Football has made former Orlando Pirates defender Tonic Chabalala a well-known person in South Africa. Born in Limpopo, in a village called Xitlhelani, approximately 3.7 km from Malamulele Township, Chabalala had a great time of his football career at the Soweto giants two decades ago. Speaking to This Is Football.Africa’s Clifton Mabasa, the former Buccaneers skipper shares his moments at the club, and tells us what is it means to don the illustrious Bucs jersey.
Mabasa Clifton: Mshengu, thanks for making time for This Is Football.Africa. Let’s get straight to it, how have you been lately, anything related to football that you are busy with?
Tonic Chabalala: I am well man, all is good. Yeah look, we are just trying to help the young stars of my foundation, the Tonic Chabalala Foundation. We have under-13, 15 and 17 teams. We are trying to help them and push them, maybe one day we can see some of them in the PSL. To have youngsters from my area in the PSL is the dream.
You know these days it is easy to get into the professional ranks, it’s unlike that time of mine, so we are encouraging and growing them to know football, so one day they can go far as some of us did.
CM: Are you actually heading into the coaching industry?
TC: Hey coaching is not my calling, no no no, I can’t be a coach. I only help and advise the young aspiring players in terms of how to play, and on the general lifestyle as a footballer.
I’m not into coaching, we have coaches here at TCF, I want to avoid lying, coaching is not for me, I’m not good at it.
MC: Let’s look back to your playing time at Orlando Pirates, how was the journey there?
TC: My journey at Orlando Pirates was not easy. When I got there, there were many players, approximately 40 to 50, and you could find that in my position, we are 4 or 5, so it was really difficult to crack into the first XI.
What was worse is, you could find that some players disliked you, they would gossip about you. Some would say what is this that this Giyani boy will bring in the team? This would happen until you proved them wrong, I said to myself, “these guys do not know me”, remember Pirates came to take me while I was working elsewhere, and then I worked hard for the team until the guys saw my importance.
Some among the team took me for granted, and said this one is from Giyani what will he bring here, not knowing me, so I had to work hard to do my best on the field, until they gave me the arm-band.
To be honest, it was hard to be a captain or to lead. If you wear the armband, then it means you have got what it takes to deserve it. You could not just wear that band just like that in our time, more especially at a team like Orlando Pirates.
MC: It was not easy for you. There was also the day you once had a fight with your fellow team mate Thabang Molefe, what actually happened?
TC: Lol ha ha man, don’t remind me of that! Actually, what happened is that Thabang went to play in France if I’m not mistaken. He went from Jomo Cosmos to France, so when he returned in SA, he came to Pirates. And I think he signed a contract that said that he must play every game!
So, we played together as centre-backs, and he liked to control things, telling me what to do, but he couldn’t take other people’s advice. I thought maybe he had that mentality of that he played abroad, that he knew better than us PSL players, and that time I was doing good, yerrrr…. I was an angry man.
So, when we went to the dressing room, we started a fight, there was an exchange of words between us and I told him that no, no man, you can’t tell me what to do. I said so because he didn’t also want us to advise him. But it was not a real fight or a physical fight. The coach interfered to calm the situation.
MC: Lol haaa haaaa, we can imagine, and after?
TC: It was tense between us, even in the following games, because we could no longer play well together as one thought he knew better than another.
There was no way we could play well together, we could not just pretend. Each of us wanted to prove a point and expose each other, as if we were the enemy, which was really not good for the team. It was not good because it didn’t serve the purpose of the team.
MC: Okay, hosi (Chief) lately, Pirates and Chiefs are not really doing well. Mamelodi Sundowns dominates today, they are at another level, doing as they please. What do you think of both the Soweto giants performances?
TC: The truth of the matter is things have changed man, it’s generation to generation, even when we got there during our times, and there was a generation before us. But things have changed in the football fraternity, it’s more like a business now, players are no longer playing for the badge, and it’s hurting to witness it.
There is no more effort or passion to play, they are just playing, but as I said, things have changed it’s another generation. Look at the Soweto Derby, it’s no longer interesting, not exciting anymore, I always say, during our time, we knew everything would stop because Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates are playing on the weekend. On that weekend, only Chiefs and Pirates would play, and the whole country would be excited to watch the Derby.
These days it’s no longer the same. To be honest, the derby was not for everyone. If you play in the derby it means you were good enough and had what it takes to play the derby. These guys are just playing and forgetting that they are at work. It’s a job, and they are not aware what they are doing is a job, where there is a possibility of losing it at the end of the season if you don’t work hard, or give what is expected from you.
You know every end of the season or during the transfer windows, these teams buy new players, so now there is no hunger anymore. Playing for Pirates, Chiefs and Sundowns, you are expected not to lose a back to back matches, it’s a fact. Players need to understand the expectations.
MC: Speaking of players, we’re still witnessing players being arrested after negative behaviour off the field. As former players who definitely know better than them in terms of football, do you guys sit them down and give some advice?
TC: This thing of drinking alcohol will always be there, and it was there during our playing time. We used to drink, but we respected the badge. I could drink too much, but I knew the right time to do so and when not to do so. I knew how to respect the job, my employers, the fans and the club.
Nowadays, when you attempt to give these boys some advices they think you are jealous, and you become a nuisance to them, they don’t take it as advice. It’s like at home when your parents tell you something good about life, you think they know nothing.
It’s bad, players will always be players, they always think like a football player, like ok, I have a lot of money, I have to buy a luxury car, put sounds in and go out to enjoy life at bars. Yes we cannot avoid that, but what you have to do is to respect your job.
CM: Eish you know the story….
TC: Many players realise it when it’s too late. By that time things are ruined, and if you know yourself you must not blame others. As I said, players will always be players, but the question is, are you aware that you can ruin your career just because of unnecessary behaviour? I always tell some of them to focus and do some extra training, just to show the passion. You can’t go to Mgroove, come back at 2am and expect to be okay when you go to training at 9am, it’s impossible.
Even when you get a lot of money, if you know yourself, you cannot do stupid things. We had some players who used to get more money than the rest of us, but they showed their professionalism, they knew what they wanted. They worked hard to prove that they deserved the extra money. Yes we have some good current players, and it’s good, but we must always talk about things that destroy players, and we must give them financial advice. I believe now, even some teams do that, and I think it’s good, just these guys must listen.
MC: Okay, lastly when we talk about Collins Mbesuma, we always include you. Because you are known as the one defender who used to manage him when he was the ace goal-poacher at Kaizer Chiefs. What was the secret?
TC: Eish boy, Mbesuma was a big problem, that guy was heavy to defenders, he was really heavy, he was a boss player, once he got into the box, he knew what to do as a striker.
So, what I did was to study him and his tricks, studying him helped me a lot. I used to study my opponents before we played. I knew what to do against a dribbling player or a fast-moving player. If you are a defender you must know your opponents very well, more especially at the derby, I could sit down and watch Mbesuma’s videos.
I knew his turns and tricks, I knew where is he dangerous, what he would do with the ball. Because if you let him trap the ball and turn, you would collect the ball at the back of your net, he was a dangerous goal-poacher.
I am not saying these strikers couldn’t pass or dribble me, but you could not dribble me twice, there was none of that, noo, you do it once, second time you won’t pass. I would sometimes intentionally kick you if you dribble too much ha ha, but don’t get me wrong, it was good to play the beautiful game.
Grootman, we really appreciate your time, thanks so much, all the best at TCF.