Things are not quite the same for Reneilwe Letsholonyane right now. At this time of the year he is normally in the final stages of pre-season training with his teammates and getting ready for the start of the new football season.
For the first time in a 15-year professional career, the midfielder didn’t have a pre-season and will be without a club when the 2019-2020 campaign gets under way on Saturday 3 August, having left SuperSport United after his contract expired. Unsurprisingly, the 37-year-old describes his new routine as a “strange feeling”.
“It’s different, man,” said Letsholonyane. “My mornings are for gym. I come back and chill with my wife and then I fetch the kids from school. I’m used to being in pre-season at this time throughout my professional career. This one is a bit different and I obviously miss the space of being in pre-season, but it is what it is. I know that whatever needs to happen will happen.
“As much as I’ve always enjoyed being in pre-season and being part of a team, I’m also enjoying the space I am in right now. I would love to be in pre-season, but the reality is I’m not and I’m also enjoying the space I’m in, so that gives me some comfort.
“It gives me more time to spend with family. Now it’s me, the wife and the kids, to bond with them, because when the time comes for me to find a team, it will be back to the routine of being in camp and travelling.”
There’s no rush, though, for the 37-year-old to get back on to the field as he hasn’t officially retired, even though his new routine is that of someone who has hung up their boots. “Yeye” is not desperate to find a club and he won’t accept any old offer just because he wants to play football. There’s a lot that goes into finding a club, especially for someone who is used to winning silverware on a regular basis and has been in professional environments at Kaizer Chiefs and Matsatsantsa a Pitori.
“I don’t like to do things out of pressure or desperation. I would love to have a team now, I would love to train and play properly. I would love to do that, but for me it’s not just about having a team and training. Whoever I play for I should be comfortable enough in terms of how the club is being run, whether they are ambitious enough in trying to win stuff or not. So for me it’s all about those small details. Whoever I play for must be ambitious enough to compete and want to win. Not just win games, but win stuff. The level of professionalism is important,” the midfielder explained.
Preparing for life after football
Letsholonyane does not mention money when talking about his next move. Part of the reason he said he is not desperate to find a club is because he’s handled his finances well over the years. So while he is on the lookout for a club, he can take care of his family and do what’s required of him at home.
“It’s important obviously to save, because we all know that you won’t play football forever. For situations like the one I am in now, it becomes handy if you have something that will back you up until you find a club. So it’s important to always save money, whether you have a club or not, because you won’t play football forever. For now I’m not desperate, because I have money. I’m not just going to choose a club because I don’t have a paycheque. I’m not going to take a decision just to get a paycheque.
“I want people who are ambitious … For me it’s about loving what I do and being part of an institution that wants to achieve things.”
There are a number of reasons clubs would still go out and sign Letsholonyane. Over the years he’s been a top professional, on and off the pitch. He’s looked after the Yeye brand so well that club bosses would probably not have a problem signing him up. The experience he has gained is priceless.
“Every time I get an opportunity to do my job, I do it in a proper way. I work hard, I enjoy what I do. I honestly do what I love. And off the field it’s obviously about carrying yourself in a proper and professional way, in a way an athlete should behave. I try to behave in a professional way on and off the field.”
Life as a businessman
In 2018, Letsholonyane and his business partner, former Chiefs winger Siphiwe Tshabalala, opened a lounge in Soweto called Shaye, a combination of their nicknames Shabba and Yeye. Neither of the players has ended up in the spotlight for the wrong reasons and they are not the type to party and drink every weekend, so it’s interesting that they decided to start a business such as this one.
“It’s up and down,” Letsholonyane said, describing his life as a businessman. “We’ve been having glitches here and there, but we are sorting them out. Already a few of those glitches have been sorted, so in terms of the business operating properly and regularly, things will go well from the end of the month. But there are other things that need to be sorted out before it can be stable.
“Obviously, the first year is where things are a bit difficult in business. This industry we took on with Shabba is totally different. It’s like hardcore entertainment and that’s obviously dominated by alcohol, and we don’t really drink and we are not really those people who are clubbing every weekend. So it’s totally different for us, but I’ve learnt that you need to be patient in almost everything that happens with this business.
“You need to be patient with your suppliers, with your staff, with the people who help to set up for events, you need to be patient with customers. So if you are not patient, you will forever be angry or upset.”
There are big plans for Shaye in the future. While it’s a place where people can come to relax, drink and have fun, they are looking at using it for corporate events.
“The plan is for Shaye Lounge to operate from Monday to Sunday. So on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be normal days. By normal days, I mean that during the day people can come and have their meetings, have something to eat and get a few drinks while there’s chilled music. And then after 6pm it will be like a club kind of set up, where there will be DJs,” Yeye explained.
“And then on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, those days we are going to reserve for corporate events. Our vision is to have more Shaye Lounges countrywide. We are learning a whole lot of things with the first one, so that in the next few years we are able to set up other branches.”
When Letsholonyane does decide to call it quits and hang up his boots, his life after football has already been prepared.