Peter Ndlovu admits his career is running down and he is no longer the player who left Zimbabwe more than 15 years ago to play in the English top flight, but he is still determinedly chasing silverware in this year's CAF Champions League. Those hopes will reach a crucial juncture on Sunday when his South African club, Mamelodi Sundowns, take on Al Hilal of Sudan in the second leg of their third round encounter.
Sundowns have to come back from a 4-2 loss in their first leg in Omdurman, and Ndlovu will be central to their chances of a turnaround at Atteridgeville's Super Stadium, on the outskirts of Pretoria, on Sunday afternoon. The former Zimbabwean international, 35, is his country's most famous export, leaving Highlanders of Bulawayo for a career at Coventry City, Birmingham City and Sheffield United before returning to Africa in 2004. Mamelodi Sundowns won a bidding war among leading Premier Soccer League clubs to sign Ndlovu, who is married to a South African pop singer and had a house in Johannesburg.
Now in his fourth season with Sundowns, Ndlovu has been a regular in African club competition with the Pretoria side but despite lofty ambitions, the cash-rich club has not yet been able to get their hands on a continental trophy. Last year, they lost in the third round of the Champions League to holders Al Ahly of Egypt, and although they went on to reach the league phase of the African Confederation Cup, they found it hard to find any consistency.
Sundowns, with whom Ndlovu pocketed two PSL winners' medals in 2006 and 2007, are again at a crossroads in this year's Champions League campaign: "We have every chance to fight back in this tie," argues the veteran forward. "If we were able to score two goals away from home in the first leg then we can surely do the same and if not more at home."
Ndlovu, who first played in Africa's top club competition as a teenager in 1991, when Highlanders were eliminated by Al Ahly in the second round, says patience will be key on Sunday if the big-spending Sundowns want to make it through to the league phase of the competition. "We know we can get goals at home but more vital is not to concede any," he continued.
"It is going to be hard work. We have put ourselves in a difficult situation but now we have to do a lot better. The first leg was hard and the conditions were not the best but it was the same for both teams. We lost the game, that's in the records and we have to put it right."
Ndlovu believes this is a watershed year for Sundowns' ambitions in continental competition. The club is owned by Patrice Motsepe, a billionaire mining magnate who recently featured in Fortune magazine as one of the richest men in the world. He has been demanding Sundowns produce the goods to match their attractive wages.
"The bigger picture is the Champions League, which we have
to work hard for," said Ndlovu. "
It is also a last chance for Ndlovu to get his hands on a major cup title. "I have had a long career but that's all history," he explains. "At the moment I am concentrating on running down my career with Sundowns and think I have blended in well with the young talent. We are helping each other.
"Look, I'm a bit-part player these days, used when needed. But I can rise to the occasion. I think I have one more season left. I believe I have the legs to go one more season. Remember I am the top goalscorer at the club this season," he adds with a cheeky grin.