Johannesburg - When Jomo Sono secured a piece of land in 2001 to establish the Jomo Cosmos academy, little did he know that he had planted a seed when he hired Adriano Masinga as groundsman.
Masinga is the father of Zuko Gxabuza, the 15-year-old sensation who is being groomed by Sono for the Ezenkosi senior team ahead of the new National First Division (NFD) campaign.
The teenager is part of a revamped Cosmos side that has 28 new players following a serious overhaul after they came short of promotion to the Absa Premiership last season.
Gxabuza was the last to join his team-mates at training during City Press’ visit to the club’s grounds, situated adjacent to the Rand Stadium, south of Johannesburg.
“He just returned from school,” his father tells me as we take our seats to watch the Tuesday afternoon session.
Gxabuza, who uses his mother’s surname, is a Grade 9 pupil at a local school, and his dad is glad he is able to juggle football and schoolwork.
The 58-year-old glows as he reminisces about where it all started.
“Zuko was about a year old when Bra J (Sono) recruited me to work for him in 2003. So my boy literally grew up at these grounds. He would follow me to the grounds all the time and that’s how his love for the game started.
“I’m proud that he has come this far. He is a respectful young man and a good listener,” continues Masinga, who is originally from Inhambane in Mozambique.
The atmosphere on the dry pitch - clearly battered by the unforgiving winter season - is lit. There is no dull moment when Sono is around his players as he cracks jokes in between the sessions.
“It’s a coincidence that I also got promoted at the age of 15 when I was at Pirates (in the 70s),” Sono recalls.
“Zuko has got a big chance to make it, and it all depends on the people surrounding him. There’s no question about his talent. From next week, we are taking him off the juniors to train with the seniors full time.
“His jersey in the first team is waiting for him.”
Gxabuza’s first touch on the ball is quite impressive and so is his explosive speed when he takes off - the hallmarks of an attacking midfielder.
He is set to make his unofficial debut in the Uthukela Mayoral Cup in Ladysmith on Sunday, where Cosmos are part of a four-club tournament.
“It’s a big achievement as I have always dreamt of playing for the first team,” says Gxabuza.
He says his promotion came as a “shock” when Sono broke the news to him early this year, but he was ready to roll with the big boys.
“I’m ready because the move has given me confidence,” says the youngster, who idolises new Mamelodi Sundowns defender-cum-winger Lyle Lakay.
His schoolmates find his story too good to be true, he says.
Gxabuza quickly joins his mum Thembeka, who is preparing supper at their unit on the other side of the premises of the academy.
That’s where the family resides, together with Gxabuza’s 20-year-old sibling Arnaldo.
“I have raised so many boys who came out of here and I’m happy that my son is also part of the long list. We’ll make sure that we guide and advise him well,” beams a proud Thembeka.
She lists Thapelo Tshilo and Gladwin Shitolo as just two of the famous names who came through the ranks at the institution, which is renowned for nurturing talent.
Cosmos will open their NFD campaign against Ajax Cape Town at Makhulong Stadium next Sunday.