Although Thembi Kgatlana returned home empty handed from the CAF Awards, the Banyana Banyana striker is not bitter that she didn’t win CAF’s women’s player of the year award for 2017. “Pikinini” as she is affectionately known, was one of the three finalists for the prestigious award, but lost out to Assisat Oshoala. Although Kgatlana says she feels no bitterness towards the Nigerian, she does admit that she finds it difficult to understand just how the judges select the winners. Kgatlana questioned how Oshoala could have won the award when she hadn’t kicked a ball since the 2016 Women’s AFCON while she was an integral part of the Banyana team that won the 2017 AFCON. Pikinini went on to represent the country at the World Student Games in Taipei which earned her Sportswoman of the Year at the University of Western Cape (UWC) and Player of the Year at the SAFA Cape Town Awards. Kgatlana believes the lack of a professional league in South Africa, could have contributed to her missing out on the award.
“Even though Nigeria didn’t play last year, she did well with her club (Dalian Quanjian F.C) taking them to the cup final and getting top goal scorer. I can say I got the same award here in South Africa but maybe because we don’t have a professional league that’s what could have influenced Caf’s decision to do that. Nonetheless I am grateful that I was in the top three in Africa and it’s time to move on,” she says.
Kgatlana says 2017 taught her how to balance the demands of being a student athlete adding that achieving this balance between football and her studies came with great rewards. Being named as one of the best three players in Africa was an eye opener for the UWC student. She says rubbing shoulders with the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah is motivation that she needs to work harder. But all of this success would be nothing without the support of her teammates, says Piknini. Although she was staying in a five star hotel in Ghana, she says she felt alone until she received a video call from former captain, Amanda Dlamini which made her feel comfortable.
Dlamini describes Kgatlana as a great individual who is focused on what she wants to achieve.
“She has a good head on her shoulders. It’s (nomination) a huge achievement, we have been playing in the national team for years and have never accomplished such. It takes a great individual to be at that level,” she says.
Kgatlana hopes having her name mentioned with other big stars will open doors for her to play overseas. UWC has seen a number of their players being snatched by overseas teams including Jermaine Seoposenwe and former Under-20 captain, Amogelang Motau who play in the United States of America.