Legend of the week: David Nyathi

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Some argue that he is the best left back South Africa has ever produced and some have memories of his thunderous left foot and pace down the left side, while some simple say he is one of the best defenders South Africa has ever produced since readmission.

Who is he?

David Sibusiso Nyathi was born in the small town of Buckbuckridge in Mpumalanga in the eHlanzeni district. Nyathi came into prominence after being part of a group of talented players who promoted a club with a fairy tale story back in the early 90s – a club called Dangerous Darkies.

In 1990 Nyathi helped the Nelspruit-based club gain promotion to the South African National Soccer League and in 1991 they only lasted a single season in the top flight before being sent right back to the second division again. Later Dangerous Darkies would merge with Witbank Aces to form a club which would come into the spot light in South African football , Mpumalanga Black Aces.

After his first season in the top flight Nyathi had impressed so many teams and it was no surprise to see him being lured by Soweto giants Orlando Pirates for the upcoming season, which is where he started to establish himself as one of the best defenders in the country. At Pirates Nyathi was part of the team that lifted the BP Top 8 trophy in 1993, the only trophy he would win at the club before being lured away to the coast to join rising Cape Town Spurs in 1994.

In his first season Nyathi was part of the Spurs team that tormented teams in South Africa’s top flight dramatically finish a point behind champions Orlando Pirates who finished the season with 50 points and Spurs finished with 49 points to miss out on the title.

In 1995, however, Spurs would not be denied as they made history by becoming the first ever club from Western Cape to win a league and cup double winning.

They won the Bob Save Super Bowl by defeating Pretoria City 3-0 in the final and later winning the National Soccer League under then coach Mich D’Avray to close curtains in a season that would be the last for the National Soccer League before in 1996 the league would then be rebranded and renamed the Premier Soccer League.

In the national team, Nyathi was part of the first ever national team squad after re-admission in 1992 as South Africa defeated Cameroon 1-0 in Durban. He was part of the squads that participated in the 1994 World Cup and AFCON qualifiers as South Africa, in the rebuilding phase of their programme, failed to qualify for both tournaments. Towards the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations the original host nation Kenya couldn’t host the tournament and South Africa were given hosting rights.

South Africa had just been to her first Democratic elections and she was a country in need of a unifying cause that would lift the spirit of the newly formed ‘rainbow’ nation behind its first ever President Nelson Mandela.

The 1996 AFCON came and coach Clive Barker and his troops had a great preparation campaign. Many will remember the 0-0 draw against Germany which lifted the spirits of many football die-hard fans and made them believe that indeed Bafana Bafana had a chance of going all the way in the tournament. When the tournament started the boys took off like a jet going all the way to the final against Tunisia to eventually win 2-0 and lift the trophy.

Nyathi had been featuring down the left side during the tournament helping Bafana win gold.

From club glory with Spurs to national team glory with the national team Nyathi was a man who seemed to be winning everything there was to win at the time and at club football felt he needed to be amongst the big boys, and so it was that in 1996 he joined another Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs, ‘Abafana bokuthula noxolo’. At Chiefs, Nyathi had a very short spell before joining Spanish La Liga side CD Tenerife making what was considered one of the best leagues in Europe at the time with clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and the best players in the world plying their trade in this division so Nyathi was taking a big step up.

In his first season at Tenerife the club had a great run in the UEFA Europa league going all the way to the semifinals of the competition, a season that will always be in the memories of many of their supporters in a period where Tenerife was up there with the best in Spain. Nyathi didn’t feature much at the club though and felt he needed to play more regularly hence when an opportunity to join Swiss club St Gallen came along he grabbed it with both hands.

Nyathi joined Swiss top flight FC St Gallen from Tenerife and in his first season he played a total of 21 league games and helped the club to reach the Swiss cup final before losing out to Lausanne Sport on penalties after a thrilling 2-2 draw away from home. His impressive showings with the club led to his ultimate career move to what was considered the best league in the world at the time, the Italian Serie A joining Cagliari towards the 1998/99 season.

At Cagliari, Nyathi stayed for two seasons playing amongst the best players in the world like Gabriel Batistuta, Ronaldo Nazario, Diego Simeone and many other great players who were at the prime of their game at the time. The defender played two seasons in Serie A before moving to the Turkish top flight to join Ankaragucu in 2000 which is where he hanged up his boots and closed the curtains on a great career.

In the national team after the 1996 AFCON triumph Nyathi continued to be a permanent figure in the squad as South Africa qualified for her first ever FIFA World Cup in 1998 and he was actually part of the squad that went to France being knocked out in the group phase after a loss to hosts France and two draws against Saudi Arabia and Denmark . At the 1998 AFCON he was a permanent feature at the back as Bafana Bafana went all the way to the final and lost to Egypt.

For Nyathi that tournament will always be special as he scored that famous thunder bolt with his weaker right foot against Morocco in the quarterfinals against Morocco as South Africa came back from a goal down to win 2-1 to book a semifinal date with DR Congo whom they eventually defeated before falling to the Pharaohs in the final. A year later Nyathi hanged up his boots in the national team having played 45 games scoring one goal for his country.

The legend is now involved in coaching as an assistant coach at Cape Town-based Ajax. He is also involved in SAFA structures serving as a member of the technical team assisting to guide national team coaches on a number of key issues including the national playing philosophy framework and leadership skills. He is also leading the legends association of South Africa helping fight for and bring together South African football legends.

Nyathi is a hall of famer in South African football and it is good to celebrate him while he is still alive – as FARPost we salute you ‘Going up’ thank you for your great contribution to South African football.

RELATED STORY: Legend of the week: Sizwe Motaung

By Prince Sobayeni

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