Black Aces goalkeeper Shu-Aib Walters is enjoying some of the best form of his life, playing an important part in what has been a fantastic season for AmaZayoni to date.
The 34-year-old, who has over 200 top flight games under his belt since making his debut in 2006/ 2007, is in his first season at Aces.
During his final months at Maritzburg United, Walters had found his place in goal threatened by first Virgil Vries and then Tawfeeq Salie. So when the move was made to AmaZayoni, it may have appeared to some that he was set to play understudy to Jackson Mabokgwane, Aces’ Bafana Bafana goalkeeper.
But the Cape Town born shot stopper has instead cemented his place as the club’s number one, having grabbed his chance with both hands to play in 16 of AmaZayoni’s 19 league games, putting in some superb displays punctuated by brilliant saves, and underlined by a solid and mature all-round game.
While striker Collins Mbesuma has grabbed the headlines for his goal-scoring prowess up front, Walters and his defence have been the unsung heroes of an Aces side that has surprised many this season as they occupy third spot two thirds of the way through the current campaign.
The PSL put the following questions to Walters:
PSL: When you signed for Aces just over six months back, were you expecting to have played so much, and were you expecting to be part of a side potentially challenging for honours?
Shu-Aib Walters: I did foresee the club challenging for a top three, four or five position, especially with a man like Muhsin Ertugral in charge. No it’s not a surprise for me to find the team in the position we are in now. From my own point of view, I came here to work as hard as I could. Fortunately I was given an opportunity, and I was able to take my chance. I have to keep working hard though because we have good keepers here who push me very hard – Jackson Mabokgwane and Bafana Nhlapo.
PSL: How difficult is it to be a keeper, where one mistake can cost your team the game. Confidence, or the lack of it, must be a huge factor for goalkeepers?
Shu-Aib Walters: Yes, with keepers confidence plays a big part. It’s also about how you as a keeper communicate with your defence, how much they are able to help you. Fortunately my defence has done great this season, we have all been working very hard. It’s a team effort as well, because we start defending from the front. We set a goal of conceding only 20 goals this season, and having conceded 14 from 19 games, we are still on track to do that.
PSL: You are approaching your mid 30’s, but we have seen many keepers playing far beyond this age. Do you feel you are getting better with as the years have gone by?
Shu-Aib Walters: I am passionate about the game, I work hard and I take good care of my body, I feel I am playing some of my best football this season. Maybe as a younger goalkeeper, you tend to dive a lot more, you dive unnecessarily, trying to show your worth. Trying to impress the crowd and the TV.
As you get older you learn from experience. Your judgment improves, you know when to dive and when not to. You see things before they happen – you anticipate better. I also find myself using better angles when saving shots.
PSL: Tell us a bit about the Mbesuma factor, the league’s top scorer at the moment…
Shu-Aib Walters: He is a clinical striker, even at training you see that. He does the basics properly, he keeps things simple and does not try to be too extravagant. He gets upset when he does not score which shows he is a true professional. Collins has been a big player for us, getting a lot of important goals. I’m glad for him, he’s proving those people wrong who had written him off.
PSL:Keepers that inspire you?
Shu-Aib Walters: Peter Cech, Edwin van der Sar, Andre Arendse, Iker Cassillas, Oliver Khan, Luigi Buffon, those are the guys I grew up watching and who have inspired me for the past 15 or so years. They have proven their class over years. Someone like David de Gea, he is still young and needs to keep playing like he is for more years to prove himself as a great.
PSL: There are not too many big-name players at Aces, but perhaps some underrated players unsung heroes?
Shu-Aib Walters: Yes. Guys like Thanduyise Khuboni, he’s strong in the middle for us. Mpho Matsi next to him has also been very consistent. Eddie Ngalo, the veteran as well. A lot of it [the success] has also been down to the structure we have here, and the head coach. He could take 11 players from the NFD and make us a competitive side. He knows how to get the best out of the players, how to structure us. We’re a good team unit. It would be fair to compare us to a team like Leicester, and Ertugral to a coach like Claudio Ranieri.
PSL:Any thoughts yet of challenging for the title?
Shu-Aib Walters:You never know, there is a still a long way to go. Our first target was 40 points, so let’s reach that first and take it from there.