Ajax Cape Town juniors, Bhongolwethu Siyasi and Asanele Velebayi will have their work cut out in their debut National First Division appearance against Free State Stars, at the Cape Town Stadium, next weekend.
The 16-year-old duo were called up to the first team following an impressive season for the under-18 side.
Bhongolwethu, from Site B, in Khayelitsha, a member of the national under-17 team for the last three years, captained the young Urban Warriors’ under-19 side at this year’s Premier Cup.
A good performance in the NFD, now known as the GladAfrica Championships, might secure him a spot in the national under-20 side.
He joined the Urban Warriors’ under-12 side in 2014, after he turned out for his previous team, YBC FC, in a friendly match against Ajax. Despite going down 11-1, Bhongolwethu scored his side’s solitary goal, and impressed the Ajax talent spotters enough for them to grab his details.
He was called up for trials with the Parow side and made the cut out of more than 600 players.
Although nervous about his first team call-up, the young defender proved himself solid in three out of four pre-season matches while midfielder Asanele featured in all four games.
The stocky Bhongolwethu is confident that he has what it takes to make it at the highest level.
“It’s tough. We’re now training two sessions a day but I’m very excited. Sometimes it was not easy, but it’s a great achievement, considering where I’m coming from,” he says.
Bhongolwethu says he is inspired by the former Ajax utility player, the late Cecil Lolo who died in a car accident in 2015, and national and Bidvest Wits skipper, Thulani “Tyson” Hlatshwayo.
“When we were younger, bhuti (big brother) Cecil Lolo used to push us a lot. He always said we should never give up,” he says.
“My parents were nervous when they heard I got the first team call-up, they were joking, saying I am so small but will be playing against big people,” he says.
Bhongolwethu dons the number 25 jersey, while Asanele wears the famous jersey number 17.
Asanele, who usually wore the number 10 jersey in junior levels, says the number 17 jersey is a huge honor for him as Champions League winner Benni McCarthy and Vitesse midfielder Thulani Serero wore it during their days at Ajax Cape Town.
Asanele, who hopes to join his inspiration, Brazilian footballer Philippe Coutinho at Barcelona in the near future, says it’s a new challenge playing with the big boys, but he is trying his best to listen to the coaches and to apply everything on and off the pitch.
“Kuyazameka (it’s getting better). I played in every pre-season game so I can’t wait for the new season. I’m ready and I hope we’ll do better this year,” said Asanele, who also joined Ajax in 2014 after he was scouted by Ben Biko from Romano All Stars in Philippi.
He says his parents could not always afford his bus fare to training and that the club has helped him and 14 other players with a school and a place to stay at its Ikamva home base, in Parow.
“It was difficult to keep the focus, you know, because of peer pressure, but I focused on football and nothing else. Football has changed a lot in my life. My parents were not expecting me to get the call up to the first team so soon but they are happy,” he says.
“I’m working on making the national team for the Olympics. I wish to get a call up,” he says.
“Coutinho is my favourite player because we have a similar style of play,” he says.
“For other youngsters from Philippi, they should carry on doing what they love doing if they want to succeed,” he says.