Captain fantastic leads from the front

Captain fantastic leads from the front

By Mandla Dladla and Andile Dladla

Young, talented, educated and extremely pretty, Thalea Smidt is driven by the desire to further her studies and pursue a professional football career abroad.

In fact, the growing number of South African women pursuing their football for countless professional clubs in Europe has served as nothing but encouragement for Smidt who harbours dreams of following in the footsteps of the likes of Thembi Kgatlana, Refiloe Jane and Jermaine Seoposenwe to mention just a few.

An attacking central midfielder blessed with a sweet left foot, Thalea has her feet firmly planted on mother earth and is aware that she is extremely lucky to find herself at the University of Pretoria, where she has just completed her BSc Honors (Plant Science) and is eyeing a PhD.

It has not been an easy journey for the lass from Strandfontein who initially started playing football with boys. Naturally they kicked her and never gave her special treatment because she is a girl and this somehow toughened her for later years.

“I started playing when I was about seven years,” she says. “By the time I turned eleven, I joined Santos and two years later, moved once again to play for Cape Town Spurs where I spent three seasons,” says the lass whose silky skills caught the eyes of national selectors who appointed her captain of the U-20.

After a short stint at the University of Western Cape, she proceeded to Pretoria on a scholarship where she completed her BSc Honors. She is currently in her third season and captains both the TUKS and Varsity teams.

Thalea also enjoys a bit of athletics be it watching live or highlights and a bit of netball which she played in primary school. Long distance running almost became her sport in primary but she reckons football has just been her true calling. When she is not playing soccer she is watching it, most of the time either with family or friends.

Asked if she has an agent or a representative, she responded: “Personally I feel that the word “Agent” is associated with a lot of bad stories in football. We see, read and hear a lot of stories about these things in men’s football and inevitably it naturally rubs off onto the women’s game.

“This is largely due to the fact that there is a perception that agents are mostly in it for themselves. Obviously not all agents should be painted with the same brush and yes being a football agent or running an agency is a business.

“But I just feel that an agent should be someone that acts more like a manager who supports a player through thick and thin, not just support a player when there is a deal on the table from a certain club and the main focus being what he/she as an agent would get out or stands to benefit out of that deal.

“The game is changing drastically these days and women football is growing rapidly and so, priority and focus should also be on things like brand management, endorsements and getting a good team for the player they represent.”

As a current player at Tuks, Smidt says anyone even a family member, especially those that know you well and want what’s best for you can represent you as an agent which allows you to focus on matters that are on the field of play.

“Having to pick yourself up is not easy,” opines Smidt. “Some people in football go through a lot and it challenges your mental strength because it is not a lot of people that are able to come back to the game they love because of such challenges.

“The biggest challenges in any sporting activity are injuries. I had a serious injury back in 2019 at a Varsity Cup game where I literally broke my ankle with torn ligaments on my right and left ankle. I had to undergo surgery and the doctor told me I will be out for nine months.

“While out and watching from the side-lines and while undergoing rehabilitation, it was only then that she discovered what players go through and how challenging is an injury to any athlete.

“You can be strong physically but if you are not strong mentally as a player you can be easily defeated on the field of play.”

To all footballers always work hard, be disciplined and never give up, was her parting shot as she encouraged her peers to keep their heads up during these tough and difficult times of the Covid-19 pandemic which has thrown our lives upside down.

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