NEDBANK CUP PLACES PLAYERS AND TEAMS ON THE PATH TO SUCCESS
If you want to know the value of the Nedbank Cup and the springboard to success that it can provide, look no further than Baroka FC, whose dramatic rise up the South African football pyramid was given a significant boost by the competition seven years ago.
And then there is the tale of TS Galaxy, who became the first side from the National First Division to lift the Nedbank Cup trophy when they beat the mighty Kaizer Chiefs in the 2019 final.
Their names will forever be etched in history and possibly their careers defined by what was the most unlikely David versus Goliath tale of triumph.
The Nedbank Cup is about providing opportunity to players, coaches and clubs to write their names into South African football folklore and build their reputations on the back of thrilling performances and giant-killing acts.
There have been a number of beneficiaries down the years, perhaps none as exhilarating as Baroka though, who not only benefited as a club, but also saw their players and coaching staff go on to bigger things.
Baroka were unknowns outside of Limpopo when they entered the Nedbank Cup Last 32 in 2011 and were given a low-key draw against fellow third-tier side Mighty Mega Force. It ended in a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Msimeci Baloyi and midfielder Lantshane Phalane.
When they were draw against Moroka Swallows in the Last 16 it was viewed as a walkover for The Birds, but it proved anything but as they were beaten 2-1.
That created a murmur around the country, but still, surely Baroka could not repeat the feat against Kaizer Chiefs in the quarterfinals, with the Soweto giants having never before lost to third-tier opposition?
When they fell behind to a Knowledge Musona goal, it looked like business as usual, but Baroka showed their fighting spirit as they roared back into the contest through Sam Ndlovu just before halftime and then grabbed a stunning winner in the second half via Thabiso Mncwango.
But now the team, the players and especially their young coach Sello Chokoe were known up and down the country and appearing on every media platform, the romance of their feat capturing the imagination of South Africa.
It set up a semi-final with second-tier Black Leopards and by now Baroka were almost expected to win, but after a 2-2 draw they bowed out in a penalty shoot-out, much to the disappointment of many who had jumped on their bandwagon.
But that was by no means the end of the story, players such as Phalane, Katlego Mashego, Khunadi Nkoana, Thobani Mncwango, Gift Motupa and Thabiso Kutumela would all go on to play at a higher level.
The prize money gained by making the semi-finals also helped the club attract new talent and they were able to make their way into the National First Division for the 2013/14 season, and within three seasons were in the Premier League.
That springboard of the Nedbank Cup proved invaluable for the team, not only putting them on the map, but giving them the financial resources to grow all facets of the club.
Still only 12 years old, the club owes much of its recent success to the cup run in 2011.
But they are not the only ones, as recently as 2018 the run to the cup final of Maritzburg United places the likes of Lebohang Maboe, Fortune Makaringe, Bandile Shandu and Andrea Fileccia firmly in the public eye.
In 2011 un knowns Carara Kicks had a goalscorer in the form of Malawian Atusaye Nyondo, whose exploits saw him go on to play for SuperSport United, University of Pretoria and Bloemfontein Celtic in the top-flight.
And what of the stars of TS Galaxy, such as Terrence Mashego, Ntshuxeko Ndlovu, Sizwe Mdlinzo and Zakhele Lepasa, who became household names around the country following their 2019 triumph that gave these players perhaps the most unexpected gift.
That was the chance to participate in the 2019-20 CAF Confederation Cup and test their skills on the African continent.
There is a long list of players, clubs and coaches who have used the Nedbank Cup to bolster their profile and set themselves on the path to success long after the knockout competition has finished.
Who will emerge as the big winner in 2020?