Former Jomo Cosmos and Orlando Pirates winger Dikgang Mabalane admits that socio-economic issues in the country play a major role in the struggles many footballers face post-retirement, but he also feels a change of mindset is needed in many cases.
South African football is littered with haunting tales of former professionals being bankrupt, struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, having nothing to fall back on post-career, and depending on handouts in order to survive.
It’s something that organisations like the South African Football Legends are looking to highlight and address, and while he has avoided these pitfalls, ‘Terminator’ is the first to admit that the adjustment from playing to retirement is a massive one.
“When it comes to footballers and the whole financial issue and their well-being after football, it’s something that’s very close to my heart,” Mabalane, who won two successive ‘Trebles’ with Pirates, tells SAFL. “It’s a sensitive issue for me because I’ve been in the circle, in the industry, and I’ve seen players come and go, and with money … at the end of a career, how there’s nothing to live on.
“I’m not sure whether the problem is getting better or worse, but the reality is that it still happens today. Life after football is never an easy transition … I can promise you that. Personally, it took me a while before I could come to terms with not being ‘The Terminator’; a famous person, when people call you all the time and want to do things for you, rather than you having to ask them, and you get everything for free. You come to a realisation that that lifestyle, after football, becomes very different.”
He believes that upbringing plays a major role in where players end up in life and, in the case of footballers from the townships, that often makes for grim circumstances.
“Most of the soccer players come from townships with not the best upbringing or backgrounds. What you are taught at home or how you grow up affects you, no matter how much money you get. If you are well-disciplined or come from a good family background and an environment that is okay, you get to a point where you get money and that won’t change you – in most cases. Unless, you know … a fool is a fool.
“It always works better if you come from a background that is going to serve you well, financially and otherwise. So for me, if that changes, then we will start seeing some real changes in footballers’ lives. And it applies for everyone, not only footballers.”
Still, Mabalane also believes that a change in mindset can go a long way to helping players plan for a better future.
“Look, the reality is you get money and all that fame when you are still young, straight out of high school, and that can change you because you are not financially savvy … it’s still something new. That causes a lot of problems after football because you don’t have anything to fall back on when you are done playing.
“People talk about school, and it’s very important. I finished my matric, but I still went to school when I was at Pirates. I did my tertiary at UJ; I wanted to see if I could do it. I did it for a whole year – full-time, not part-time – so there is no excuse … you can do it.
“And of course it helps to have something – a paper, some sort of qualification – so that when I go meet my former bosses or SAFA for a job, I have something to meet them halfway. Many former players expect to naturally become coaches, but we need them in admin as well. Sit in an office, become an administrator, a director of football. For me, the mindset of footballers must also change.”
Mabalane made 355 starts for the likes of Jomo Cosmos, SuperSport United, Maritzburg Classic, Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows during an 18-year career, winning two League titles, as well as the 2002 Coca-Cola Cup, 2004 SAA Supa8, 2005 ABSA Cup, 2010, 2011 MTN8, 2011 Nedbank Cup, and the 2011 Telkom Knockout.