An old lady saved Dino Ndlovu from himself and in the process stabilised his marriage and relationship with his two daughters. The Bafana Bafana striker gets animated when he relates this story. He leans forward from his chair next to the pool at the Southern Sun hotel in Sandton. He then taps my knee to make sure that he has my full attention before revealing how this “old lady” helped him conquer his demons.
“I found a mental coach who was introduced to me by someone who is like a brother to me, my former manager, Walter Mokoena. He introduced me to this lady called Beverly, who is based in Johannesburg. She is an old lady who is almost 70,” Ndlovu says. “We began the sessions with me telling her my life story. The more sessions we had, the more techniques she taught me on how to deal with anger and how to avoid certain things that kept happening in my life.
“It took me eight months to a year of sessions with her to be the man that I am today. She really helped me a lot. I would advise people with anger issues to do something similar. You need someone to help you mentally. A mental coach will teach you techniques to deal with your problems.”
Ndlovu was in denial about his anger issues at first, blaming alcohol. “I shifted the blame and said that it was alcohol [that was fanning the flames of my anger], but there are a lot of people who drink alcohol, they don’t change like I did,” he says. His mental coach challenged him to drink alcohol-free beer to see if his behaviour would change without alcohol in his system. It didn’t.
“I developed a split personality. I was one Dino when I was sober and another Dino when I was drunk. I had to come to terms with the fact that alcohol wasn’t the problem, I was the problem. I saw how much this affected my family when my first born [Fathima, 7] asked me: ‘Daddy, are things between you and mommy okay?’ I realised she’s getting smart and she saw the things that were happening in front of her. I had to speak to someone.”
Fathima’s words probably took Ndlovu back to his upbringing. The 28-year-old from Klerksdorp in North West grew up in a sporting family. His mother played basketball and his father played football. “Sport is part of my family’s DNA,” he says.
But he inherited more than just footballing talent from his father.
“I didn’t grow up in a stable family. I had a father and a mother. They were married but it was a marriage filled with abuse, and ups and downs. My father was an alcoholic. My mother was the one who did things for us with her small salary even though my father earned more. He didn’t do anything for us. I am not angry about it now, but it filled me with a lot of anger that I’ve only dealt with in the last few years. Dealing with that anger shaped me to be the man I am today; a man who values, protects and takes care of his family.”
While Ndlovu fought his demons, his performances on the pitch suffered. He never really shined in South Africa during his stints at Mamelodi Sundowns, Bloemfontein Celtic, SuperSport United and the now defunct Mpumalanga Black Aces. He found himself in obscure parts of the world where football isn’t much of a thing.
Show me the money
Israel (with clubs Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa), Cyprus (Anorthosis Famagusta), Azerbaijan (Qarabağ) and China (with his current club Zhejiang Greentown) have seen a side of Ndlovu that his countrymen don’t know – a prolific striker.
It doesn’t help him that matches played in these leagues aren’t broadcast in South Africa, so statistics are his only tool to back the argument that he deserves a spot in the national squad. But that, too, isn’t enough. Many claim that his prolific goal-scoring abilities only come out in leagues that are not overly competitive.
“I became smart when I was 26 in terms of how I choose my teams,” Ndlovu says. “I looked at countries that are improving economically. I read about Azerbaijan, Turkey, Israel and China, which is the second largest economy in the world. Why go to Belgium and earn peanuts? Okay, I am playing in a big [footballing] country but I am earning peanuts. Why not go to a country where the government is pumping money into football?
“Every club in China has money, which means I will get what I am looking for. So why should I stress myself out with what people are saying about where I am playing? I will go where money is. Where there is money, I will go. I don’t care whether it’s Iceland or wherever. I don’t care! As long as I know that after football my family is secured, I don’t care where I play.”
In the history books
But this doesn’t mean Ndlovu doesn’t care about playing for Bafana. His face lights up in response to what it means to don the green and gold. “Just to be called up is an honour; playing is something else,” he says.
“Just to be on the list of names that the coach called up is a privilege. Not everyone gets this honour. Even if I am not called up regularly, people will know 20 years later that the team that played against Seychelles, my name was there. That will never be erased. That’s the most important thing for me – to be in the history books of the national team.”
Ndlovu cemented his name in the history books with a goal for Bafana against Seychelles on Saturday at FNB Stadium. His goal, the last in the 6-0 drubbing of the islanders, gave Bafana their biggest win ever, moving a step closer to booking a ticket to Cameroon for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations. Bafana undid that good work by playing to a goalless draw with Seychelles at Stade Linité on Tuesday. Their fate, however, is still in their hands as a draw with Libya in their last game will take them to Cameroon.
Representing his country in the continent’s showpiece would be a major milestone for Ndlovu. But that’s not the only fuel that has powered him to reach this level. “My wife [Felicia] and family are the best things to have happened to my career and my life,” he says.
“There are days when I doubt myself and my talent and take what the media says about me to heart. They would say: ‘Let’s say for argument’s sake that you are lucky to be where you are, but how many lucky people would have reached the levels you have reached? Even if you are lucky, you have also worked hard to turn your luck into something good.’
“My family has been there for me. They have turned the negatives that have been said about me in the media into positives. I really, really thank them. Without them I would have cracked. A lot of people just see the football, they don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes.”