Peter Shalulile: The ‘defender’ that terrorises defences

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Peter Shalulile’s rise to the top has been nothing short of spectacular. Barely six years ago, he got his first national team call up as a fullback. Yes, on the left side of the Brave Warriors’ backline.

Freedom Puriza, formerly with FC AK and Golden Arrows, was at the tail end of his international career and then Namibia coach Ricardo Manneti saw Shalulile as a potential direct replacement. And so, for all he had done for his club Tura Magic FC, his initial reward was a call up on the left side of the Brave Warriors’ defence.

At that point, it probably looked apt for a boy whose stronger foot was initially the right before a horrid knee injury forced him to use his left. “He got injured on his right knee, so he started using his left foot quite a lot,” Timothy ‘Timo’ Tjongarero, the man who honed Shalulile’s skills, tells FARPost.

Attempts to switch him to right back, Tjongarero says, were resisted as the man now opted to use his left foot. Interestingly, just a year after making his international debut on the left, Shalulile led Namibia’s attack that terrorised defences, helping the neighbouring country win the Cosafa Cup. As Namibia won their first piece of silverware, that is where he caught the interest of Highlands Park.

A trip down the early stages of his career shows that he is certainly not one to waste time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door. When something doesn’t work out for him, the man would rather judiciously identify what works and jump onto it with determination.

So, earlier when he failed his Grade 10 junior exams twice in his homeland, it was no train smash. Neither did he confuse those ‘two defeats’ with a ‘final defeat’. Instead, like the revered American salesman-turned-motivational speaker Zig Ziglar says, he took it as ‘a temporary detour and not a dead end’.

“The first time he failed we felt it was our fault. We thought maybe we had kept him in football a lot and distracted him in his studies. So, we approached his parents and offered to pay his fees so he could repeat,” says Timo.

A second attempt at Grade 10 still would not yield the desired results. Tjongarero then recalls the unbendable teenager approaching him to tell him where his future lay. “After he failed for the second time, he said ‘Coach Timo, school isn’t my thing. Help me to become a better footballer. My future is in football’,” he says.

Unverified as it is, there is an inkling that the poor results were the defining moment for him. They were probably the reason Shalulile became a football workaholic. In any case, he had grown up juggling plastic balls in the dusty streets of Golgotha, a township in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek. Football ran through his veins and putting in an extra shift would never be an issue at all. And then as years went by, after kicking plastic balls, he went on to play for lowly Okahanja Park, who were struggling without equipment.

“We saw him playing for Okahanja Park and so when we approached them to sign him, we had to buy them equipment in exchange for him,” says Tjongarero, who serves as sporting director of Tura. So, the talented 13-year-old cost a mere 10 soccer balls, a set of bibs and a playing kit. Little did Okahanja know they were parting with Namibia football’s next biggest thing.

A few years down the line, having worked with Shalulile for a few years at Tura Magic, a club he co-founded, Tjongarero was almost sure that he could eke out a living out of football. But, there was a slight problem. It wasn’t as yet clear where the strength of this energetic starlet was on the field of play. He was versatile and could easily play anywhere on the field.

“We tried him out in many positions because we wanted him to have a feel of every position. He started off in midfield and then played as a right back at some point and then as a left back,” he says.

For a youngster, who loved the game, roving across the pitch, changing positions was such a joy. It was still football after all. And for all the equipment they bought to appease Okahanja for his services, he gave his all to Tura Magic and helped take the team from youth football to the Premier League. The journey to the topflight was a fairly rapid one – a year in the second division and three years in the first division.

Shalulile was instrumental in helping the academy secure a spot in the Khomas second division through the playoffs, before going on to win promotion to the Southern Stream first division and the Namibia Premier League in successive seasons.

When it was time to permanently switch to an attacking position, he was resolute on making it work. After all, football was the last of his hopes. It just had to work. His Highlands Park teammate, Mothobi Mvala, has not forgotten his first few days in South Africa.

“He would actually run very fast when going to the shops because he was afraid they would mug him,” says Mvala, who shared an apartment with Shalulile in Edenvale, a small town on the East Rand in Gauteng, for two years.

As they continued to stay together, Mvala could not help but notice his strength of character and hard work. “In the house, he would be doing squats and when we got to training the guy had energy more than everyone else. He would outrun all of us at training until we begged him to relax a little,” Mvala tells FARPost.

Isack Hamata, one of the founders of Tura Magic, concurs with Mvala. “Hard work is what sets him apart from others. There is hardly any footballer in Namibia who works half as hard as Peter,” he declares boldly.

Apparently, the prolific striker made it a habit to do extra training while still in Namibia, something he continues to do in the PSL. “He loves the game and always wants to play football. He would even hide injuries and run away from medics just so he can play,” Hamata adds.

Mvala then adds that the 27-year-old has not changed one single bit in the four seasons they’ve played together. For him, it comes as no surprise that the man has finished as joint top scorer with Gabadinho Mhango (16 goals).

But there is more to the prolific striker than meets the eye. While he won’t give interviews to journalists, he is first to belt out a morale-lifting song before games. It doesn’t matter, at least to him, that he can’t properly pronounce certain words in local languages, the man just croons.

“He loves singing and sometimes he can’t pronounce words but still sings. He just enjoys it,” says veteran goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini. Mvala has also witnessed the man dancing. “He also loves dancing, he really enjoys it,” Mvala reveals.

But when the man takes to the field, it’s serious business. He hates to lose and will fight tooth and nail to ensure his team gets those three points. No wonder he is PSL’s 2019-20 best striker, a great compliment he shares with Malawian Gabadinho Mhango, after the two scored 16 League goals during the just-ended season.

Prior to invading the PSL, he proved his mettle in the GladAfrica Championship where it’s quite taxing as he helped The Lions of the North gain promotion to the topflight. His two crucial goals in the playoff encounter against Mbombela at the Makhulong Stadium on Wednesday June 15, 2016 sent them to elite football.

And now that the man is on his way to Chloorkop to turn out for the recently crowned PSL champions, the real work begins. He will be hoping to continue his dazzling rise, this time in Mamelodi Sundowns colours.

By Mthokozisi Dube

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