Gugulethu footballer gears up for Gothia Cup in Sweden

Tramway Football Club’s versatile defender, Ikona Maliti, 14, is gearing up to represent Gugulethu, at the Gothia Cup, in Sweden, in July. Picture: Lonwabo Marele

Fourteen-year-old Ikona Maliti, from Tramway Football Club in Southfield, is gearing up to represent Gugulethu at the Gothia Cup, in Sweden, in July.

The Gothia Cup, dubbed as the most recognised international youth football tournament in the world, has over 1850 teams registered to participate in the week-long tournament this year.

Last year, they hosted over 1878 teams, from 48 countries, during the 4771 match showdown, played on 110 pitches. Since the cup’s inception in 1975, it has hosted over one million players from 147 countries.

Scouts come from La Liga, English Premier League, French Ligue 1 and the German Bundesliga, to name a few.

Former Liverpool and Bayern Munich midfielder, Xabi Alonso was discovered with Antiguoko at the tournament. Former Italy legend, Andrea Pirlo won the trophy with US Voluntas. Current Manchester City key man, Kevin De Bruyne also participated in the tournament.

The Edublox Reading and Learning Clinic pupil, Ikona is part of an 18-player-management squad, coached by Harold “Potz” Johnson, gearing up to take part in the Gothia Cup.

On Sunday January 28, they played to a 3-1 victory during a friendly against Camps Bay. The side from the Atlantic seaboard has participated on numerous occasions in the Gothia Cup and is preparing to take part in the Dubai Cup soon. On Saturday, February 3, they played another friendly, in Camps Bay.

Tramway’s under-14 girls were unbeaten in 15 games last season. Their fascinating record enabled them to win the league and the knockout cup of the Cape Town Tygerberg Local Football Association.

Coach Johnson said their determination to win and their ambition to showcase their talent remains unmatched in the provincial footballing scene.

“I tell them and I’ve been telling them since they started, as long as they try their best they should be happy with what they achieve. I always ask them after the game, ‘Did you try your best?’ and if they say yes, I am very happy with that, if not, we will work on it in training.”

Coach Johnson said Ikona is a talented footballer with a bright future ahead.

Ikona said her role models in football are none other than World Cup winner, Kylian Mbappe from France and Brazil international star, Neymar Junior.

Growing up, the young versatile defender had a speech difficulty. Her mother, Nomntu Maliti said she uses football as a way to communicate and negotiate with friends and family.

When her favourite teams or players are playing, in particular Liverpool, Ikona is often seen analysing the match with her father, Ray Mandulo.

Punctuality, alongside discipline and fairness, are some of the traits Ikona possesses, said Mandulo.

“Sport is very important for many people… Especially for kids coming from a previously disadvantaged community. It gives them character, it gives them behaviour and makes them feel confident where they see themselves as a part of a larger community,” he said.

Mandulo, a PhD candidate for sports and exercise science at UWC, focuses his research on the role academies play in uplifting the lifestyle of the youth from disadvantaged communities.

“The idea of participating in the Gothia Cup gives a great opportunity for people coming from a disadvantaged background. It helps in uplifting the lifestyle of the youth from disadvantaged communities and assists in the development programme that goes hand-in-hand with Tramway’s system. Participating in the Gothia Cup provides access not only to sport but to educational resources, support systems and employment opportunities,” he said.

In understanding the needs of such a trip, Ikona is raising funds to conclude her travelling itinerary for Sweden. Her parents said any support from the public is welcomed.

“Sponsorships are a lifeblood of sport, without sponsorships, sports will wither or die. We urge whoever can assist, to help Iko realise her dream. The Gothia Cup historical venture will help Iko define herself as having plied her trade and played among the best in the world,” said Mandulo.

For more information, contact Ikona Maliti’s parents on 081 404 2838 or on 079 601 5633.

Ikona Maliti getting ready for an afternoon session with her cousin, Sino Maliti at the NY49 sports complex, in Gugulethu, on Saturday January 27. Picture: Lonwabo Marele
Ikona Maliti showcasing her skills in her Tramway Football Club colours. Picture: Lonwabo Marele
Ikona Maliti, flanked by her parents, Nomntu Maliti and Ray Mandulo, after winning the Cape Town Tygerberg Local Football Association’s under-14 knockout cup last season. PICTURE: LONWABO MARELE