Age is a sensitive topic for Teko Modise. He turns 34 in two months’ time, just five days after the final of the Fifa Club World Cup that will be played on December 18.
But that age, with all his experience, has played a key role in his helping Mamelodi Sundowns to be within touching distance of the CAF Champions League title. The Club World Cup lies in wait after that for the Brazilians should they become African champions on Sunday. When Modise was asked what winning the Champions League would mean to him, especially for a player of his age, he said he didn’t he didn’t like the reference about his age.
“But you are saying that I am old,” Modise said, before he responded.
“It’s an opportunity for everyone. We don’t know if the younger ones you speak about will ever get this opportunity that we have now. So we need to take it. We have worked hard for this.”
Modise has also worked hard to be here since turning professional in 2001, the same year that Sundowns last played in a Champions League final. Sundowns lost to Egyptian giants Al-Ahly.
Modise is part of a generation that can avenge that defeat by beating the other Egyptian giants, Zamalek, on Sunday in Alexandria. The Brazilians have already beaten the White Knights three times. The last of those victories came in the first leg of the final, a 3-0 drubbing at Lucas Moripe Stadium on Saturday last week.
Modise didn’t start that game. He came on five minutes after the hour mark. The Brazilians were leading 3-0 by then. His job was to stabilise the midfield and bring his calm head to proceedings because Zamalek were desperately trying to get an away goal. The General has spent most of this campaign leading Sundowns off the field more than on the field.
“That role becomes easy when you are with players who listen, players who respect each other and when you have an ambitious coach like the one we have. It becomes easy not only for me but also the other senior players like Thabo (Nthethe). Plus the team is winning. Everyone is high in confidence.”
Things haven’t always been this good for Modise and Sundowns. Both he and the club have a history littered with disappointment. The Brazilians spent six years without a trophy, despite signing some of the best players in the world and coaches who were legendary figures in their playing days like Johan Neeskens and Hristo Stoichkov. But that didn’t translate to success, just like Modise’s talent didn’t help him win things at his first four professional clubs.
His raw talent, not refined by any academy, took him from Ria Stars to City Pillars, SuperSport United and Orlando Pirates. It also made him the poster child of the 2010 World Cup where he didn’t live up to expectation. Modise had to re-invent himself after that disappointing World Cup where he also had high expectations of himself, including earning a contract abroad.
He joined Sundowns in January of 2011 and was viewed as a prima dona. Neeskens gave him the armband at Sundowns but Pitso Mosimane, who worked with him at Matsatsantsa a Pitori, helped the midfielder, nicknamed the Navigator, find his direction again. Mosimane took away the armband and gave it to Alje Schut and challenged Modise to carry Sundowns. Modise transformed from a player who was only effective when his team had possession to making tackles at rightback to cover for Bryce Moon. That work rate helped Sundowns win their first league title in six seasons when they were crowned South African champions for the 2013/14 season.
It was Modise’s first league title. It meant a lot, especially after being ridiculed as a curse because SuperSport won three league titles after he left and Pirates won six trophies in two seasons after his departure to Sundowns.
It will take some doing for Zamalek to deny Sundowns and Modise the ultimate prize.
“I have been in this sport looking to win things,” said Modise.
“But whenever I have won something, I have never looked back and said who said what about me. It was never about me. It was about football. If I have to look back, I would look like I am bitter and I have never been bitter. I am enjoying the moment.”