The footballing gods, in their pantheon ranks in the spiritual realms above, are yet to hear wailing supplications from Rhoda Mulaudzi complaining about what a horrible year 2020 it has been.
And that’s mainly because, amidst the CoronaVirus pandemic and lockdown restrictions it came with it, the FC Dinamo-BGU centre-forward has had nothing to complain about but other than to give thanks.
If things flow according to plan, and the gods of football continue smiling upon her path, the 30-year old will become the first female South African footballer to have won two league titles in two different countries without conceding a single defeat in either, in the same calendar year.
In a year where mankind had become accustomed to suffering with clenched teeth under the now “new normal”, Mulaudzi helped Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies clinch the inaugural SAFA National Women’s League title without a single defeat.
She netted a record 36 goals before putting pen to paper with a European side which is now also on the brink of reaching a similar feat as the Chloorkop women’ side. At the Belarus outfit, the speedy forward is sitting on six goals from seven matches played in all competitions so far. The Banyana Banyana international admits that helping her side reach this milestone in their remaining two fixtures, would also be another personal historic mark reached in her own playing career.
Mulaudzi was part of the Dinamo squad which won two of the club’s first ever Belarusian Women’s Cup in September, and the Belarusian Women’s Premier League title earlier this month. Both titles were secured following victories against Minsk on both occasions.
Before then, She and Banyana Banyana teammate Refiloe Jane, became two of the first South Africans to play in the Australian women’s professional league (W-League), following their move to Canberra United in 2018.
“In truth, I turn to keep quiet and just nod slightly as I listen when people complain about how horrible the year 2020 it has been (economically or career wise),” Mulaudzi says with a light chuckle coming across her voice.
“I choose to do exactly that because while this has been a tough year for most career wise, I have seen some of the biggest breakthroughs manifesting in my playing career. I have won the League title with both Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies and Dinamo in as single year. That’s two league triumphs in two different countries in a single calendar year. I’m eternally grateful for that.
“Things haven’t always been like this, though,” Mulaudzi adds. “I have seen some dark periods in my playing career where I even began doubting myself. You know, on whether I was good enough to earn a move abroad as a footballer or not. There was a time where I had said to myself: ‘I am quitting this football thing and I am going to get a normal nine-to-five job just everybody else’”.
Mulaudzi admits that the dark period she went through of a possible dream of earning a move abroad not coming to pass and not being a consistent feature in the Banyana squad, left her disempowered. On the pitch, her fire for the sport she grew up loving, was now dimming into fading embers as reality forced her to re-evaluate her life choices as a young adult.
In 2018 though, during a Sasol road show match where Mulaudzi says she played fairly well for Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies against Tshwane University of Technology at UJ Stadium, football talent scout Bafuwi Tshepo Makanamise saw something out of the ordinary in the now Dinamo striker. Makanamise saw a player who could easily shine in any club abroad, should she be granted the chance. However, Mulaudzi’s focus had now shifted into trying to make something of herself in the corporate world.
“When Tshepo approached me and started engaging me about my thoughts of wanting to go and play overseas, I had already thrown in the towel,” Mulaudzi recalls. “He asked both Fifi and I to start looking at the Australian Women’s League and asked whether it would be something I would be interested in. I just simply said yes without thinking that something would actually materialise from our talks.
“It was only when he told me that Canberra United were interested in having both me and Jane for a week-long trial that I began to realise that this was really happening.”
There was just one slight problem with that invitation, though. The flight return ticket was R19 000 and Mulaudzi had only R6 000 in her bank account. Both Jane and Mulaudzi had opted for return tickets just in case things didn’t go their way at the W-League side. The club had said they would reimburse them their travel expenses once they had arrived in Australia. Mulaudzi was R13 000 short to make the trip.
However, as fate would have it, it was not just Makanamise who saw that Mulaudzi had the talent to make it in any country abroad. Both Banyana Banyana teammates Leadra Smeda and Jane believed in Mulaudzi’s capabilities on the pitch, too. They believed in her so much that they even went into their own personal pockets to aid a sister towards helping her realise a possible childhood dream.
“I will forever be grateful for what Fifi and Smeda did for me,” Mulaudzi recalls. “I do not think I would have managed to fly to Australia and reach my goal of playing abroad if it wasn’t for them. That opportunity saw me earn my way back into the senior national women’s team. I was there when Banyana travelled to the United States to play them in a friendly in 2019. I travelled with the team to Cyprus for the 2019 Cyprus Women’s Cup and also featured in Banyana’s maiden 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. I am forever grateful for such experiences and I just want to continue achieving more.”
Winning this season’s Belarusian Women’s Premier League means that Dinamo have automatically qualified for next season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League tournament. Mulaudzi expressed that competing against the best of the best in European football has always been lifetime dream of hers, and that she would be honoured to represent Dinamo at the prestigious event.
For that to happen though, Dinamo would have to offer Mulaudzi a contract extension following a six-month deal she signed joining them earlier this year.
“Sure it would be really great to compete in the UEFA Women’s Champions league next season but for now, my focus is centered on helping my team to win the remaining two fixtures,” Mulaudzi says. “We want to finish of this campaign on a high without having lost a single match in our maiden league title win. And that’s what everybody here is driven to do. The fighting spirit and the togetherness of this team reminds me of my previous club Sundowns when we won the league, this very year, undefeated. I have truly enjoyed every moment of my stay here and I truly believe we can finish this campaign undefeated.
“My other goal is to help Banyana Banyana win their first ever Women’s AFCON title,” Mulaudzi adds. “The team reached the 2018 Ghana edition final and it would be great if we can reach that goal again and possibly win the 2022 Women’s AFCON edition this time around.”
By Mohau Ramashidja