Former Township Rollers’ winger, Phenyo Mongala’s move to ABSA Premier League giants, Orlando Pirates, in June 2009 dominated the headlines both in South Africa and in Botswana.
The midfielder had just finished a memorable season with First Division side University of Pretoria, which saw them reaching the Nedbank Cup final where they lost 1-0 to Moroka Swallows in a match played at Rand Stadium in Johannesburg. It was Mongala’s second half performance when they knocked giants Kaizer Chiefs in the quarterfinal which raised eyebrows. With his side trailing 2-1 at halftime, Mongala was introduced by coach Steve Barker and it did not take long before he mesmerized Chiefs’ defenders with his silky skills alongside Mthokosidzi Yende and Andile Jali.
The dreadlocked winger went on to score a brace to finish the game at 4-2. With his pace and skill, Mongala exposed Chiefs’ right winger, Jimmy Tau, throughout the action-packed second half.
Chiefs’ supporters who packed the stadium were left in tears while locally most of the people who watched did not stop showering the nippy midfielder with praises.
That was the game that introduced the Kanye-born midfielder to the big stage and it did not come as a surprise when big giants like Pirates, Chiefs, Ajax Cape Town and Mamelodi Sundowns came knocking. In the end, it was Pirates which prevailed luring the talented midfielder to their Mayfair headquarters with a three-year contract.
Locally, Pirates’ support increased as most people wanted to be associated with a side where their hero is playing. At the time when he was brought in, Dutch gaffer Rudolf Krol was in charge of the mighty Bucs. Pirates were filled with talented wingers and it was always going to be difficult for Mongala to make his mark. He went on to wear Pirates’ colours for two seasons which saw him winning the treble at the end of 2010/2011 season.
During his stay at Pirates, Mongala struggled to break into the starting line-up often coming on as a substitute. At the beginning on August last year, Mongala was loaned to Bloemfontein Celtic in order to get more game time. The reason of loaning him was that Pirates had better wingers like Tlou Segoelela, Dikgang Mabalane, Daine Klate and others.
It did not take him long to adjust at Celtic as he started most of the games helping the Mangaung-based side to finish eighth on the log.
It has been a rollercoaster period for Mongala at Pirates but he does not regret ever donning the colours of the Soweto giants.
“It’s a dream for any youngster to wear the colours of Orlando Pirates and I’m more than grateful.
When growing up, I used to watch this side on television and when they came calling, I did not think twice. Playing for Pirates opened so many doors for me and I want to believe that I tried my best under circumstances during my stay there,” said Mongala.
He did not want to go into the debate of whether he was given a fair chance to showcase his talent by Krol at Pirates. Instead what makes Mongala happy is that he has managed to play against sides of highest quality while at Pirates, like Manchester City.
But if there is a game which will forever remain in his memory, it is the one against Kaizer Chiefs during the Soweto derby for two seasons.
“I grew up supporting Chiefs and facing them was like a dream come true. Those games are huge in South Africa and mean a lot to the supporters,” he said.
As he returned to Gaborone to join the national team camp for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, it was time for Mongala to look into the future as he is no longer a Pirates’ player.
His contract has expired and he can join any side of his choice.
“I’m going to settle for the best possible offer which would come my way. The most important thing for me is to sign for a team in which I know I’ll be able to play regularly. It was for the first time in three seasons after joining Celtic that I played for 90 minutes. It is important for every player,” he said. Mongala does not have an agent but relies on Rollers’ managing director Somerset Gobuiwang to negotiate for him. He pointed out that he does not have a contract with Gobuiwang but he is more like a father-figure to him. There are reports that his former side University of Pretoria, Bidvest Wits and Platinum Stars may come calling for his services.