Former Bafana Bafana international Lance Davids, 34, reminisces about his successful football journey from Mitchell’s Plain to Europe.
The football agent hung up his boots in May 2015, however, his continued success has been in finding top talent from around the world, including none other than local footballers, Tashreeq Matthews at Borussia Dortmund and Bradley Cross at Schalke 04 respectively.
When he first appeared on our sports pages in 2004, in a shared article with AmaZulu goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs, Davids recalls how proud his family reacted.
“Everything was new for us but they enjoyed the moment. I was still young and enjoyed every minute of the interview. It was a great time and I think of it often,” he said.
The football bug bit Davids in the streets and parks of Rocklands, Mitchell’s Plain, when he was 5, however, it was not until after they moved to Westridge at the age of 7 when he formerly joined a team, Parkhurst Ambassadors.
“It was a very natural start. There are always a few kids playing football in the streets of our communities.
“I was about 5 years old when I joined in with the kids in the streets and park, having a kick around with the ball. The bug bit me and the rest is proverbial history,” he said.
His late father, Godfrey, played a pivotal role in shaping Davids’ successful sporting career decisions.
“I took as much advice as I could from him. My football role model was Roy Keane. He was an excellent leader. As much as he took no nonsense on the field, he was extremely humble off the field,” he said.
Davids said he was representing the Western Province team at a tournament when Edgar Manuel, from Hellenic, approached his father for him to join them at training.
“When Hellenic opened The Academy in Lansdowne it was a great moment because then it was football 24/7.
“My education was also very important and I had to juggle school and football. Hellenic was hugely successful and we won many trophies and tournaments. It was also a great opportunity to meet and make new friends because we had boys coming from all around South Africa,” he said.
Bidvest Wits coach Gavin Hunt and the late English professional footballer Budgie Byrne helped Davids to secure his big breakthrough into Europe.
“I played in a friendly match with the senior team of Hellenic. Gavin Hunt gave me an opportunity when a Swiss team came to Cape Town for their pre-season. I was the youngest on the field and played like it was my last match ever and really enjoyed it. The late Budgie Byrne organised the trial at Arsenal for me,” he said.
Davids said one of his biggest highlights in Europe was when he made his debut for 1860 Munich against Bayern Munich at the age of 17.
“I enjoyed my time in Europe and was coached by good coaches and played with quality players. Youth days were great and I developed so much and learnt a lot at the youth academy. Making my debut against Bayern Munich was a very special moment for me. At Djurgarden we were unlucky to miss out on the championship in the second season but I enjoyed my time in Sweden at this fantastic club,” he said.
Davids said family, discipline and hard work kept him composed throughout his career.
“I sacrificed a lot and left home at a young age. It was not easy but I knew what my goal was and that was to become a professional footballer. I enjoyed every moment as a professional footballer and my family kept me grounded and I always remembered where I came from. I knew what was at stake and was very disciplined as a player,” he said.
While in Europe, Davids went for trials at numerous clubs, however, he kept his cool and continued to work hard.
“At that time it was not easy to play in England because of red tape so it was out of my control. I always wanted to play in Europe and worked hard to get to it, and when the opportunity came to go to Germany I took it with both hands. If you want to make it as a professional athlete, you always need to be motivated,” he said.
Davids joined Djurgårdens IF from 1860 Munich in Germany at the start of the 2006 season. On his return to SA from Djurgården IF, he played for SuperSport United (2009) and Ajax Cape Town (2013).
The former Ajax skipper said one of his biggest highlights was being a part of the 2010 World Cup national squad.
“I had a great time at SuperSport. We won the PSL and I was happy to play under Gavin Hunt and I also knew lots players when I joined.
“It was great when I came back the first time because I was preparing for the 2010 World Cup and being part of the squad was the highlight of my career.
“The second time was tough because when I returned the club was fighting relegation and it was so special when we survived on the last day of the season. Overall, it was good moments, especially playing at home where it all started,” he said.
After the World Cup, he got called up by Lierse SK in Belgium where he played against Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne, who then played for Racing Genk.
“The Belgium league is a very good league and very competitive. The atmosphere is good at every match but even better when you play against Club Brugge, Anderlecht, Racing Genk and Standard Liege. The players have very good qualities. When I was playing, Kevin de Bruyne, among others, I was playing at Racing Genk. The football in general is on a good standard,” he said.
Davids is hopeful the future of football in SA, in particular in areas like Mitchell’s Plain, is on a positive growth, with more opportunities opening up for talented youngsters.
“As always, I remain hopeful for the future of football in South Africa. There are many more development opportunities available for the youngsters.
There’s no shortages of raw talent in Mitchell’s Plain. These youngsters have to grab the opportunities out there. Get affiliated
to their local clubs and hopefully attract the eye of the talent scouts out there.
“Things have changed a lot in the football industry. The new generation needs to be patient and work hard towards their goals. They should concentrate more on the long term than the short term goals. “
“They should never give up and always be honest with themselves. If an opportunity presents itself, be hungry and take it and remember that hard work and discipline pay off,” he said.