Gugs guy hangs with ‘Special One’

Vincent Ntunja, 34, from Gugulethu, has gone from playing soccer for his neighbourhood club, Eleven All Stars FC, to starring in the latest Heineken UEFA Champions League television commercial.

Ntunja, who captains the Western Cape Mountaineers basketball side in the National Basketball League (NBL), rubbed shoulders with Manchester United manager, José ‘The Special One’ Mourinho while shooting the commercial in Amsterdam and Prague, earlier this year.

The pro baller is a Special One in his own right and has represented the Western Province and South African national teams at both youth and senior level.

When Ntunja is not pulling the strings at point guard for the Mountaineers, then the brand ambassador for Amy Biehl Foundation teaches aspiring ballers the fundamentals of the sport through the African Grassroot Hoops foundation.

He’s not new to being in front of the camera and was chosen as one of the 12 Sexiest Men in SA by the Cosmopolitan magazine, in 2009. Ntunja said this has been his biggest gig so far in his modelling career and has worked with brands such as Calvin Klein and Carducci before.

“It was an honour starring with Jose Mourinho. I mean, he is regarded by many as one of the best managers of his generation and one of the best of all time,” said Ntunja.

“Mourinho is not a talkative guy. He is indeed an introvert and likes to keep to himself. But, we worked together for a week so at some point we had to speak about soccer.

“We spoke about world football and a lot about African football because he loves African footballers. Mourinho said he follows the football on our continent because he’s always looking for new talent,” he said.

Ntunja said their conversations on set went further than that football field, and that he got to know the family side of Mourinho.

“He spoke fondly about his family being football lovers, including his son, Jose Mourinho Junior, who is a goalkeeper at Fulham’s junior side. We also discussed world politics and that’s when he showed a very charismatic and opinionated side of him which is what most football fans are used to,” said Ntunja.

The international soccer commercial was directed by Hollywood movie director, Guy Ritchie, who told Ntunja, “Job well done, I would love to work with you again mate.”

The Mountaineers captain said everything went smoothly on set and that the commercial is currently being aired both locally and internationally – with the UEFA Champions League already in full swing.

“While on set, I always reminded myself that I’m not only representing myself, but rather the entire African continent,” said Ntunja.

Since shooting his first hoops on the basketball courts at the age of 12, Ntunja said things took a turn for the better because the sport kept him out of trouble and off the street.

“I could have easily been another statistic from my hood in Gugulethu, but, basketball saved my life. Whenever my friends decided to do bad things, then I’d easily pick up a ball and go to the courts,” said Ntunja.

“I got to know the sport while watching some people play the game at the Gugulethu Sport Complex, and I decided to try it out myself.

“I joined up with Gugulethu Hustlers and today I’m one of the coaches at the club,” he said.

A young Ntunja represent the SA national under-16 team at the world youth games, and turned professional soon after.

“My first time making the WP team is a funny story because I actually got cut from the 15-man squad in 1997. They only needed 12 players in the team,” said Ntunja.

“I told myself I needed to work harder so that I could make the team the following year. And, I woke up early every morning and practiced before going to school, and trained again after school.

“Before I knew it, I was also part of the SA team and competed, in Russia.

“We didn’t do too well at the tournament, but it was a great experience to compete at that level.

“Also, I was spotted at the tournament and was sponsored to attend a two-week training programme hosted by Michael Jordan,” he said.

Ntunja was one of four players to represent Africa at the Jordan training camp, and was awarded the Most Valuable Player (MVP) out of 500 participants.