Mateo Mahwayi: The mechanic unearthing football talents

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In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes tend to be anonymous!

In fact, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero. Such is the dilemma of the development coach – working tirelessly in the township, in a thankless, unglamorous and unpublicised job!

It, therefore, comes as no surprise that an array of PSL stars have all passed through the hands of little-known Tembisa Sports Centre custodian, Mateo Mahwayi.

From the Mamelodi Sundowns duo of Tiyani Mabunda and George Maluleka, ex-Jomo Cosmos star Themba Shabalala, SuperSport United’s Siyabonga Nhlapho, Chippa United’s Boikanyo Komane, Tsietsi Mahoa, who had stints with Bidvest Wits and SuperSport, Mpho Maruping of Royal Eagles and Raymond Monama – who played for Ajax Cape Town, Platinum Stars, Polokwane City and Downs – the list goes on and on. Mahwayi has had a hand in their development.

Fascinatingly, when asked about some of the recognised players he has produced, the self-effacing coach is conservative, just naming a few until his prodigy Shabalala steps in.

The former Jomo Cosmos star is convinced the man who shaped his talent is underrated.

“A lot of us came through Mateo. I started with him while I was a youngster in school. Guys like Gladwin Shitolo, Bafana Kali, Rhulani Manzini and Gerald Modabi are also his products. He has an eye for talent and he’s passionate about the game,” Shabalala says without flinching.

Shabalala with Mahwayi.

Quite interesting, the incessant rise of Tembisa Sports Centre in the last 6 years has been nothing short of phenomenal. The team started off in the local promotional league in 2014, before moving to the SAB League in 2015 and then the ABC Motsepe League in 2017. The average age is 21 with just 5 players aged over 23 in the side.

“I want to build this team to get into the PSL in the next few years and I know it’s very much possible,” Mahwayi tells FARPost with visible conviction.

But if it was according to his parents, Mahwayi would be under cars, clad in a greasy work-suit fixing people’s cars somewhere in industrial Kempton Park. Like any other boy growing in the township, Mahwayi juggled his school-books with street football.

But his parents were quite strict and wouldn’t let him focus on football immediately when he was done with secondary school. Coerced to please them, he picked a mechanical engineering course at Kempton Park College, now known as Ekurhuleni West Technical, Vocational, Education and Training College (EWC).

“To be honest, I did the course just to please my parents but what I really wanted was football,” he confesses. By age 21, he had attained a mechanical engineering qualification up to N6, the equivalent of a Diploma. That qualification could easily land him a job as a mechanic just like his dad.

But Mahwayi had other plans. His next step was inspired by the young boys he saw roaming around aimlessly in his Tembisa neighbourhood, north of Kempton Park on the East Rand. The fire within him burst into flames as he thought of what could possibly happen if the talents of these boys weren’t harnessed.

Some would easily end up in jail, some would be hooked on drugs while a significant number would be condemned to joblessness and subsequently poverty.

“My father is a mechanic and naturally I was expected to go the same route, but my passion lies in football, which my family eventually got to understand,” Mahwayi adds.

However, at 21, only armed with amateur experience garnered at Peacemakers, a team he joined at 11, and a brief stint at Happy Boys four years later, he felt “it was too late to play professionally”. A good three of those years had been ‘wasted’ on the mechanical engineering course.

Of course, 21 isn’t too late per se and Tumelo Mogale is sheer testimony after making his PSL debut at 32.

Tumelo Mogale: Lessons from a man who made his PSL debut at 32

But for Mahwayi, he is honest that he never thought he was good enough to make it in the PSL as a centre-back. Nonetheless, he believed he could help groom someone and get them ready for topflight action in years to come. Such was the vision. “I was an ordinary player and I wasn’t gonna make it. I had to focus on helping youngsters. I knew how to analyse opponents and motivate others,” he says.

And, as they say, where there’s vision, provision follows. “I met the owner of a butchery called Monaledi & Sons and he offered us financial assistance on condition that we’d name the team after his butchery,” says the 39-year-old, pictured below.

At that point, he had the blessing of his parents after it became apparent that diski was an indispensable part of his life. “The first group of boys in 2000 had the likes of Cavann Sibeko, who went on to play for Orlando Pirates and SuperSport and Tsietsi Mahoa, who later played for Bloemfontein Celtic,” says Mahwayi.

For the next 6 years, he was taking young boys off the streets and equipping them with football and life skills. An opportunity to scout for talent countrywide then arose in 2006. It was a dream come true as it meant working with the former Orlando Pirates duo of Helman Mkhalele and Jerry Skhosana in a programme bankrolled by mining giant De Beers.

“It was an awesome 3 years, I learnt quite a lot working with them as we travelled all over the country looking for players – Gauteng, Northern Cape, Limpopo and Free State. That’s where we discovered Siyabonga Nhlapho in Soweto,” he recalls with joy.

Besides unearthing talent, Mkhalele, better known as Midnight Express, affirmed him for his eye for talent and encouraged him to do coaching courses. “Helman had an impact on me. Because of him I went and did my Caf B, C and D Licences. I’m now aiming for a Caf A Licence,” he says.

The former Bafana Bafana winger, Mkhalele, believes Mahwayi is a living example that you don’t need to have a big name to change people’s lives.

“He’s driven by passion; it’s quite encouraging to see what he’s doing. Sadly, some people have taken advantage of him, but despite that, he has continued to do what he loves,” says Mkhalele, who was part of Bafana’s France ’98 World Cup squad.

Highlands Park co-owner Sinky Mnisi is also aware of the work Mahwayi continues to do and believes it’s key for the corporate sector to partner with people like him. Sadly, Mnisi has also noted that clubs that get players from him never compensate him.

“The most important thing is – he needs companies to come on board and partner with him financially. The development of a player is the costliest. He can easily run a proper academy,” says Mnisi, whose club was once home to Nhlapho.

After 3 years of scouting for talent in the De Beers programme, he shifted his focus to Tembisa Sports Centre where he continues to be a conveyor belt for talent. Interestingly, although he has never benefited from the boys he has produced, he says his utmost desire has always been to see his prodigies go on to live better lives because of football.

“The most important thing has always been the welfare of these boys and just seeing them change their lives. It’s never been about making a killing out of them, but with the direction, we’re taking we’d love to see clubs which get players from us compensate us so that we can run the club smoothly,” says Mahwayi, whose club receives a R70 000 annual grant from the Ekurhuleni Municipality. The funds are used across all structures that include an Under 11, 13,15, 17, 19 and senior team.

The avid Mahwayi remembers a 12-year-old Maluleka coming through for tournaments some 19 years ago.

“George Maluleka would come when we were playing tournaments from the age of 12 until he was 17 when he signed for Tuks. It gives us joy to see the way he has risen to become one of the most sought-after players in local football,” he says.

And Monama recalls how the revered coach almost missed out on Mabunda’s talent some 13 years ago. “I was good friends with Tiyani and I asked him to come and join us for the Phillys Games,” he says.

Mahwayi adds: “I couldn’t risk playing a guy I was seeing for the first time. So I left him out of the team until after the tournament when he came for training. I realised I’d made a mistake by leaving him out. Look at where he is now.”

Mabunda was registered with Tembisa Sports Centre while studying at TUT before being snapped up by Black Leopards. The Downs midfielder, Mabunda, gets all emotional when asked about his journey with Mahwayi.

“He’s very close to my heart,” he says. To him, the TSC coach is one in a million – the kind that rejoices in the success of others yet they themselves don’t get the recognition they deserve.

“Mateo has played a very big role in the advancement of many footballers from the townships and I happen to be one of them,” Mabunda says in a telephonic interview.

Of course, being associated with the development of stars like Mabunda and Maluleka gives him joy, but he singles out Moroka Swallows’ central midfielder Brian Senwamadi’s football pathway as the closest to his heart. He met the pint-sized linkman when he was 10 and recalls how many wrote him off.

“The boy was tiny, but he was so brave. He started off as a striker, but I converted him to a winger before I moved him to number 10,” says Mahwayi.

His mechanical engineering certificate remains tucked in an envelope at home. Still as new as it was when he received it. He has no intention of making use of it. His heart is only in one place and that is football development.

RELATED STORY: Jabu Maluleke: The leader whose actions shout out the instructions

By Mthokozisi Dube 

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