South African junior international Leo “Matsawu” Thethani has been making serious strides in his short career, since making his professional debut for Ajax Cape Town, a few seasons ago.
Having spent time with the Urban Warriors’ development sides since 2014 (when he was 15), the youngster from Site C in Khayelitsha, was promoted to the PSL side in 2017.
But, as he was trying to find his feet with the first team, a move to Europe ensued. He packed his bags and headed for Holland.
That is the same Ajax side that has produced some of the world’s finest footballers. It was certainly a dream come true for the young Thethani.
Ajax Amsterdam scouts had spotted him while playing for Ajax Cape Town juniors at the Terbong Toernooi and ICGT tournaments, in the Netherlands. He was named best player at the Terbong Toernooi after scoring five goals.
Looking back, the goal-poacher said he has grown a lot as a player since moving to Europe. In fact, he has since been a regular feature in the South African junior structures and a call-up to the senior national team might not be far off.
“Being overseas must have been the greatest thing that has happened in my life. I’ve learnt a lot of things.
“I’ve been groomed and I am now proud to say I have grown, not only in terms of football but knowing how to be disciplined and tackling other life endeavours. There are quite a few standout moments in my career so far but going to the under-20 World Cup has got to be the best, followed by playing against PSG and also training against Ajax Amsterdam’s first team every now and then.”
Having said that, Thethani was also quick to note that things have not been all smooth sailing.
“Suffering from injuries would be one of the obstacles that I have faced but, then again, that is all part of the game and growing up. At the end of the day it’s not about how many setbacks I have faced, but rather the way in which I come back to overcome those obstacles.”
He has shown a keen interest in ploughing back into his community. It was not really surprising, then, when he hosted his inaugural Easter tournament, last year.
So, should we look forward to more such initiatives going forward?
“At the moment, since I am overseas, there are no community activities I am involved in.”
He also had a clear message to other youngsters who dream of one day playing overseas.
“All I can say is that it would never be easy. I consider myself lucky because I come from a family where you are encouraged to believe in yourself, work for whatever it is you want to achieve and keep on grinding until you get to the top,” he said.
Like all other sportspeople, Thethani and his teammates are also affected by the lockdown but, despite this, they still keep in touch.
“We are in contact with the coaches through various communication channels such as Skype, group chats, Zoom etc,” he said.