The club has been his home for six years and he didn’t want to leave – but if he had to be honest, the writing was on the wall.
Ayanda Gcaba had been benched for most of the season, he and coach Milutin Sredojevic' reportedly don’t see eye-to-eye and Orlando Pirates had just signed nine new players, so radical change was clearly afoot.
And yes, the 32-year-old defender admits, he’d been unhappy at Bucs – but that doesn’t mean he was ready to leave. He did his best to stay positive and give his best “but it became stressful because I felt sidelined”.
Ayanda asked if he could be loaned to Platinum Stars this season and his side agreed.
He was excited and relieved to be back on the field, he says. “I wanted to play for Pirates but that wasn’t happening. I’m not sure what will happen now I’m leaving but I’m confident about my game and I know this isn’t the end for me.”
He’s a believer in the saying that when one door closes, another opens – and at the time of going to print it was reported Free State Stars were keen on him.
“He’s a true professional and has been in the game for a while now,” a source close to the club told The Citizen. “He will add value to the club.”
Ayanda will miss the brotherhood and the unity within Pirates most. “The memories I share with the guys are unforgettable. We have lost and gained players but the brotherhood remains strong.”
He doesn’t know exactly why he got the chop, he adds, but he’s accepted it and he’s going to focus on his training to get back on the pitch as quickly as possible.
“I know what I need to work on and what my coach told me was lacking. I was told that at times I play too many long balls and I don’t look for the nearest player. They said I needed to get my passing accuracy right because at times it’s sloppy.”
“They aren’t the first people to tell me this, and I appreciate the constructive criticism. I don’t only play to please myself. I am working on those crutches.”
While he admits it’s hard to be criticised, he knows it’s important and he “respects anyone who tries to help me be better at what I do. There were moments when I wanted to leave Pirates but I knew I needed to think straight and continue to practise.”
Going to play for Platinum Stars was to prove a point “that I am a good footballer, and I still have what it takes to have a good career in football”. He’ll always treasure his time with Orlando Pirates and has plenty of highlights, including playing at the Fifa Confederations Cup and Uefa Champions League, when Bucs travelled the African continent to see how other nations played soccer.
“Going to other countries opened my mind. Football is played differently there – they play to international standards and that’s something South African players can learn from. Here we like to play kasi style and do tricks, whereas their aim is to eliminate players and score goals.”
A Kasi boy himself, Ayanda’s introduction to the beautiful game was kicking around a ball made of plastic bags and old socks back home in Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal.
For him and his friends, it was just a fun game, not something he ever imagined making a living from.
“I’m a boy from eKasi, a place where many people feel committing a crime is a necessity to get food on the table. My aunt made sure we stayed away from trouble and playing soccer was an escape from crime, drugs and alcohol.”
He was raised by his aunt, who he refers to as Auntie Noh, while his mother, Nonkululeko, worked as a housekeeper in Durban. His father passed away when Ayanda was 11.
As a child, his sporting passion was actually rugby but others saw in him a star in the making when he kicked a soccer ball.
“I was always good at rugby, and I was passionate about it, but a person’s journey in life is determined by God and I am here because of His plan,” he says.
After matric in 2006 Ayanda was asked by a friend’s uncle, who had a soccer team in Mpumalanga, to try out for FC Spurs in Witbank.
He packed his bags and left to see if he had a chance at being a footballer. “I arrived in Witbank at 2pm and by 4pm I was training with the guys!”
He played for the side for two years until he was spotted by Free State Stars and asked to attend trials. He joined the team and played there for three years.
“I wanted to stay longer at Free State Stars but when I received a call from Dr Irvin Khoza about me playing for Orlando Pirates, I jumped for joy and that’s when my career at Orlando Pirates began.”
Now those days are over but Ayanda is determined to remain upbeat and motivated. His main sources of motivation, he says, are his three kids – Azile (6), Siyanda (5) and Luyanda (19 months) – who also help him stay grounded.
“My children are my world,” he says. He doesn’t see them as often as he’d like because they all have different mothers and logistics are difficult. “But all my success is for their legacies,” he says.
Being raised in a female-run household helped shape him into a patient and resilient player and man, he believes.
“The respect I have for women shows in my life and in my relationships,”he says.
He’s currently dating Lolo Morapedi, a talent manager, who encouraged him to persevere when things were going badly at Pirates andhe felt like giving up.
“She helped me to stay calm,” he says.
Lolo and Ayanda, together with Bloem Celtic player Khethokwakhe Masuku, are involved in an annual shoe, jersey and blanket drive where they give 1 000 pairs of shoes to school children across the country and blankets to families in underprivileged areas.
“It’s a project very close to our hearts,”he says. “We are passionate about helping our communities because we know what it’s like to not have much. We know how important it is to be warm in winter and to have school shoes so you can focus on the things that matter.”
He has his heart in the right place – now he just needs to find his feet on the pitch again.