How R500m rated Patson Daka slipped through Sundowns’ fingers

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When Floyd ‘Mourinho’ Mogale starts talking about red hot Zambian forward Patson Daka, you just sense a bit of dismay in his voice.

He’s like a man who feels his sweat was wasted for zilch. Of course, he long left Mamelodi Sundowns, but he may feel he was robbed of leaving a legacy at the club.

It all seems justifiable especially when you begin to scan through the numbers. As they say, ‘numbers don’t lie’. Daka has scored 23 goals in the last 19 games for his Austrian side RB Salzburg.

The latest was a hat-trick buried in a record eight minutes on Sunday. It makes him the most sought after African in Europe at the moment.

In fact, his impressive 28 goals and eight assists in the Austria Bundesliga last season put the 22-year-old on the same scoring wavelength with emerging European striking talents like Erling Haaland of Borussia Dortmund and PSG’s Kilian Mbappe.

It will not be a surprise should he be sold for anything in the region of R500 million [€30 million]. The boy is pure class!

Now Mogale’s indignant mood when you mention Daka stems from the fact that the boy could have been at Sundowns. For a couple of years the Brazilians tracked young Daka. There was consensus among the scouts at the club that he was potentially a generational talent.

Interestingly, the Downs head of methodology and academy Shawn Bishop and talent scout Russell Molefe were first to see him back in April 2015. He was playing at the African Union Sports Commission (AUSC) Region 5 Youth Games in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

It was just six months before his 17th birthday. But Daka led his country’s Under 17 team with the aplomb of a veteran. The boy was as mean as they come in front of goals.

“I saw him as a 15-year-old in the Zambian national team in Bulawayo. He was playing there. I think that was 2015,” Shawn Bishop confirms to FARPost.

“It’s weird that the first game I saw him, he scored a hat-trick against Zimbabwe. I was trying to look for the footage the other day because I recorded the game.”

His hat-trick, Bishop recalls, was scored with both feet – two with his strongest right and the other with his left. That was his introduction to the meticulous Sundowns’ scouting team. It became as clear as daylight to Bishop and his team that he was a talent set for dizzy heights.

“We followed him for a while but we have to be respectful of the laws. He was under age. In South Africa, a boy is a minor until the age of 18. The laws are clear that a child needs to go to school until 18.”

The following year [December 2016], the next Downs scout to watch the youngster was David Notoane at the Cosafa Under 20 Championship.

Daka was on target in the 41st minute in their opening match against Zimbabwe that Young Chipolopolo won 5-1. He then scored in the next match with 19 minutes to go as Zambia beat neighbours Malawi 3-0, helping his country advance to the semi-finals of the tournament.

He was unlucky not to score in the final against South Africa, which his Zambia won 2-1. His third minute header hit the crossbar at the Moruleng Stadium in Rustenburg. Nonetheless, it was still clear that he was a boy on the path to stardom.

“The club he was at in Nkana [Kafue Celtic] were doing excellent work with him to ensure he progresses to become the player he is right now,” Bishop admits.

Following that tournament, a recommendation was made by the scouting team to invite Daka and his teammate Enock Mwepu to Chloorkop, but nothing materialised.

The man who was entrusted with the development of the boy by his father before his death in September 2012, Lee Kawanu, recalls every conversation he had with Sundowns about the boy.

The owner of Kafue Celtic, Kawanu, gives FARPost a bit of a glimpse about where the boy’s football skills may have been inherited. Apparently, his dad was a quick-fire winger endowed with some blistering pace.

“I guess that is where he got the talent from,” he says. The earliest memory he has of the youngster was each time his dad brought him to the training ground.

“He used to say, ‘this boy will make you happy and he will be a star’.”
His father, being a former footballer himself, was extremely convinced he had a gem on his hands. He was about 12 at the time.

Senior Daka had the inkling of a prophet, often telling his coach that his little man would become a striker of note one day. Tiny as the boy was, he had no doubt that he would tear apart defences and hit the net as often as the likes of Collins Mbesuma and Christopher Katongo did at their peak.

“I was reluctant to release him to Sundowns because I felt he could easily go to Europe,” he tells FARPost from his Kafue base, a town in the Lusaka Province of Zambia.

Even when Sundowns proposed to sign him and loan him out until he was 18, Kawanu remembered his departed dad’s prophecy. The boy’s mother, Josephine Shelemu, had left it all to Kawanu. But dad’s prophecy lingered.

Even the lure of the more powerful rand from one of South Africa’s top clubs was not enough to convince Kawanu.

He just had to hold on to this gem in the hope that his dad’s prophecy would later come to full manifestation. Nonetheless, that never stopped Sundowns from pursuing the boy.

The last time they pushed for his signature was when he featured in the Under 20 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Lusaka. But, by that time, which was exactly two years after they watched him at Bulawayo’s Barbourfields Stadium, Daka was now under Sevilla legend Frederick Kanoute’s 12Management Agency.

It was a good seven months before his 18th birthday. A year prior, the youngster had made history, featuring for all national teams – the Under 17, Under 20, Under 23 and also making his senior team debut.

Mogale was the man assigned to go and do some scouting. He spent 12 days in the Zambian capital and waxes lyrical about what he saw at that tournament. The hosts emerged winners of the tournament after beating Senegal 2-0 in the final played at the Heroes National Stadium in Lusaka.

Again, ‘Papa’, as Daka was affectionately known, scored for Young Chipolopolo to help his country win its first and only Under 20 Afcon trophy.

The other goal came via the boot of Edward Chilufya, who is now with Swedish club Djurgårdens IF in the Allsvenskan. Daka went on to win the Player of the Tournament award and was also joint top scorer with Chilufya and Bafana Bafana star Luther Singh, on four goals apiece.

“I was chief scout of Sundowns at the time, it was an Under 20 tournament. He may have been 18, 19. I could have brought him to Sundowns then. He killed South Africa,” Mogale, who is now coaching second tier side Royal AM, tells FARPost.

Upon his return, Mogale says he recommended the youngster, but it was too late. After loan stints with topflight giants, Nchanga Rangers FC and Power Dynamos, he was on his way to Liefering FC, a feeder team for RB Salzburg.

That same year, he became only the second Zambian player to win the Caf Young Player of the Year Award after Clifford Mulenga won the accolade in 2007. He was also crowned the 2017 Zambia Sportsman of the Year. All eyes were on him.

“When he went to Austria he was on the verge of coming to Chloorkop. He can score goals. He’s a machine. He was strong, had technique and an understanding of the game. He had everything you needed in a striker.

“We asked to sign that boy but unfortunately I was only chief scout, I could only make a recommendation.

“I spoke to Patrice [Motsepe], he knows very well, but he said our coach [Pitso Mosimane] didn’t like him. This boy could have been at Chloorkop as we are talking now. He was one of the top goal scorers. You call that name to me anytime, I wake up.”

Hot on the heels of that tournament, he joined Salzburg, striking the perfect combination with Halaand.

When the Nowergian left Salzburg for Dortmund in Germany, the Chipolopolo marksman stepped up to the plate.

Thanks to his goal-scoring prowess, aristocrats of Premier League football such as Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur have been posturing themselves, hoping to land his signature.

But for Sundowns, they can only wonder what could have happened had the boy come to Chloorkop.

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By Mthokozisi Dube

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