Siphumelele Mbulu says Orlando Pirates skipper Happy Jele played a key role in helping settle his nerves on debut against Free State Stars.
The 19-year-old Mbulu recently made the step up from the reserve side (the MultiChoice Diski Challenge team) and was handed his first start in senior team in last Saturday’s 2-1 win over Free State Stars at the Orlando Stadium.
Mbulu says he had an inkling that he would get some game-time against Ea Lla Koto after Bucs coach Milutin Sredojevic had spoken to him earlier in the week.
“I had a feeling on Friday after training that something might happen because Coach Micho and Coach Benson called me, Xola Mlambo and Marshall Munetsi back, to talk to us about how we should play and cover each other,” he told the Pirates website.
“When we left for camp, I knew then that I would be part of the squad so I called home to let them know what was happening. I told them that there was a strong chance that I could play since it was the last game and that they should be on the lookout.”
Mbulu was proved correct as he was handed a start and played the entire 90 minutes against Stars, and he went on to thank the senior Pirates players for helping him settle in.
“I had Happy Jele as my roommate and he helped calm me down a lot. He was telling me stories of his debut, and how he was encouraged by the seniors around him,” he explained.
“The one thing he kept repeating was that I should play my game and know that the players around me would support me.”
Even with the backing of the captain, the young midfielder admitted to feeling nervous ahead of kick off.
“On Saturday things became real when we had our team briefing before the game. We always discuss the plan one last time before we head out and they also call out the team that will start the game. Keeper, back four, Munetsi, Mlambo, Mbulu… goose bumps! It was difficult to concentrate on anything else after that because I was thinking about the game.
“I was very nervous on our way to the game because everyone was talking about the match and what they needed to do. It was nice being with Xola because he kept encouraging me and also gave me advice about the possible opponents we will face on the day.
“After we had shaken hands with the opposition, we got into our huddle and Ntsikelelo Nyauza led the team in welcoming me one last time before we kicked off.”
On the game itself, Mbulu says that after a slow start, he felt more comfortable as the game moved into the second half.
“I think I played too safe in the first half, I didn’t want to make any mistakes so I played within myself. I usually look for the ball and make tackles but it’s a much quicker game when you are playing in the seniors. Free State Stars are a tough team because they don’t give you space on the ball.
“As soon as you make a mistake they win the ball and suddenly break with three or four guys. I didn’t want to be the reason we conceded any goals so I think it took me out of the game.
“The second half was much better because I felt like I was in the game a bit more. The players also helped because they gave me touches in comfortable places and encouraged me to play positively. There was constant encouragement as the game wore on, and I felt more at ease.”
The youngster also voiced his appreciation to the Buccaneer faifhful:
“This debut was special for me because it was in front of the home fans, they are very passionate and full of support. Any other fans would have stayed away from the team after last season but they showed their love in the best way possible by sticking with us through thick and thin.
“There was a huge expectation and the players knew what they needed to do in this season, and the technical team kept reminding us of our responsibility to the fans and that kept us motivated.”
The Sea Robbers ended the season in second position, five points behind Mamelodi Sundowns, and will return to the CAF Champions League next season.