Jerry Sikhosana spends his time sharpening the football skills of young boys in his Tembisa neighbourhood.
At any given time, you’ll find the Orlando Pirates legend with at least 35 boys, all eager to tap from the wells of his wisdom, garnered over 13 years of a remarkable football career. His unpretentious efforts have yielded top talents like Themba Zwane and Thabo Matlaba.
Naturally, as a father to a talented boy – S’thembiso Sikhosana – he’d have loved to see his offspring go on to achieve bigger things than he did. Ever honest and upfront about things, he admits his boy was way more talented than himself.
In fact, anyone, especially those from the Khalambazo Section of Tembisa – who often watched Sikhosana junior bud as a starlet won’t have to think twice when asked if he was better than his dad. The boy was simply a gem – they unanimously concur.
No wonder he was christened ‘Nado’, snipped off the name Ronaldo, the Portuguese magician who has dominated European football for over a decade. And then you have those that choose to bring it closer to home, often referring to him as Thulani Serero because he reminded them of the former Ajax Cape Town star’s deft touches in the middle of the park. Cream – some lovingly call him.
“If you can call Themba (Zwane) or Thabo Matlaba they will tell you about S’thembiso,” says the former Orlando Pirates striker as he avoids bragging about his son’s capabilities. A quick call to newly signed Moroka Swallows wing back, Matlaba, proves ‘Legs of Thunder’ is absolutely right. He is not merely talking up his boy.
“I’m not saying all this to buy face because he is Jerry’s son, the boy was a fantastic player. He would have easily been one of the country’s best players,” says Matlaba, who had a two-year stint at M Tigers under the tutelage of Sikhosana – a formidable goal poacher in the ’90s.
At 13, Nado was already one of the first few names in the Under 17 line up. And no one would have qualms because he deservedly made older boys watch the game from the sidelines. While Zwane, arguably the best PSL player last season as he led Mamelodi Sundowns to their treble, was the toast of the township, Nado was somewhat next to him in terms of ability on the pitch.
Interestingly, Sibusiso Mahlangu, who played with both of them, won’t be drawn into giving a verdict on who was a better player. “You’re asking me to compare a Maserati and a Ferrari – no way,” he says in pure merriment. Both cars are premium Italian cars. They both exude a combination of elegance, style, passion and performance.
Mahlangu then brings it back closer to the beautiful game. “It’s exactly like the argument about Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s hard to compare the two,” he admits. The argument around the Portuguese star and the Argentinian ace is no new dispute – it’s a long standing and unending one that has divided football fans the world over. And that comparison between ‘Mshishi’ and ‘Nado’ just tells you what the boy, now aged 29, could have easily been.
“He played with Themba Zwane, Thabo Matlaba, Gift Sithole, Punch Masenamela and Tintswalo Tshabalala although they were older than him,” Sikhosana tells FARPost. Besides his deft touches in midfield, an eye for the pass and the knack for banging in goals, he was versatile. He could easily be thrust at the tip of the midfield diamond or he could form the tip of his dad’s spear upfront, just like ‘Legs of Thunder’ was to skull and crossbones for a good seven years. The boy was nifty.
“I can’t even tell you what happened, at school he was sharp. He completed his matric with good marks. After that he was not okay,” says Sikhosana, whose son is now mentally unstable.
Admittedly and repeatedly, he just keeps saying the boy “was a better player than what people would expect from me”.
Mateo Mahwayi, pictured above with Themba Shabalala, a renowned development coach in Tembisa who has produced top talents like Shabalala, witnessed the youngster’s aptitude during the Phillys Games.
He waxes lyrical, unstoppably so, the moment the name Nado is mentioned in a telephonic interview. “He was an exceptionally good player, better than Jerry Sikhosana. He was just unfortunate. Nado was one of the best. He was a complete player.
“Each time he was playing you were guaranteed two or three goals, and he was so creative. I think by now he would be playing his football overseas. “He was strong, had physique, he could run. He had all the qualities you need in an attacking midfielder. He rarely complained or fought opponents when fouled. All he did was play his football brilliantly.
“We lost a great talent. He never played with his age group, at 12 he was with Under 15s, at 13 he was now with the Under 17s. He was always the youngest,” says Mahwayi, who is of the view that the boy grew to be better than Mshishi.
Interestingly, the Bafana Bafana midfielder, Zwane, admits Nado was a better player than him. “He was good with set pieces, he made the team play. To be honest, he was better than me, he was our playmaker, truly a top player and he had a good heart. Some of us struggled with boots and he would give us his boots. He cared about other people. We were like brothers,” Zwane says from Rustenburg, where he is currently in camp with the national team.
Operating from the heart of midfield, Nado once emerged as top goalscorer in one of the editions of the Phillys tournament. Indeed, everyone had high hopes for the boy. “These things do happen, you know witchcraft in the township, when they can’t reach the father they go for where it will hurt him the most,” Sikhosana confides as he suggests his son was ensorcelled.
“He started going through all this after completing his matric at 17, he was still young when all these things started.”
Come to think of it, at 17 is when his professional career should have been taking off. Judging by the progress he was making; he was an early bloomer and could have been knocking in the first team of a top team at that age.
When the FARPost crew arrives at his Tembisa home, Nado is in the house with his grandmother. His dad reveals he is close to granny and opted to live with her. “He doesn’t like staying with me, but I support him in every way I need to. He stays with my mom here in Tembisa, he’s very fond of her,” he says as he points to his home, just a few houses from Zwane’s home.
Nado is called to come outside by his dad. Painfully diffident and so withdrawn, he politely greets, poses for a picture next to his 51-year-old dad and he quietly walks away. Even the sight of Mahlangu, pictured below, his former teammate, won’t convince him to say a word or two. He’s a man whose future has totally been smashed to smithereens. All hope is seemingly lost.
“If you give him the ball now and he juggles, you’ll be convinced he’s a top player. He’s obviously gained weight, he doesn’t want to train anymore,” his overwhelmed dad explains. He goes on to say he would have made it a point his boy went overseas had he been able to play football.
“I was gonna take it upon myself to make sure he goes abroad. I had the opportunity of coaching him from the time he was 15 to 21 when he could no longer play.” Interestingly, when coaching him, Nado was not treated with kids’ gloves. His dad made sure he pushed him to the limits. He wanted him to work extra hard.
Sometimes, Mahlangu says, people would ask him to be lenient on him. “I knew he needed to work hard. With the talent he had, I wanted him to push hard and not relax,” senior Sikhosana says.
But one thing that’s clear is that ‘Mjeza’ as Mahlangu refers to Sikhosana, treated all the boys he coached as his sons. “He’s our father this one, we all learnt from him and he was very gracious with us,” says Mahlangu, who later quit the game.
In his eyes, Nado’s story is sheer testimony of life’s unfairness or perhaps the unfairness of diski. “This man shouldn’t be here. He could literally carry a team like Pirates on his shoulders. It was as if God gave him Jerry’s talent and also added his own. We talk about him every day in Tembisa, if I take you to another part of Tembisa they’ll tell you the same thing,” says Mahlangu as he points at Nado.
But for Sikhosana, who has accepted that his dream of seeing his son play at the highest level will not be fulfilled, there is a huge consolation. “It gives me pleasure that even though I didn’t help my son progress, I made a boy like Themba go further. I have no grudges at all, I’m happy I helped someone, and they are doing well,” he concludes.
Sadly, such is the unfairness of life. But, it will not stop Sikhosana from unearthing more talents in Tembisa.
RELATED STORY: Mateo Mahwayi: The mechanic unearthing football talents
By Mthokozisi Dube