Bafana Bafana

Shu-Aib Walters' 7-year fight for recognition

2017-03-10 11:22
Shu-Aib Walters (Gallo)

Cape Town - Shu-Aib Walters vividly remembers a conversation he had with Bafana Bafana legend Siyabonga Nomvethe during the 2010 Fifa World Cup. 

Walters, 28-years-old at the time, had been included in that 23-man squad as back-up to goalkeepers Itumeleng Khune and Moeneeb Josephs as the international spotlight shined brightly, and briefly, on South African football.  

He was never going to get a game - and he didn't - but what Walters could not have known is that he would have to wait seven years for his next Bafana call-up.

He remains the only member of that World Cup squad never to have won an international cap. 

Nomvethe was 32 back then. His words to Walters would have a long-lasting effect.

"I think Matthew Booth was that age as well. We had a couple of older guys in that squad," Walters recalls in an exclusive interview with Sport24.

"I remember talking to him. And when he talks, you listen. He (Nomvethe) told me that no matter how old you are, as long as you're doing well you will always aspire to get a call-up." 

Nomvethe was obviously referring to himself at that moment, but as the years rolled on his words became more and more important to Walters. 

As long as he was playing well, he would always have a chance. 

"You know realistically that it is a little bit harder the older you get."

On Thursday, Walters was called up to a 25-man squad for two international friendlies against Guinea-Bissau and Angola later this month. He is 35 - comfortably the oldest player included yet still searching for a debut. 

Finally, seven years after his last call-up, he is being rewarded for his consistency at the highest level. 

The truth is that Walters has been one of the form goalkeepers in South Africa for years now. He is commanding in the air, makes very few basic errors and is a phenomenal shot-stopper.  

Those close to him at Maritzburg United, Mpumalanga Black Aces and now Cape Town City have always found it difficult to believe that he has never been rewarded for his form. 

Walters on Maritzburg United duty back in 2010, a couple of months before his World Cup call-up (Gallo).

The obvious explanation is that he has played in the Itumeleng Khune era. But even when Khune has been unavailable Walters has been left out in the cold with the likes of Josephs, Senzo Meyiwa, Darren Keet, Jackson Mabokgwane, Ronwen Williams, Wayne Sandilands, Brilliant Khuzwayo and Reyaad Pieterse all enjoying a crack at some stage. 

At one point, Walters was keeping Mabokgwane out of the starting line-up at Mpumalanga Black Aces, yet Mabokgwane was still being called up to Shakes Mashaba's national sides, even captaining on occasion. 

"We'll just leave it at that," Walters says remembering that season at Aces.

"I kind of just laughed it off then and I'll laugh it off now. Football is a game of opinions and everyone is entitled to an opinion.

"I'm just grateful that the opinions that count now want me to be there."

Walters thought he would be called up last season when his form for Aces resulted in him being nominated for the PSL's 'Goalkeeper of the Season' award. 

But when he still went unnoticed despite playing arguably the best football of his career, Walters was ready to focus completely on his new venture with Cape Town City in 2016/17. 

Then, almost out of the blue, a string of congratulatory messages on his phone greeted him after training on Thursday.

"I have a few things that I'm doing now, like I write a column on Goal.com, and I thought they were congratulating me for that or for my new article that came out," he said. 

"I'm just grateful at the moment for the opportunity. I'm a little bit overwhelmed. I'm just hoping that me being selected can be inspiring to other footballers to know that hard work and perseverance pays off."

There is obviously no guarantee that Walters will get on the pitch at all - Khune and Keet are the other two 'keepers in the squad - but at this stage, it doesn't matter.

"Just being part of the squad is an achievement on its own for me," he says.

Having experienced all of the ups and downs that South African domestic football offers in abundance, Walters deserves the opportunity to soak this all up.

He is back in his home city, challenging for the PSL title, is a recent Telkom Knockout champion and he is finally being acknowledged. 

"I have to say a special thanks to my family but also the people of Cape Town," he says.

"They have always supported me, wherever I have been. There is a lot more positivity ... they are supporters, not fans. A lot of the other clubs get fans who just want to go there and watch football, but the people in Cape Town are real supporters." 

Still without a coach, Owen da Gama will take charge of Bafana's two friendlies against Guinea-Bissau (March 25) and Angola (March 28).

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