Defender Siyanda Xulu is one of the youthful players in the current Bafana Bafana squad that is in camp, preparing for the encounter against Central African Republic (CAR).
The match takes place on Saturday evening at Cape Town Stadium.
He was on the books of Mamelodi Sundowns before moving to the cold Russian Premier League where he plays for Rostov FC, following in the footsteps of former Bafana Bafana players Macbeth Sibaya, Matthew Booth, Japhet Zwane and the late Jacob Lekgetho.
Born in December of 1991, Xulu has made one international appearance for his country in a friendly international match against Gabon in Nelspruit last year (15 June 2012). He is one of those in contention to fill the gap left by the absence of Bongani Khumalo and Siyabonga Sangweni in central defence.
Matlhomola Morake sat down with him during the Bafana Bafana camp in Cape Town to chat about other things, including his life in Russia.
Matlhomola Morake: Siyanda, welcome back to Bafana Bafana, how does it feel?
Siyanda Xulu: Thanks, it has been a while. I feel very honoured to be back in the team, it shows I am doing something right at my team in Russia and it feels very good to be recalled.
MM: How did you feel like missing out on the AFCON 2013 tournament?
SX: As a player I felt very sad because I would have loved to represent my country in such a prestigious tournament, but I was really impressed with the way the guys played. Now the tournament is behind us, we have to focus on the present, I hope I will get a chance to represent my country in another tournament in the not so distant future.
MM: Siyabonga Sangweni and Bongani Khumalo are not here, they both played at central defence in the AFCON, do you fancy your chances?
SX: Every player that is called to the national team would like to play in every match, which might not be possible, but yes given a chance I will take it with both hands. We have other capable players like Morgan Gould, Thabo Nthete and Mulomowandao Mathoho who can also do a good job in that position and I am certain whoever is picked to play will not disappoint and will have my support. At the end of the day it is the coach’s call and we will have to respect his decision.
MM: Your take on the clash against CAR?
SX: I think it is going to be a very good game, looking at our training so far, I believe we are going to do well. We are playing at home and we are very motivated and I am almost certain we are going to win the game. We have to go all out for a win and get the campaign to Brazil back on the road.
MM: How are things in Russia?
SM Things are going very well for me in Russia and I am happy now because I am playing. As a player you feel very good when your good work is being recognised by being included in the starting line-up at your club. I am pretty happy even though I sometimes feel lonely and miss home but it is normal because I am playing away from home.
MM: So how do you deal with that loneliness?
SM I spend most of my time on the internet, Skype and also call home regularly.
MM: You must be spending a lot of money to keep in touch?
SM: You have to spend a lot of money because you are talking about your happiness here. When you call home you are able to talk to your parents, your friends and girlfriend and once you have been in touch with those people you are able to focus on your job.
MM: When people talk of Russia, the first thing that comes to mind is the cold....
SX: I thought the same thing as well at first, and asked myself ‘what am I getting myself into here?’ The truth is, it is extremely cold but when you love something you get used to the situation, and in life there are some sacrifices that we have to make. As a professional footballer I have told myself that I will have to forget about this weather issue and put everything into my career. At times, temperatures drop to as low as -17 degrees and at first my body had never ever experienced such extreme coldness, but I am slowly becoming accustomed to it.
MM: And the language?
SX: It is very difficult but now that I am playing regularly I am in the process of getting myself a teacher because initially when I was not playing I didn’t even think about taking lessons, I wanted to focus on playing. There are some guys in my team that are able to speak English which makes things easy, but when you are out and about not many people can speak English, which is why it is important that I should learn to speak Russian. Language is a serious barrier, once I get it right I think I will enjoy my stay even more.
MM: The food?
SX: Fortunately it’s the normal food that I really enjoy. I don’t like cooking so I am always eating out. I am staying alone in an apartment. Also I have a driver provided for by the club and he takes me everywhere I need and want to go, and I am comfortable with that.
MM: Any big name players playing in your league?
SX: Yes we have players like Samuel Eto’o from Cameroon, Hulk from Brazil, Diarra who used to play for Real Madrid to mention but a few, and it’s a very competitive league with all those players around.
MM: Is Russia the end of a journey for you?
SX: Not at all hey, I still have ambitions of furthering my career in other countries. I just hope I do well enough in Russia to get a move to a country like Spain, which is my favourite destination, or even England or Germany. But I first want to establish myself at my club before I can think of making another move.
MM: Any difference between the Russian League and the PSL?
SX: There is no doubt that players in the Absa Premiership have loads of skill, I believe not many leagues can match South Africa in terms of skill, but in Russia there is a lot of aggression, in a positive way, a lot of passion, the fans are always filling the stadia which makes the atmosphere great every time you play there. Also their development structures are in place, the facilities are awesome. They have Under-6 leagues which do wonders for their players because they start at an early age and grow up in the game with the correct development.
MM: A very sensitive question for you Siya, is there racism there?
SX: To be frank, I have never experience that. The club has been good to me, so have my teammates as well as the fans. I am also lucky because Matthew Booth and Japhet Zwane have also played in the same club before, so for now I haven’t come across anything like that and so I am quite comfortable playing there.
MM: Any advice from Booth?
SX: He is a very good friend of mine from back in our days at Mamelodi Sundowns, so every now and then I get in touch with him and he tells me more about the club, the city, the people and the culture. So I have very good information from someone who spent a couple of years there.