WHILE the queen and other important pieces like the rooks and bishops are important in a game of chess, one can never discount the calculated and silent work that the knight does.
That is one piece that can be best used to describe the diligent, yet behind the scenes hard work that Tiyani Mabunda does at Mamelodi Sundowns, protecting their midfield. In other circles, Mabunda is even known as the Cleaner for his stamina and energy to clean up after his team’s midfield and defence whenever they are under attack.
Even the fact that players such as Oupa Manyisa, Hlompho Kekana, Themba Zwane, Gaston Sirino, Sibusiso Vilakazi and Khama Billiat get all the plaudits for their attacking displays ahead of Mabunda does not deter the former Black Leopards and Free State Stars midfielder from doing the work that saw him emerge as one of the best destroyers.
“For me the biggest thing is for the team to play well regardless of accolades that may come my way. My primary role is to help the team. And that is the reason why I model my game around guys like Sergio Busquets at Barcelona and Casemiro at Real Madrid,” Mabunda said.
“They face challenges had they are not seen, but when they are not around, people realise that there is a difference in the team. It is something that I have learnt to understand that not everyone can be a talisman in the team. I know everyone’s role and maybe I am recognised for the role I play. Some have to carry the piano and others have to play it. I am happy with carrying the piano for guys like Percy and Themba to play,” the Sundowns midfielder said.
Despite being one of the most skilful players in South African football, something that people do not even realise, Mabunda said he does not feel like playing in a defensive minded position. The midfielder is even happy with the change as it earned him consistent places in Bafana Bafana squads, a CAF Champions League winners medal and a place at the Club World Cup in Japan back in 2016.
“My role is to pass and win balls for the team. I do not even feel restricted even though many people don’t know I have crazy skills. I have the skills to compete with those players who attack, but where I am got me in the national team, won me the Champions League and had me play at the Club World.
“It is this cleaner role and I enjoy it. Even the coach was surprised. I love assisting my teammates. You have to work hard to always be able to cover so much ground,”
Mabunda said. Mabunda is expected to be one of the key players when Sundowns takes on Cape Town All Stars at the Athlone Stadium in the Nedbank Cup tomorrow night.
-MMASEKEPE MATSEBANE|mmasekepem@ thenewage.co.za