Ashraf Hendricks – a man for all seasonsThomas Kwenaite
He spends most of his time at his academy in Johannesburg, trying to make the dreams of hundreds of kids a possibility by imparting his knowledge to these starry eyed youngsters who dream to crack it in big time football.
During his time, the 36-years-old Ashraf Hendricks was a solid defender for prominent clubs like Hellenic, Vasco da Gama and Moroka Swallows and he looks back on his career with pride, for he has no regrets even though injuries somehow blighted his brilliant career.
“I began playing soccer at around the age of eleven,” says Hendricks. “My sporting passion used to cricket which I could no longer play due to a horrific car accident. It resulted in my arm broken and I had to stop playing.
“However, my dad was an equally passionate soccer fanatic and his love for the beautiful game inspired me to get involved. The journey has been a blessing even though I was a late bloomer.”
At 15-years, Hendricks joined the Hellenic Academy in Cape Town. He remembers how he worked his way up and how difficult it had been but slowly things began to change.
His solid performances in the heart of the Hellenic defence caught the attention of national selectors and a year later after turning 16-years old, he received his first ever national call up for the U-17 youth team.
Few people are aware that Hendricks used to be a utility player. Even his coaches knew that Hendricks gave 120% and during a particular match against Orlando Pirates, then coach Fani Madida lost a player through injury and pushed Hendricks upfront to play as a striker!
It is true that good things comes to those that work hard and during the same year, I was also selected to represent the national U-23 team coached by Shakes Mashaba who was assisted by Kenny Ndlazi.
“But, just as my career was taking off, tragedy struck,” recalls Hendricks. “On my 18th birthday, I suffered a huge setback when I injured my back and for the next three years, I was out of the game I had come to love so passionately and spent my time in hospitals and physiotherapists.
“The up short of it was that I could not be part of the 2004 Olympic Games qualifiers and to be honest, that was the most challenging period of my career.”
The lanky defender had to get his career back on track and after his recovery from the long lay-off, signed with Vasco Da Gama for a season and a half. But following an off-season friendly game against Wits University, offers came flooding his agent.
“They (Wits) bought me out of my Vasco Da Gama contract which came as a shock to me and I had to pack my bags and head to Braamfontein to join my new teammates.
“We won promotion from the National First Division that season. I went on to play for Wits University in the PSL for the next five years. I believe I had the most memorable time of my football career at Wits”.
But good things do not last forever and soon he joined Moroka Swallows where he was to spend a further six years, winning the MTN 8, the Absa Cup and a few more trophies.
“I ended up at Mpumalanga Black Aces under Muhsin Ertugral who was to open my eyes a bit more in as far as my understanding of the game was concerned through his teachings and sometimes by merely observing him.
“The knowledge I gained from men like Ertugral and throughout my playing career is now coming to the fore as I have been coaching young players between the ages of 6 -14 years for the past five years and hopefully we can give them the proper development which is what the country needs.”
Hendricks not only imparts to the youngsters the basics of the game. He also tries to teach them about life’s skills and challenges as well as a professional player’s conduct both on and off the field.
“Discipline is very crucial in the success of a player,” says Hendricks. “Sometimes you have decisions to make whether to go out with friends and party all night, even when you know that you have a training session in the morning.
“Remember your body is your temple and you have to take care of it. Respect your body and whenever you find time, you must rest or even sleep as much as you can in order to regain the energy that you burnt during training or to prepare adequately for a crucial match coming up.
“Those are small things people take for granted and yet critical decisions that you have to make as a player. You have to follow a proper diet and live right. The main thing is to work hard, listen to advice, stay focused and believe in what you can deliver as a player.
“Football can make or break you,” warns Hendricks. “If you don’t respect the game then there is no way the game is going to respect you back. I played with guys like Bhele Nomvethe, Lifa Tsutsulupa, Greg Etafia to mention just a few and those guys were hard working professionals who put on decent working shifts on a daily basis.”
Hendricks confessed to be greatly impressed by the new Swallows FC and its management which he believes have the right ideas and the vision to take the brand to a different level where he believes they could gate-crash their way back into the country’s top four huge brands within a relatively short period.
“I am backing them (Swallows) 100% and would like to wish them all the best for the 2020/21 DSTV Premiership season. They got people there that want to take the club forward and with Brandon Truter as coach, whom I’m proud to say is my Cape Town hommie, they have the right guy to take the brand to a different level and make them competitive.