Part 2: The heartbreak that almost ended Fortune Makaringe’s romance with football

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Ever been so hurt so bad that every fibre of your being is sobbing? Your heart aching so much that you can’t take it anymore? The mind entirely set on your pain, where you just feel the burning heavy tears streaming down your cheeks.

That was Fortune Makaringe exactly ten years ago. He was like that jilted lover hurt so bad they even swear they would never love again.

Mtutuzeli Hlomela, pictured below, who was Nike’s brand product specialist at the time, remembers the heartbreak lucidly. His first encounter with the man affectionately known as ‘Maestro’ was back in 2011.

Aged 18, Makaringe was recommended for the Elite Programme at Nike by Moroka Swallows’ youth coach Thabo Molefe.

He had been taken to The Birds by Ntate Junior Molefe, a kit man at Swallows after spotting him playing an Easter tournament on the East Rand in Gauteng, where he grew up.

This was exactly a year after the same Swallows had turned him down after a trial. It was almost eight years after he got lost as a 10-year-old kid on his way back home from a failed trial at Orlando Pirates only to be found by his dad at 10pm.

At the Nike programme, he was part of a large group from the East Rand, located south east of Johannesburg. Actually, the bulk of the players in that national programme were from Gauteng. So, the boys that excelled converged in Johannesburg for a final trial set up.

The five that were selected were given an opportunity to train with Nike-sponsored PSL clubs – Mamelodi Sundowns, Kaizer Chiefs and Bidvest Wits.

Having been part of those five and done so well, Makaringe was optimistic he had a bright future in football.

In any case, his dad, Eliot Makaringe, who started training him when he was four, had always told him he had the future at his feet. He was equally eager to script his tomorrow with his nimble feet.

For whatever reason, those that knew him too well tenderly referred to him as Maestro, a title given to a person highly skilled or a master at something.

As expected, the following year he was invited to Nike’s Chance programme under the watchful eyes of Benni McCarthy, Dutchman Johan Neeskens, Shaun Bartlett, Craig Rosslee, Tebogo Moloi and Arthur Zwane.

This time, there was more at stake. Out of 46 finalists scouted from regional trials hosted in five cities – Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth – only three would be selected.

Players from 55 countries would then take part in ‘The Chance’, a unique football talent search that gives young amateur, unsigned footballers from around the globe the opportunity to prove themselves on an elite stage and take their game to the highest level.

The best 100 players from these trials would then travel to a global final in Spain. That particular year, the trials were going to be held at FC Barcelona’s famed youth academy La Masia.

There, they would experience world class facilities, elite coaching, and input from nutritionists, psychologists, and fitness conditioners.

From the global finals, the best 16 footballers would then be chosen by Nike to experience the ultimate training tour as their reward, facing some of the most renowned academy teams in world football, including Manchester United, Juventus FC and a United States’ youth national team during a four-week tour.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that could easily open doors for young Makaringe in Europe. Even more interesting, Reyaad Pieterse had won a one-in-eight spot in the 2011 edition.

The feat saw the talented goalkeeper, who is now at Mamelodi Sundowns, join the Nike Academy in the United Kingdom before he was snapped up by Ireland-based Shamrock Rovers FC.

“Fortune was way ahead of everyone with all the results from the battery of tests that included physical ability, skill, tactical and technical acumen,” Hlomela tells FARPost.

“Out of the group of boys, he stood head and shoulders above everybody. On the last day of selection, he was still ahead of everyone and a lot of us believed he would make the final three.

“When they made the announcement of the final three players, his name was never mentioned.” Nicholas Mynhart, Teboho Tsotetsi and Melusi Zulu were the chosen ones.

Hlomela had been watching Makaringe as the announcement was being made. Immediately after the three names were called out, Makaringe got up and walked to the middle of the Nike Football Centre’s soccer field in Soweto.

Face covered with his hands, he burst into tears. It felt like the end of the world, he says. The dreams he had dreamt all seemed brought to nought.

“I followed him outside and he told me how he didn’t want to play football anymore,” says Hlomela.

The next couple of months would be the most difficult for Makaringe and his family. Makaringe Senior, below, was recovering from an undisclosed illness at home while his son had to nurse a heartbreak that had seemingly ended his flirtation with a game he started playing at the age of four.

“Of all things that have happened to me in football, the Nike thing really broke my heart, I’ve never cried that much in my life.

“It took me months to get over it. A week would never pass without me crying about it, I never wanted to play football anymore,” Makaringe admits to FARPost.

“My dad was ill at the time and one day he called me and asked if I was okay. I said ‘yes’. He responded, ‘I know you, you are not okay’. He also cried and it broke my heart to see him cry.

“I cried and my parents also cried because we all felt I was denied an opportunity I deserved and had worked so hard for.”

Bafana Bafana record goalscorer, McCarthy, tried calming him down, telling him that he had never seen a kid as skilful and direct as he was. The boy could use both feet almost equally well.

But McCarthy’s kudos was just not enough. He was done with football and the plan was to drown his sorrows in books.

“I applied at the University of Johannesburg for Educational Psychology, but I was given a Bachelor of Education degree programme,” Makaringe says.

All the while, Hlomela kept in touch with Makaringe after the Nike heartache just to gauge his interest in returning to football.

“I had put together a team at Nike with former players like Cyril Nzama, Stanton Fredericks, Jimmy Jambo, Stanton Lewis, Fabian McCarthy, we played every Thursday and I’d invite him to come and play with them.

“I could tell the interest was coming back until he said he was going to Swallows.”

Interestingly, when Swallows approached him for a second stint, he had an agreement in place with Jomo Cosmos. It was as good as cast in stone that he would revive his career at Ezenkosi.

“I trained with Jomo Cosmos and then Swallows asked me to come and play in their MDC [Multichoice Diski Challenge] side [in September 2014],” he says.

The excuse he gave to Cosmos supremo Jomo Sono was that school was taking much of his time.

At Swallows, former Under 19 coach, Patrick Mabedi, pictured below, only played Makaringe three times. That was enough for the former Kaizer Chiefs and Swallows defender to make a stern recommendation to management.

“I saw the boy was extremely talented and I wrote a report to management that of all the boys we had, he was the player to keep,” Mabedi tells FARPost from his Blantyre, Malawi base.

The first MDC game he played for The Birds was against Tuks and it was a man-of-the-match performance. He put in another stellar display against Kaizer Chiefs in his second game and was also named man-of-the-match.

His third outing, Mabedi recalls, was the turning point as the opponent, Maritzburg United, came knocking for his services after the game.

“That is when Maritzburg saw him,” Mabedi, the Malawi Under 20 national team coach, adds.

Three days later, Steve Komphela and Mandla Ncikazi contacted him wanting to meet in Pretoria. Little did they know they were complicating his life.

At that point, he was doing his fourth year at UJ and was due to start his school experience as part of his Methodology course which lays the path for completing a teaching degree. In fact, he had already been placed at Buhle Park Secondary in Germiston, some 19km from his family’s Vosloorus home.

His rekindled passion for football meant he had to make a choice between football and his studies.

At home, opinion was divided. Mom wanted her son to finish his studies first while dad wanted him to pursue a dream that had eluded him.

His dad’s reasoning was that he had been to a few failed trials, as well as the Nike heartbreak. Why would he then throw away an opportunity to play football professionally?

Makaringe, who cut his football teeth at amateur side Juventus, owned by his dad, also had stints with TLC and Homesweepers as well as Boksburg FC and Golden Boys.

Besides Pirates, his dad’s favourite team, he had also tried his luck at Tuks and Platinum Stars with no success.

“We disagreed with his mother, but I insisted that he follow his dream,” says Makaringe’s dad, who himself missed out on an opportunity to play professionally despite being immensely talented.

In January 2015, he completed his move to Maritzburg. His first six months at the Team of Choice were rough, as he did not see any action. The following season, he played 11 games before a staggering 36 games in his third season with the KZN outfit, which earned him his first national team call up in the Cosafa Cup.

He caught the eye of the Buccaneers in the 2018/19 season with a string of terrific performances that also helped Maritzburg reach the 2018 final of the Nedbank Cup.

In July 2019, he agreed to sail with the Sea Robbers, capturing his first piece of silverware – the MTN8 Cup – in 2020.

“Things have turned out for even better. My dad is super proud, he keeps reminding me of the days I was young and how I wanted to play for Pirates,” Makaringe, who turns 28 next month, says.

Indeed, though it may be stormy at some point, it never rains forever!

RELATED STORY: PART 1: Fortune Makaringe – The boy living his dad’s dream      

By Mthokozisi Dube

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