Legend of the week: Siyabonga Nomvethe

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From the streets of KwaMashu came one of the best strikers South African football has ever seen, Siyabonga ‘Bhele’ Nomvethe. 

Born on the second of December 1977, his journey in football started like all other kids in the township who grew up playing football on the streets. However, things took shape when he joined Sabata FC, then Durban Cosmos and Claremont Blizzards.

It is at Claremont Blizzards where he stood out amongst his peers and eventually earned his first professional move joining African Wanderers ‘Abaqulusi’ and helping them gain promotion to South Africa’s top-flight in 1998.

Nomvethe formed a lethal partnership with two legendary strikers in Sibusiso ‘Rhee’ Zuma and Phumlani Mkhize at Wanderers tearing defenders and giving oppositions sleepless nights.

But in that season the striker will be remembered for scoring a brace against a club he dreamed of playing for – Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs. Picture/Twitter. 

Nomvetheplayed 28 games for Wanderers scoring a total of 11 games in the process between 1997-98. As expected the next season the big South African clubs came knocking on the doors for the famous attacking trio and Kaizer Chiefs won the race for Nomvethe who signed a long-term contract with ‘Amakhosi’ at the start of the 1998-97 season.

At Naturena ‘Bhele’ joined an era of renewal with Chiefs promoting players from the development squad and bringing in the much-needed reinforcements to widen the pool of the club.

Chiefs had an exciting team that won the Telkom Knockout trophy two times in three years the striker spent there, but it is the league title that seemed to be running away from ‘Amakhosi’ having finished in second place for three consecutive seasons between 1998-2001.

Having competed in the league for four seasons now, a more experienced 23-year-old Nomvethe was looking to challenge himself at a higher level so when Italian Serie A side Udinese came for him he couldn’t resist the offer and signed for them leaving Chiefs after three good seasons at Naturena.

In 2001 ‘Bhele’ went out of his comfort zone and challenged himself at what was arguably one of the top three leagues in world football at the time. Picture: Kaizer Chiefs. 

During the four years Nomvethe spent with the Italian side, he helped the club reach the 2004 UEFA Cup under coach Luciano Spalleti, however, Beale could not play in the UEFA Cup as he was initially loaned out to Saterlitana for the second half of the 2003/04 season before a full season loan to Empoli for the 2004/05 season where he made 10 appearances scoring no goals – a bad period in his career struggling with game time and stability.

In 2005 ‘Bhele’ was once again loaned out to Swedish giants Djurgaden IF where although he played five games he still won the Swedish Allsvenskan title with the side.

At an international level, Nomvete made his debut for Bafana Bafana in 1999 against Trinidad and Tobacco. In 2000 Nomvete was part of that famous U-23 team that went on to qualify for the Olympics in Sydney scoring in the group stage, even though they got a famous 3-1 win against Brazil ‘Amaglug-glub’ couldn’t make it out of the group stage.

In 2002, Nomvethewrote his name in the history books scoring in South Africa’s victory over Slovenia in the tournament, but then again the national side couldn’t make it out of the group stage after losing 3-2 against Spain – a result which still hurts even today when one thinks about it.

‘Bhele’ would participate in the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) as Bafana Bafana were embarrassingly eliminated in the group stage, then the striker missed out in Bafana for the next three years under new coaches Alberto Pereira and Joel Santana.

After a frustrating two years going out on several loans the South African international decided to come back home to join Kaizer Chiefs’ rivals Orlando Pirates in 2006. Picture/SoccerLaduma. 

At the age of 28, the striker felt that he still had unfinished business abroad and, as a result, he accepted an offer from Danish Superliga side Aalborg in 2006 leaving Pirates after playing 14 league games for them and scoring four goals in the process.

The Uthongathi FC striker went on to join Aab, spending three seasons (2006-09) with the club He made 68 appearances and netted 13 goals in the process. In the 2007/07 season, Nomvethe won his second league title in Europe winning the Danish Superliga with Aab, his first title came with Djurgaden in Sweden.

‘Bhele’ is still one of a few South African players to have won two league titles with two different clubs in two different top-flight leagues. Before the league triumph, Aab had participated in the group stage of the UEFA Cup in the 2007-08 season.

Because of the league triumph, the club participated in the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League where they got eliminated in the group stages but a third-place finish in the group was enough to earn them a spot in the last 16 of the Europa League. In the Europa league, Aab were eliminated by Manchester City in a penalty shootout where Nomvethe scored that famous panenka penalty.

In 2009 Nomvethe made history when he joined Moroka Swallows by being one of a few players to have played for Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Swallows the best three Soweto clubs in the history of South Africa. At Moroka Swallows, Nomvete was a beast in his return with Swallows.

In his first season, Nomvethe guides the ‘Dube Birds’ to the Nedbank Cup, but it is in the 2011-12 season where he showed his class with Swallows, missing out on the league title with Nomvethe at the age of 34, winning the PSL Footballer of the Year, Absa Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season and the Lesley Manyathela Golden Boot with 20 goals at the PSL awards.

‘Bhele’ was the king of South African football and going strong for a player his age – that season Swallows finished in second place two points behind winners Orlando Pirates. Picture: PSL

In 2016 the veteran striker decided to join Amazulu where he stayed for three seasons making 70 appearances scoring 28 goals for ‘Usuthu’.

When many expected him to retire from football the striker made a surprise switch to GladAfrica Championship side Uthangathi in 2020. 

After a three-year-old absence in the national team, the striker was recalled to Bafana Bafana by Carlos Alberto Pereira and he was part of the historic Bafana Bafana squad that represented South Africa in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

This was the first-ever World Cup to be hosted on African soil. He made one appearance in the tournament coming on against France as South Africa won 2-1- the result wasn’t enough for Bafana Bafana to make it out of the group stage in their own tournament.

‘Bhele’ made a total of 81 appearances for the national team between 1999-2012 scoring 16 goals for Bafana.

Nomvethe made 459 total appearances in his career and enjoyed a great deal of success both locally and abroad. He won two titles abroad in two differential countries, he played and scored in two World Cups scoring in one, he scored in the Olympics, he played in the AFCON and for those achievements he deserves a spot as FARPost’s legend of the week.

RELATED STORY: Legend of the week: Helman Mkhalele

By Prince Sobayeni

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