokoane Academy, under the watchful eye of Pitso Mosimane between 1998 and 1999.

Interestingly, the Barney Molokoane Academy in Soweto marked Mosimane’s humble beginnings in a coaching career that would take him to far-flung Egypt two decades later. At the academy, he had the likes of Gerald Modabi and Cavann Sibeko, who later made their names at SuperSport United.

Dlamini was part of that group. He also harboured hopes of going on to become a top PSL player. But, as fate would have it, there was no money to continue training under Mosimane. He could not afford to shell out the monthly fee of R250.

“I had to come back home [in the Vaal] when I was 18 because I couldn’t afford to continue paying at the academy,” Dlamini tells FARPost.

After all, maybe his destiny was to unearth football gems. Surely, if he was destined to make it to the topflight, the universe would have conspired to deliver that utmost dream. Like it has done for many others!

And so, the cosmos directed him to a different course altogether when he left the Soweto academy. He found himself playing at an amateur side Brazil FC late in 1999 before being handed the responsibility to coach the team’s Under 10 and 13 sides.

The coaching stint, however, would be short-lived. Philosophies or ‘failosophies’ clashed! “After some time I realised our philosophies didn’t click, so we parted ways,” Dlamini says.

That failed stint led him to start his own Under 11 side at the turn of the millennium. His Celta Vigo played in the Under 13 category of the local leagues in the Vaal.

In 2003, he started working with the Jomo Cosmos Under 13 side, but still maintained Celta Vigo.

Much of his philosophy, he says, is drawn from Mosimane’s manual. “Coach Pitso made me a better player, he’s the reason I’m a coach, he taught me what football is, he made me understand what it takes to manage players. He loves his players and wants to see them doing well,” explains the 40-year-old mentor.

Interestingly, he remembers that yellow BMW that Mosimane drove when he was at the academy. It always had newspapers and magazines and football-related reading material strewn all over the seats, he says.

“You just couldn’t sit in that car because of those papers.” The only seat that was not cluttered with documents was the driver’s seat.

All the while, Radebe, affectionately known as Bibo, was at SAISD FC under the tutelage of Coscar Yika, who had previously worked with Dlamini.

“Sabelo’s mom would let us go with him to watch football when he was quite young. Maybe as young as three. He developed a passion for football at a very young age,” Yika, pictured below, tells FARPost.

Of course, football had a competitor in rugby, but it was diski that prevailed. When the boy was nine, Yika just couldn’t keep him with the rest of his boys.

“We had over 50 boys, but Bibo was just exceptional. He wasn’t like any other kid. Because I grew up under Themba, I felt he had the right kind of connections to help him progress,” explains Yika.

While they would have to put in so much effort teaching basics, it was always a breeze for Bibo. Schooling the boy football basics somewhat felt like ‘preaching to the converted’, Yika reveals. The boy just had it in him. “You’d swear he had been doing this for some time,” he adds.

He recalls how he always got bigger boys moerd when they played ‘spy 2 mpama’. “He was smart from a very young age. He would target this other guy who wasn’t so good in terms of technical ability. After a shibobo, he would then hold him so that everyone beat him,” Yika says.

Even his peers knew he was a cut above the rest. Bongani Mzizi says Bibo was always destined for dizzy heights. The former Chiefs MDC captain, who was promoted to the senior team earlier this year, was so dedicated.

“You just knew he’d be at training every day without fail. He balanced football quite well with his studies. I’m not even surprised to see where he is today,” Mzizi tells FARPost.

In 2010, Yika recommended the boy to Dlamini. His hopes were that he was giving him to a man who would take his talent to the next level.

“When Grobler [Yika] brought the boy to me, he was about 11 and I told people I had found Doctor Khumalo. He had all the traits. I played him with older boys from the onset,” says a besotted Dlamini.

Five years down the line, the boy was training at Wits before Chiefs snapped him up at 17. “I was happy when he moved to Chiefs and you can see the kind of work the coaches have done on him,” he says.

Maybe Dlamini’s comfort after losing the Amakhosi central midfielder was that he still had Radiopane, who is two years Radebe’s junior. He has never forgotten the way he stumbled upon the 19-year-old striker some 10 years ago in the dusty streets of Sebokeng.

While walking in the middle-class township located in southern Gauteng, he saw this little boy taking on opponents barefoot with such ease. The boys he was playing against looked older than him yet he would eliminate them with his dribbling skills and score goals.

“I saw this boy [Radiopane] playing street football with his feet, dribbling someone and scoring barefoot. I called him and asked who he was. I then asked to have him train with us from his family and they allowed me,” he explains with evident joy.

From age nine, the boy started playing for the Under 13s and was never shy to rattle the net. Aged 11, Dlamini recalls how the boy had stopped attending training. There was only one remedy, he thought. The boy needed a thorough beating. “I had to beat him up. He was about 11 at the time,” Dlamini says.

He then went to the School of Excellence aged 14 before joining Pirates in 2019. “He has pace for days and good stamina. I’m told he’s growing fast. He is Cristiano Ronaldo in the making,” he says.

On the back of a season where he was crowned the DStv Diski Challenge top goalscorer with six goals in four matches in the competition, the former national Under 17 striker was part of Bucs’ pre-season camp in Rustenburg. He was also named the club’s Prospect of the Season following his impressive displays.

His former teammate Anele Ntlama, who is now in the books of Sekhukhune United, says Radiopane often showed nerves of steel whenever he was thrown into the deep end.

“He is the kind of player we’d bring in when we were trailing, young as he was, and he would come in and score goals. You can’t stop him when he wants something,” Ntlama tells FARPost.

Watching his boys at the weekend, Dlamini, who does not hide his love for Amakhosi, just could not help but dredge up plenty of memories.

Those dark winter nights when he would walk the boys home after training, the days where he had to sacrifice the little he had to keep the team going. The times when some of the boys didn’t have soccer boots or instants he was told his boys weren’t doing well at school or there was no food at home.

“People don’t know where I’ve come from with these boys. I was a father to them,” Dlamini says.

The biblical scripture ‘weeping will endure for a night but joy comes in the morning’ rings true now with his boys on the cusp of carving a niche for themselves in the higher echelons of local football.

That gives him the verve to want to do a lot more for the boys under his charge in the Vaal. His utmost desire is to see the lives of his boys change one after another!

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By Mthokozisi Dube