PART 2: The discovery and making of Teko Modise

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The high stakes Mvela League clash between City Pillars, the club that gave Teko Modise his first big break, and Benoni United in 2006 changed the lives of two men.

It changed the life of Teko Modise, a shy but skillful player that had always been plagued by his own shyness and self-doubt. Before that match, a crucial encounter between two sides brawling for promotion to the topflight, Modise had become a big fish in a small pond, tormenting lower League players that were not as talented as he was.

It also changed the life of Jazzman Mahlakgane as a football agent, giving him what would become the first of his many superstar clients. Before Mahlakgane bagged Modise, most promising young Diski princes signed with white agents and it was rare for young black agents to snatch such promising talents.

After the turn of the millennium, over six years after the end of apartheid, the biggest football agents were still mostly white.

“I decided (to sign him up) on the day I watched him play for City Pillars against Benoni United for a promotional spot,” says Mahlakgane, pictured above.

That day, Mahlakgane decided he needed to take a chance on Modise, although he admits that the youngster dodged him after the game. Modise puts the matter into perspective when he confesses, “it wasn’t love at first sight with Jazz”.

And Mahlakgane says Modise “believed he’d go quicker overseas with the white agents”. But he would not be deterred, paying off Alex Bondarenko so he could be Modise’s agent.

It was a gamble that would be richly rewarded. 

“I took a leap of faith to agree to have him manage me. The big guys were the white agents at the time,” Modise states. 

The Modise that Mahlakgane met in Mvela (now called the GladAfrica Championship) was vastly different from the assured maestro that serenaded South African football fans as he conducted the Bucs orchestra in the middle of the park. Back then, he had been bitten a few times, promised the moon and stars by unscrupulous operators only to be disappointed at the last minute.

“Teko is the longest I’ve been with a footballer. I insisted to meet his family like I do with all players. I found he has a mom, sister and brother. When I met his mom, we became one family,” Mahlakgane says.

Back in those days, Modise was a diamond in the dirt, an unpolished gem that was stalked by shyness and the fear of failure. Growing up ekasi, Modise was not constantly assured of his immense talent. In fact, the opposite was true.

“I was told many times I’d never make it. As a youngster I never grew up with my parents – I moved around foster parents, I had a guardian that owned a team (Kenneth Ngobeni, who was in charge of Modise’s amateur side, Diepfloof Coventry).

“The guy was so desperate for me to play in the PSL, any trial he heard of, he would tell me to go for the trial, but I was shy. It was a mission to go to a trial. So, I’d always come back and say I failed the trial,” he says.

Years after he left the dust of Soweto and ascended to the pinnacle of SA football, the two-time PSL Footballer of the Year says if given a chance, he wants to have an opportunity to have a private conversation with Benedict “Tso” Vilakazi.

Modise was, after all, Little Napoleon’s successor as the general marshalling the Orlando Pirates engine room. Due to fate, the two had no time together in the Sea Robbers’ dressing room, with Tso moving to Danish Superliga side Aalborg BK during the 2007/8 season, the same season Modise moved to Pirates from SuperSport United. It was that season that he bagged the inaugural Footballer of Year award, an accolade he made his own for two consecutive terms.

However, Modise does not want to meet Tso for small talk about the time they never spent together. The sight of Tso, a physically short man who cast a long shadow over the South African topflight in his prime, running through the streets of Soweto convinced Modise that he had to take himself seriously.

“I hope I can have a conversation with Tso and make him understand what he meant to us. He would be running on the streets when it was so hot in the afternoon. The sun would be scorching hot, but he would train so hard. He inspired me. I want to have the conversation with Tso because that impacted me a lot,” he said.

Perhaps the two could talk about life as the heartbeat of Pirates, a side known for its notoriously hard-to-please fans. “At Pirates I had to change and adapt to the pressure,” Modise says.

“My life changed from the first day I played at Pirates because I’m from Soweto, so playing for a big team from your kasi means everything to you. From the first day I wore a Pirates jersey it changed everything about me.”

At Pirates, Modise became an icon. Women screamed his name in the stands and kids wanted to have the same hairstyle he had. He became a key Bafana Bafana player and was adored far and wide. However, talk of how he was “cursed” to never land any major title haunted him. He had to make his next move his best move.

“At Pirates I was labelled a superstar that wasn’t going to win anything. At Mamelodi Sundowns I was amongst the superstars and I had to re-discover myself and contribute. I had a personal goal to achieve at Sundowns – it was to win trophies,” he says.

Winning no fewer than six trophies at Chloorkop – two PSL titles, the Nedbank Cup, Telkom Knockout, CAF Champions League and CAF Super Cup – allowed Modise to tick a box that threatened to leave a question mark over his somewhat illustrious career.

One box, however, remains unticked. A year after he retired, he still has to answer questions about how he feels about having never moved overseas. But he has no regrets whatsoever.

“It took me years to accept that I never went overseas but I’m at peace with it now. We all have different paths and journeys and I have a story to tell. There are so many things I’ve achieved locally that I’m so proud of,” he says boisterously.

Thanks to Mahlakgane, Modise became the face of some of the most iconic brands and sport endorsements including McDonald’s for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and ambassadorial roles with Coca-Cola, Nike, Telkom and Samsung.

At some point, he was one of only ten global stars selected by leading sportswear manufacturer, Nike, to wear the limited edition pink Mercurial SuperFly boot. The Meadowlands-born star’s global contemporaries included Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Didier Drogba.

As he looks forward to life after football, he now wants to inspire the generation that follows him.

RELATED STORY: Before the fame: Teko Modise’s formative years Part 1

MAIN PICTURE CREDIT: Courtesy of http://www.zobofootballblog.co.za.

By Mthokozisi Dube

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