When Neo Maema joined Mamelodi Sundowns at the start of the previous season, many raised an eyebrow and wondered if the low profile player would cut it at the star-studded Sundowns side. But fast forward some 10 months, Maema played more games than some senior players at the club, scoring some eye-catching goals in the process.
It’s always said that playing for a club that is the current flagship of South African football where representation in the Caf Champions League is concerned, comes with a lot of pressure, and the former Bloemfontein Celtic player saw that from the get go when he made his DStv Premiership debut for Masandawana.
“It was very difficult. I can think of one game – it was the second game of the season against Chippa United and we played 0-0. That’s when I felt the pressure that comes with playing for Sundowns because a draw is like a loss when you are at Sundowns,” said Maema.
“I started the game and it was my first start. After that I missed two games before I could play again and that just enlightened me and I saw that the level is very high at Sundowns and it comes with pressure because we play a lot of football games. When you play and you don’t perform, you go back in the line,” he added.
Not many players can claim to have fallen down the pecking order at Sundowns and bounced back immediately. It seemingly takes time to get back into the team, and that is probably why the likes of Tiyani Mabunda ended up abandoning the field to take on other responsibilities in the club. Kermit Erasmus, Sibusiso Vilakazi, Lesedi Kapinga and Gaston Sirino can all echo Maema’s sentiment.
“At this club, anyone can come in and play and the team is still going to do well. So this coming season will be more about focusing and pushing myself to the limit so I can start more games. When you play consistently, there are chances of you doing well and if you don’t play, it is very difficult,” said the 26-year-old.