Eric Nxumalo High School of Thulamahashe, near Mbombela represented the Mpumalanga province at the 2013 Sanlam Kay Motsepe Schools Cup national finals and the school is one of the first to get its entry in for the 2014 competition.
Mr Sibusiso Mahlalela, the team manager, explains that they were fortunate to be declared provincial champions last year after East High was disqualified, and they are keen to make it on their own merits this time around.
“It was very close last year, we lost on penalties in the provincial final, and I think we were the better team anyway,” Mahlalela said.
The school won R100 000 to spend on projects at the school and in the local community and they will be using the money to develop a soccer pitch. “Currently our soccer field is an empty patch of ground and we want to turn this into a proper pitch,” Mahlalela said. “Winning this money will make things a whole lot easier for our players as playing on a grass pitch is a whole lot better than playing on an open field that’s not safe. Construction has not begun yet, but hopefully it will start soon.”
Mahlalela believes playing in the national finals last year is definitely an advantage. “We have the experience now, and my focus this year will be to change my coaching style and focus more on shooting, dribbling and defending skills. That’s what I learnt in Durban last year after watching schools like Clapham, Rosina Sedibane and Louis Botha who have perfected those 3 skills.”
The season hasn’t started yet, so it’s difficult to predict how they are going to do, Mahlalela says. “We will hold trials within the next couple of weeks to finalise our squad. We only have 2 players from last year, and for our under-17s moving up to under-19 it will be a huge adjustment,” he said. “We do not have an easy task ahead of us, but we will rise to the challenge.”
Canon Simango will be the coach of the team again this year. He has been coaching the school’s under-19 team for a long time and knows how this tournament works.
“He knows all the schools in the area – their strengths and weaknesses and he is the ideal person to get the team through the cluster level to the regional finals,” Mahlalela said. “He does not have any formal qualifications and his aim within the next couple of years is to get this certificate as this will put us at an advantage. Qualifications work hand in hand with having the experience and love of the game.”
“Working with school students is always a challenge,” explains Mahlalela. “They don’t show up on time for practise and the lack of equipment; soccer balls and gym equipment is a problem. We might not have what other school have, but this does not deter us from our goal,” Mahlalela said.
He applauds Sanlam for the work they are doing and giving the youngsters fantastic opportunities. “The players must make sure that they use this opportunity to showcase their football skills to anyone who makes time to come and watch them play during the Sanlam Kay Motsepe Schools Cup.”