|Pule 'Ace' Ntsoelengoe|
|Tuesday, 19 June 2012 18:17|
Died: 8 May 2006, Lenasia
Cause of death: Heart attack
Notable because: Considered the finest footballer from South Africa, who was unfortunate to have lived in Apartheid South Africa where the sporting boycott denied him the International stage. His nickname was 'Mabheka Phansi' - the man who always looks down.
Patrick Pule "Ace" Ntsoelengoe was one of the most talented soccer players ever from South Africa, he played 11 seasons in the North American Soccer League, beginning in 1973 with the Miami Toros. He is a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
He made his name, however, with the Minnesota Kicks and enhanced his reputation with Toronto Blizzard. A quiet man with incredible skills, it is quite remarkable that his soccer career was confined to South Africa and North America. He acquired his nickname from his father, Daniel, who was also one of South Africa's top players. While Ace spent his summers in Canada or in the United States, he returned home during the winter to play for the Kaizer Chiefs, a club with an enormous following in Johannesburg. Ace played there from the early 1970s to the mid 1980's. An idol in his own country, Ace spent only one season with Miami, missed the 1975 season but returned to the NASL in 1976 to play for the Denver Dynamos.
When that franchise moved to Minnesota in 1976, he moved along with them and thus began the first of six highly successful years with the Kicks. He was acquired by Toronto Blizzard in December 1981, when the Kicks were about to fold, and became a key figure in the Blizzard's rise to become one of the top NASL teams. He played for Minnesota in Soccer Bowl 76 and for Toronto in Soccer Bowl 83 and the Championship Final of 1984. Nominally a midfielder, he constantly pushed forward into attacking positions and often scored more goals than strikers.
"Ace" died of a heart attack on 8 May 2006 in Lenasia, just south of Johannesburg in South Africa. At the time of his death he was coach of the Kaizer Chiefs Youth Development Programme. In tributes he was hailed as one of the best players ever produced by South Africa. One of his former coaches at Chiefs, Eddie Lewis, is quoted as saying that if he had been born 20 years later, Ace would have enjoyed the same status as Ronaldinho . This is a view shared by former Bafana Bafana coach Clive Baker, "If Ace was here now, he'd be spoken of in the same breath as Fernando Torres, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi."
The midfield maestro played 11 seasons in North America, representing the Miami Torros, Denver Dynamos, Minnesota Kicks and Toronto Blizzard in the North American Soccer League (NASL).
By the time he was done with the NASL, he had certainly left his mark, ranking among the league's all-time leaders in both appearances and goals scored. He was also voted onto the NASL's first-team All Star line-up in 1979 and 1982, and earned honourable mentions in 1977, 1978 and 1980.
An interesting statistic was kept by the NASL, in which players were awarded points both for goals scored and for "assists" (setting up goals). Ace ranks seventh on the all-time list, a lasting testament to his all-round performances, showing off not only his individual ability but also his team work.
The NASL season was structured so that, after the regular league season, the top teams would qualify for the playoffs. Ntsoelengoe made the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons, although he never managed to land the NASL title. He reached the final three times, but was on the losing side on all three occasions.
'On a par with Zidane'
Ntsoelengoe was an awesome presence in the midfield, as Clive Barker coach of Bafana Bafana when they won the 1996 African Nations Cup well recalls. Barker, who was coaching Amazulu in 1976, relates how Ntsoelengoe orchestrated the Usuthus' downfall in a Cup final, leading Kaizer Chiefs to a 3-1 win in the first leg and to a 5-2 victory in the second leg.
Barker reckons that, during the second match, he actually stood up and applauded a goal by Ace after the midfield star made an adjustment in mid-stride and then bent the ball around the advancing goalkeeper.
Barker rates Ntsoelengoe as arguably the best player yet produced by South Africa, putting him on the same level as footballing great Zinedine Zidane, the man who helped France win the 1998 World Cup with a string of sensational performances.
'Almost a perfect footballer'
In an article on the Mogale City website, Nat Serache relates a story about Ntsoelengoe when, in 1976, he played for a South African team selected on merit against an Argentinean select side.
The South Africans crushed their South American opposition five-nil. After the game, late South African sports writer Stan Motjuwadi asked Argentinean manager Oscar Martinez how he rated South Africa's players.
He rated Ntsoelengoe as the best. "That boy is a mint", Martinez said. "He is almost a perfect footballer. He can dribble, he can shoot, he can attack, and he can defend.
"I can tell you why Ace stands head and shoulders above all your players", the Argentine manager continued. "He is intelligent; he has got great ability and he is strong and courageous. He plays like he has got a machine inside his body. He knows when to dribble and when to shoot.
"What I like about Ace is that he is good in the air, good on the ground and good everywhere you can think of. I cannot remember seeing the ball taken away from him", Martinez added.
After his playing career was over, Ntsoelengoe was involved with Kaizer Chiefs, making valuable contributions to the club's youth programme. He also assisted South Africa's national under-23 team.
In October 2008, he was posthumously awarded the Order of Ikhamanga, South Africa's highest honour for people who excel in arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport.
He is the only South African in the American National Soccer Hall of Fame, and is remembered as one of the greatest talents Africa ever produced by fans and players on both sides of the Atlantic.
"I don't think there is anyone today who is quite like him, because now they play too fast, and before you know it you have to play the ball - Ace used to like to take his time," said former team-mate Maponyane.
His nickname was 'Mabheka Phansi' - the man who always looks down.
"Coaches always tell you to look up but he used to play with his head down, which baffled opponents as they thought he couldn't possibly know where his team-mates were.
"But he'd already seen where they all were and would find them with his passes.
"In South Africa he's remembered as a gentleman of the game. And at the Chiefs, he is remembered as a player whose brilliance made you think 'how on earth he did he do that?'."
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 June 2012 18:29|