From being 'unwanted' straight to playing regularly again: The resurgence of Thabo Matlaba at Orlando Pirates

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Goal takes a look at how the hard-working player fought for his way back into the Pirates team after nearly leaving the club in August

Orlando Pirates were prepared to offload one of Thabo Matlaba ahead of the current campaign.

The speedy wing-back came close to leaving the Buccaneers for Chippa United after the two clubs agreed over his transfer.

The deal involved Matlaba, Thamsanqa Sangweni and Bernard Morrison, who rejected the opportunity to join Chippa on loan before eventually being released by Pirates.

Sangweni understandably agreed to return to the Chilli Boys on a permanent deal after struggling for game time at the club.

Matlaba, who has been on the books of Pirates since January 2012, refused to leave Bucs and fought for his place in the team. 

It was quite clear that Pirates head coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic and his technical team were ready to do without the player.

Orlando Pirates, Thabo MatlabaMatlaba was ignored by the Serbian tactician in Bucs' first few matches with the likes of Innocent Maela and Mthokozisi Dube being preferred ahead of him.

However, the former Free State Stars man pushed hard to convince the technical team that he's still had a lot to offer the club.

The man known as 'Festival' has since grabbed the opportunity that he has been handed to him with both hands.

Goal takes a look at how Matlaba fought for his way back into the team. 


 ATTITUDE


Thabo Matlaba

Matlaba was appointed Pirates captain at the beginning of the 2017/18 season as a reward for his commitment and consistency.

However, things started falling apart for the hard-working player soon after he was stripped off the club's captaincy midway through the campaign after Happy Jele regained his place in the team.

The player quickly fell down the pecking order and the club wanted to offload him at the end of the season. He should be praised for his brilliant attitude as he had to deal with losing the armband and being deemed surplus to requirements at the Soweto giants.

Many players would have whined about his lack of game-time and allowed their situation to affect their performance at the training grounds. An out of favor Matlaba remained level-headed and kept a positive attitude as he patiently waited for a chance to break into the team and he was rewarded for his patience and hard work.


EXPERIENCE


Experienced players have played an important role in helping the Buccaneers find some consistency since last season. 

Veteran players such as Happy Jele and Musa Nyatama were both key as the team challenged for last season's PSL title, and Micho is aware of the fact that he needs such players in order to compete for trophies.

Matlaba, who was part of the Pirates team that won the 2011/12 PSL title, is one player that has seen it all at Bucs, and his experience has been vital in the team's defence this season.

His performance usually sets the tone for the entire team which makes Festival an important player. 


VERSALITY


Thabo Matlaba, Orlando Pirates

The Mokopane-born player's versatility is probably his biggest asset. Matlaba can play several positions in defence and midfield competently - he is a sort of jack of all trades which also makes him vital to the current Bucs team which has many injury concerns. 

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This season, Matlaba has taken advantage of the absence of fellow full-backs Dube and Maela.

Dube has struggled with injuries which has seen Matlaba enjoy some game time in the right-back position. Festival also started ahead of Maela, who was returning from a minor injury in the left-back position during Pirates' 0-0 draw with Golden Arrows.

Matlaba's versatility is definitely being appreciated by Micho, who has likened the two-footed player to Philipp Lahm. There's no doubt that Matlaba has proved his doubters wrong and he still has a role to play as Bucs look to end their four-year trophy drought.

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