Young South African footballers defy the odds

In the spirit of Youth Month, we take a look at footballers who participated in Engen’s youth development programme and succeeded against the odds 

An incredible 181 Engen Knockout Challenge alumni have gone on to play professional football for top local and overseas teams.

One of these rising stars is Sipho Mbule, who at just 20 years old, plays for SuperSport United – another example of the many opportunities that sport offers the young and the talented.

Mbule grew up in Bethlehem in the Free State and started playing football at a very young age. He was immediately hooked. Mbule played in the Engen Knockout Challenge in 2015 and has not looked back.

He has this message for South Africa’s youth: “Growing up, my family, who are my greatest supporters and inspiration, always told me to keep pushing. I knew that if I kept pushing, better things would come my way.”

He believes that a lot can happen in one year. “If you concentrate on what you really want to do with your life and what you want to achieve, then your dreams will be realised.”

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Another success story is Phakamani Mahlambi, who was spotted by the CEO of The Players Club, Glyn Binkin, in 2015 at the Engen Knockout Challenge. Phakamani is now an international superstar and plays for Egyptian giants Al Ahly.

Phakamani cannot believe that all his dreams have become a reality. His message for South Africa’s youth is that education comes before anything else.

“Youngsters must understand that they won’t play football for many years. You need to have something to fall back on. My message to them is to keep on working hard and never give up. They must stay away from drugs, alcohol and negative people,” says Phakamani.

Phakamani, who was born in Louwsburg, KwaZulu-Natal, but grew up in Johannesburg, started playing football at the age of six. He says his football coach father helped him stay focused on his game.

On days when he needs a bit of inspiration, Phakamani says it’s his family, and especially his daughter, who keep him going.  “They inspire me to achieve even more in my career.”

His dream for the future is to play for one of the big international teams and be part of the Bafana Bafana team for a long period. “What I love most about South Africans is that we have ubuntu and our country is beautiful.”

Binkin is a firm supporter of the Engen Knockout Challenge and the petroleum giant’s commitment to youth development. The acclaimed soccer agent believes it gives players like Phakamani and others an opportunity to be scouted by local and international professional teams.

“The Engen Knockout Challenge and Engen Champ of Champs have a country-wide approach and ensure that players from all backgrounds are given an equal opportunity to achieve greatness,” he said.

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Engen Knockout Challenge is one of South Africa’s most prestigious youth football initiatives and celebrates its 16th anniversary this year. The tournament, which takes place in five provinces across South Africa and culminates in the Engen Champ of Champs, specifically targets players under the age of 18.