“I get a bit emotional when I talk about this,” Andisiwe Mgcoyi says as she relays her last European experience; her stint with FKK Mitrovica in Kosovo.
The former Banyana Banyana striker flew the country’s flag in Europe with distinction. She was among the first to show that South African women footballers are just as talented and capable of doing well anywhere. Her exploits were vital in getting South African players trusted and given a chance in some of the best leagues in the world.
But that does not mean things have been smooth sailing for Mgcoyi. Even though she had a fellow South African in the FKK Mitrovica squad in Zanele Nhlapo, who signed at the same time, and even though she won the Kosovo Cup with the club, having netted 25 goals in all competitions, Mgcoyi’s time there was far from ideal.
Disregard and abuse
“Both Zanele and I joined the team on a one-year deal [in 2019]. We didn’t even get our Uefa Women’s Champions League qualification bonuses and our $500 [about R7 700] each for helping the team to win the Kosovo Cup against Llap. They did this because they wanted us to come back for the 2021/22 season but I was personally against that decision. How could I want to go back while I was mistreated there?
“We were not allowed to visit basic places like the mall or do some sightseeing in our free time. It was basically training and then heading back to our rooms to wait for the next session the following day. The same treatment was given to us even on our match days, while our teammates enjoyed free movement in their spare time.”
The unfair treatment did not end there. “I was also forced to play in midfield in preference over somebody I was better than,” Mgcoyi adds. “At times, I was benched with no solid reason given. Before the Kosovo Cup match for example, the coach [Veton Çitaku] approached me and said that he was not going to field me because we were playing against a weak team, [and] I gladly obliged. However, things didn’t flow according to the plan on his side. The team basically struggled in the first half. They went to the halftime break sitting at 0-0. It took the whole chairman of the club screaming from the stands that I should be roped into the fray, that my coach finally relented. I came in, scored a brace, with one assist to my name and we ended up winning that match [10-0].”
Nhlapo, who played 90 minutes of that cup match, remembers the incident as if it happened yesterday. They were playing in Podujevo. This was one of the many times that Nhlapo saw Mgcoyi being badly treated as she watched her friend defy the odds against her.
“I had seen Andisiwe being pulled out of a match where she was playing exceptionally well. Not that they were trying to manage her load or injuries or something,” Nhlapo says. “No. In fact, none of that. They just wanted to control her goal-scoring tally. Mgcoyi would be substituted each time she would score two goals in a match she had started in and, at times, be told that she would not be needed for a particular game. We gathered that the coaches at the club preferred having the local players having a better goal-scoring ratio than the foreign players. Mgcoyi was a victim of that.
“That is why I was also comfortable with my decision of not taking the club up on their offer of getting me Kosovo citizenship. Both Andisiwe and I were not enjoying the treatment and our stay there, compared to our one-season stint in Albania. The club even had people tracking our movements each time we left our rooms. It was weird because our teammates were not given the same treatment. They were allowed to do whatever they willed in their respective free time, while we were not. We were the only Blacks there. One could not help it but wonder. So, I asked myself, why commit myself to a place where I’m most likely to go through the same ill treatment, this time around alone, [and] for another season or years to come?”
In the years that she spent abroad, Mgcoyi played for 10 European sides, won four league titles and competed in three Uefa Women’s Champions League editions. And now that she is back in South Africa, the 33-year-old says her intentions are to help Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies challenge for honours in the inaugural CAF Women’s Champions League. She also wants to help the team defend their Hollywoodbets Super League title.
Sundowns qualified for the Champions League after going through the Cosafa Champions League qualifiers unbeaten, having scored 16 goals and conceded none in five matches. Sundowns are pitted in Group B alongside Nigeria’s River Angels, Morocco’s AS FAR and Kenya’s Vihiga Queens in the continental showpiece that will run from 5 to 9 November.
“I must admit that I had a slow start here at Sundowns, following my return from Europe,” Mgcoyi says. “I didn’t score in my first two games, and missed about 10 chances in my first match for the team. I was devastated because, well, I’m a striker and strikers feed on scoring goals for their sides. Coach Jerry Tshabalala has been very supportive and helped me to regain my confidence in my natural playing position. I’ve had to have individual training sessions to help get myself to this form that I’m in now.
“Sure, I might be one of the consistent goal scorers at the club at the moment; however, my ambitions are never set on individual performances or accolades. It is the team that has to shine, and not the individual. Our league and CAF Women’s Champions League campaigns are not going to be easy; however, I believe that we are up for the challenge and [can] do well in both.”
Mgcoyi’s experience in Kosovo hasn’t dampened her desire to continue playing, and doing well in Europe. “I still want to go back and play in Europe. Sure I had a bad experience in my previous move; however, I won’t let that deter me,” she says.
“My eyes are now set on Italy, Spain, France or Germany. The side that I want to join also has to be a team that is consistently within the top two. This is where I see myself, and I believe that it can be done. It is players like Refiloe Jane [at AC Milan] and Thembi Kgatlana [at Atletico Madrid] who inspire me to keep working on myself. This pair has a solid understanding that talent alone won’t get you anywhere if hard work, determination and discipline aren’t in the mix. These are some of the core values I hold dear to me. They help me to continue to evolve.”