Hlompho Kekana’s career is firmly entrenched in South African football history as one of the most successful and trophy-laden football supporters in the country.
For the recently retired former Mamelodi Sundowns and Bafana Bafana midfielder, one moment stands out from the rest: leading South Africa’s 12-time champions to their maiden CAF Champions League title in 2016 .
“I have so many great memories in my career. There is no moment that I take for granted. But being that player and captain who went so far as to win the Champions League? It was huge… In the ‘together, my career was just one great story,” Kekana said. Daily Maverick.
The 37-year-old, who grew up in rural Zebediela, Limpopo, joined that province’s most recognizable football club in the 2004/2005 season. He also represented clubs such as defunct Bloemfontein Celtic, as well as SuperSport United, before his eventual move to Sundowns in 2011.
During his 10-year stint with Sundowns, Kekana led the team to that memorable Champions League win. He also helped the team win six Premiership titles and the CAF Super Cup. To this he added two Telkom Knockout titles.
That success complemented the two league titles he won with Tshwane’s Sundowns neighbors SuperSport during his three-year spell at the club.
“If my career was recorded or was a movie of my life, I was going to rewind it and start all over again – without erasing anything. It was perfect. It was something beyond my imagination,” Kekana said, reflecting on this list of accolades.
“In my playing career, the only thing that mattered to me was playing the game I know [the best way] I knew how. To make sure I get satisfaction. I had no idea I would play such an important role in South African football,” added the soft-spoken midfield general.
“To have the privilege of contributing so much to the success of Sundowns? It will continue to humble me and remain special.
In a country where many exceptionally talented footballers have either drank down their promising careers or cost them dearly from off-pitch disciplinary fouls, the Limpopo native has remained humble and focused throughout his 400+ professional game career.
The ever-balanced midfield pivot suggests his background growing up in the village of Moletlane, Ga-Mogotlane in Zebediela, kept his feet firmly planted as he rose to the top of South African football.
Kekana also admits that there were players who possessed more natural talent than him throughout his career. However, he worked tirelessly to ensure he could compete with them – or even beat them in matches.
“I always remember 12-year-old Hlompho Kekana who wanted to play football in the Premier Soccer League. I knew how much this kid wanted to make his mark. Not only to make an impression, but also to find satisfaction in talent entrusted to him,” Kekana said.
“I had to apply myself. Not only as a professional footballer, but also as someone who had a huge responsibility on his shoulders to lead. There is a surname that I carry,” added the decorated footballer.
“I had the chance to understand [early on] that it’s not about me. It was never about me. It was for people who associate themselves with the Kekana surname. I had the responsibility of representing these people.
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He more than succeeded in being an exemplary representative of the Kekana clan, as well as the inhabitants of Zebediela – as well as little boys and girls running barefoot (but dressed in dreams of success) through the dusty streets of villages and townships.
He represented those who looked up to him so well that he forged his own trademark – long-range goals that most players can only dream of scoring.
Kekana has previously shared that he was inspired by former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes to test his shooting skills.
When he tried his luck from a distance, it sometimes ended with onlookers picking their jaws up off the ground due to sheer disbelief at what they had just witnessed.
There are this famous goal against former Orlando Pirates goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands, who let the shooter tentatively pick the ball up from his net after Kekana spotted him off his line, before firing a ball comfortably past the halfway line.
“When I was 12, I scored similar goals. Some were the mirror image of the one I scored at Orlando Stadium and against the Pirates,” Kekana said. something that I always had inside me like a weapon, that I knew I had to use. Because few people have that.
Proof that this strike, despite Sandilands’ guilt, was no fluke – Kekana had netted an almost identical goal against Cameroon for South Africa the previous year. It was during a qualifying match for the Africa Cup of Nations in 2016.
Kekana recalls Cameroon goalkeeper Guy N’dy Assembé – perhaps embarrassed to be exposed like this in front of his home support – approached him with an interpreter to ask how he saw him come off his line and shoot so fast.
Even the late Senzo Meyiwa fell victim to Kekana’s thundering right foot in the 2013/2014 season. This particular lens was recognized as the best for this campaign.
There was also the 2019 crush against Cape Town City who were nominated for Fifa Goal of the Year in 2020. He faced Uruguayan Luis Suarez, Frenchman André-Pierre Gignac and eventual winner Heung -min Son of Tottenham Hotspur and South Korea for the distinction.
“I scored a similar goal [long goal] when I was in 11th grade. One of my teachers, who had come to see me for the first time, was in disbelief. He would never have imagined that I, being a quiet child, could own such a shot – not to mention the performance I gave that day,” recalls the iconic skipper.
Life after 90
Now the most successful captain in Sundowns history dreams of passing on all the wisdom and knowledge gained throughout his 18 years as a professional to future generations of South African football.
Currently, Kekana works as an analyst for SABC Sport, a trade he took up after Sundowns released him in 2021 and before his official retirement in August 2022. The club have since left the door open for him to return to another title.
Kekana wants to join the club as a coach. Once he has acquired his coaching qualifications, of course.
“Coaching will be fun for me. I just need to get the qualifications. Having managed to lead Sundowns to so many trophies, it gives me a little bit of an edge… The experience I’ve gained throughout throughout my career will help me manage players well. DM