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Just Watch: Linda Mntambo

With an incredible backstory, the Orlando Pirates midfielder ticks a lot of boxes, but his side needs him to show consistency
Fri, Nov 19, 2021

Illustration by Carlos Amato

Linda Mntambo, the Orlando Pirates midfielder currently enjoying a notable purple patch despite the club's mixed results so far, will hit an important milestone in January.

'Figo' celebrates four years playing topflight football, a startling fact considering he is already 32 years old. Talk about a late bloomer.

But the reality is that his story is incredible.

Even more so when he tells it in his own words and relives his hardships as a waiter at Emperors Palace or as a factory worker earning R600 a week, before his first football contract guaranteed him R10 000 a month in his spare time. Well, given his background, he couldn't really afford to have time on his hands to kill – so let's just say when he wasn't scheduled for a shift.

Mntambo would play amateur games for Mzimhlophe Porto in Orlando West and being a Pirates player now obviously suggests the guy could play a bit.

So when Roses United signed him in 2013 for his first professional deal in the second tier of SA football, Mntambo knew he'd earned it. A year later he was at Jomo Cosmos, spending four seasons there before joining Chippa United and then Pirates six months later.

The factory worker turned waiter was now a Buccaneer. Unreal.

I don't mean to be harsh, but he has underachieved since, although perhaps that is more a reflection of how the Soweto giants have regressed than an indictment on 'Figo', who apparently earned that nickname because he was so mesmerising to watch while playing for Mzimhlophe Porto that the spectators felt he was carbon copy of the legendary Luis Figo.

Mntambo's trajectory and emotional story gives the impression that he should be an important player at Pirates by now.

He is at the moment because he is scoring – three goals in their last four games.

But a lot of the time the technical team appears confused about his role, so much so that he didn't play the first six DStv Premiership games.

Last season, he was in an out of the team and used mostly as a substitute, his minutes only really went up due to the Buccaneers having a chock-a-block schedule trying to balance the domestic league and their CAF Confederation Cup participation.

Jomo Sono said he was one of the best box-to-box midfielders he's ever worked with, and that's a huge compliment from someone who has worked with and scouted so many talented players in SA and around the continent.

In his first season at Pirates under Micho Sredojevic and Rulani Mokwena as the Serbian's assistant before he took over in the interim for 15 matches, Mntambo was best used in a central midfield role (No.8) with the responsibility to help in both defense and attack.

Often, he was caught out of position and would frustrate the coaches, leading to him being dropped, and that perhaps speaks his lack of maturity at this level. He's not as tactically aware as most of his peers.

The goals that have come against Royal AM, Sekhukhune United and Kaizer Chiefs before the recent international break are the benefits of Mntambo being played higher up the pitch giving support to whoever is the focal point Pirates pick on the day.

'Figo' ticks a lot of boxes, but his side needs him to show consistency and for co-coaches Fadlu Davids and Mandla Ncikazi to consider him reliable.

He already has a touching story, all we need now is to see the icing on the cake – goals, trophies and form that he can sustain throughout the season, at least.

  • Watch Pirates v Golden Arrows on Saturday 20 November at 3.30pm, on SS PSL, DStv channel 202