Lyle Lakay: Plucked from a family of left-backs

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Sean Lakay recalls how his toddler son Lyle had the habit of going to bed clad in his oversized kit, shin guards, socks and soccer boots.

Sean would have come back from a game of football and sometimes the three-year-old boy would have watched him play in the company of his soccer crazy grandparents.

Maybe for little ‘Lylo’ donning dad’s full kit to bed was some way of trying to experience the joy dad was seemingly living through on the field of play.

But that ‘joy’ would be short-lived because as soon as he fell asleep, he would be stripped of the oversized player’s equipment. He would be left with his diaper and covered with blankets.

However, that obsession with dad’s oversized stuff was somewhat a pointer to Sean that his son would one day follow his footsteps. “He used to go to sleep with my shorts, jersey, socks, shin pads and boots. That’s how much he loved soccer. Every night we had to put him to sleep like that,” Sean tells FARPost from his Cape Town base.

“We had to wait till he was asleep and then take them off. He was about three at the time. It was a struggle to get those off.”

Of course, at that point it was odd to even think the boy would be left footed like dad and that he would eventually play at left back like him. Unsurprisingly though, football runs deeply in the family.

His great grandfather Andrew Jeptha was involved in the formation of St Athens FC in 1942 while his grandfather Wilfred Martin Lakay was also a gifted footballer.

The only difference with grandpa was that he was two-footed and could thread unerring passes, crosses, and make dribbles with either foot, with no discernible difference. It was an attribute that added to his unpredictability quotient.

Even his grandmother Myrne Lakay also played football back in the day. So, when their grandson turned five and started playing for Stephanians Ottery, it came as no surprise.

“It runs in the family,” Lyle tells FARPost. “There was definitely inspiration from my family because I used to go watch my dad play [amateur football]. I was young and didn’t know much then. People also speak highly of my grandfather. So I always wanted to do the same and even be better.”

When his football career took off at Stephanians in 1996 where he played for the under nine side, Lyle was already a big fan of Ryan Giggs and Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. Surprising especially considering his parents were staunch Liverpool fans.

His unrelenting ingenuity on that left wing as a traditional number 11 later saw him drafted into the Western Province Under 11 side. At the age of 12, he caught the eyes of Hellenic scouts. “I was at Hellenic for a year before they closed down.” The year was 2004 when the Greek gods sold their status to Benoni Premier United and disbanded all their youth teams.

With his immense talent, there was no way he would stay clubless for too long. Roger Links recalls how the youngster was one of the first few players to be admitted into the Old Mutual Academy.

The Cape Town-based football breeding ground, also credited for unearthing talents like Mark Mayambela and AmaZulu skipper Tapelo Xoki, spotted him at an open trial in 2005 after a proposed partnership agreement with his beloved Man United.

“He was very accurate with his left foot, he could cross the ball and always used to take free kicks. He could always stretch play, make cross-field passes, and give you that crucial pass in the final third,” the former Bafana Bafana defender, Links, tells FARPost.

Neven Payne, who first saw Lyle at Hellenic before working with him at Old Mutual, remembers how the teenager was in demand after setting the Bayhill Tournament alight in 2006.

“He had so many offers from Ajax and other clubs, but I told his parents that I had a Uefa B Coaching Licence and we would help him. The next year in the Bayhill Tournament, he scored a great goal. I looked at John Comitis [who was at Ajax], I saw him stand up and clap for him. I knew Lyle would go places,” Payne, now a youth coach at Cape Town City, tells FARPost.

All the while, his school work was suffering, yet the mind was made up. It was football he loved. “My schooling wasn’t that great, I was naughty, I used to bunk class because of football. I actually failed twice,” Lyle adds.

That almost delayed his move to SuperSport United until Matsatsantsa youth coach Godfrey Mosoetsa intervened. A move to Pretoria, exactly four years after joining Old Mutual, would see him continue with his studies in the capital.

The Tshwane club couldn’t wait any longer to have the flying winger understudy Daine Klate, who was part of that well-oiled SuperSport United side that won three league titles on the trot, starting with the 2007/08 campaign.

“He was a player we were looking for who would come to understudy Daine. You can’t bring a player of the same age. It was a gap of six years [between them],” Mosoetsa tells FARPost.

The SuperSport stint would open a door for the boy who grew up a stone-throw away from the Athlone Stadium on the Cape Flats to train with Tottenham in London.

England captain Harry Kane, who is two years his junior, was part of the group he trained with during that visit in September 2010. Kane was virtually unknown at the time, also trying to carve a niche for himself in the game.

“Harry Kane trained with us. The first team played away against FC Twente so we got to train with the reserve side,” the modest Lyle recalls.

Luckily, he later got to meet the first team players to cap off a life-changing experience. But the get-together with Luka Modric, a man widely regarded as one of the best midfielders of his generation, topped it off. Revered as the greatest Croatian footballer of all-time, Modric went on to join Spanish giants Real Madrid exactly two years after that meeting with Lylo at White Hart Lane.

“I got to meet Luka and I named my son after him [in 2014],” says Lyle, who represented South Africa’s Under 20 side at the 2011 African Youth Championship.

Interestingly, seven year old Luka is also into football. He is also a left footed player and could possibly carry on the family’s left-back legacy.

“We all played in the same position, I was a left footer, he [Lyle] is a left footer, his younger brother [Dylan Lakay] is a left footer and his son is a left footer,” explains Senior Lakay.

Following his return from London, a then 18-year-old Lyle was loaned out to FC Cape Town for the 2009/10 season, a stint that allowed his grandfather to watch him in action before passing on.

“When I was young my grandfather used to pick me up and take me to games. I’m glad he got to watch me play at the stadium in Cape Town,” says Lyle, who had a second spell with the African Beasts.

Clinton Larsen jokingly says the ‘left-foot’ genes were too strong in the family. Larsen coached both Lyle and his younger brother Dylan at Bloemfontein Celtic and Roses United respectively.

His brother also played for me at Roses a few years ago. They were very similar, his brother was smaller in stature, but with a very big heart, energetic, fierce on the tackle and had a good cross in him. He [Dylan] was a natural left back, but we allowed him to go forward and put in crosses,” Larsen tells FARPost.

On February 22, 2015, the two Lakay boys faced off when Celtic took on Roses United in the last 32 of the Nedbank Cup. Each of them played on the left side for their respective club in a tie won 3-0 by Siwelele.

After spending six years at Phunya Sele Sele, the former youth international packed his bags for his hometown to join Cape Town City. However, the home reunion was cut short when Mamelodi Sundowns came knocking just after one stellar season.

“While I was at City, [Bidvest] Wits approached me and I was going to join them. One day while at a family event, I got a call from my agent telling me Pitso [Mosimane] wanted to talk to me,” Lyle recalls.

He wasn’t going to say no to Sundowns considering their trophy success and how hungry he was to lift titles. Masandawana successfully plucked him away from his home town in 2018, but there was a condition. He would not be slotting into the hole Keegan Dolly had left a year prior when he joined French side Montpellier FC.

Mosimane wanted him to play fullback. “It’s part of the agreement and he knows. It’s like Thapelo Morena, we brought him as a winger. They fit the model of fullbacks and that’s how we play. That’s the way it is,” Mosimane said when signing him.

As expected, the move to Chloorkop has yielded three league titles, the Nedbank Cup as well as the Telkom Knockout.

It has also seen the 30-year-old player make tremendous progress as a footballer. “I’m not surprised by his progress and development, I knew he had the ability,” Larsen adds.

While he continues to add medals to his cabinet, Lyle now has the obligation to swiftly pave the way for Luka, who previously had a stint with the late Mark Byrne’s academy. Perhaps the boy who is eight in February next year could be next in the line of Lakay left-backs!

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