Zuma eyes Bafana return
At 33, Sibusiso Zuma has found his ambition to return to the South Africa team derided in some quarters as sentimental and unrealistic. But the veteran forward's loyalty to Bafana Bafana cannot be questioned.
Despite the fact that countless players older than Zuma have gone on to flourish in the autumn of their careers, the former Arminia Bielefeld star is suffering from the fact that he has been somewhat injury-prone over recent years and, when fit, has struggled to rediscover his best form. It hasn't helped that, in his absence, a clutch of youngsters have emerged as capable replacements and featured prominently in Joel Santana's rebuilding plans.
Yet Zuma's decision to return to homeland to team up with Mamelodi Sundowns, this after turning down an offer to extend his contract at Bielefeld, has been driven by a clear desire to earn himself a return to the national fold.
"I came home because I wanted to convince the coaches that I can still offer something to the team, especially with the Confederations Cup and the World Cup coming," Zuma told FIFA.com. "I want to play in 2010. I think it will be a huge honour for any player to play in a World Cup on home soil, that will only happen once in our lifetime. I was in Korea and Japan in 2002 and the experience was amazing. I can only imagine what it will be like playing at home."
Although debate rages on whether the former FC Copenhagen player still has a role to play in the team's journey to redemption, his doubters tend to be reluctant to air their reservations publicly because of the respect the player commands throughout South Africa. It has not been forgotten that Zuma has been a loyal and dependable Bafana servant, even when it hampered his progress in Europe. However, Zuma insists that he does not intend relying on public sympathy to reclaim his place, but rather wants to show Santana that he should be in the squad on merit.
With the emergence of players like the highly-rated Teko Modise, who has replaced Benni McCarthy as the darling of the fans, it is far from a formality that Zuma will add to the 67 caps he has already earned for his country. In attacking areas, South Africa are spoiled with choice at the moment, with McCarthy the standout candidate for the main striking role in Santana's preferred 4-5-1 formation. Bernard Parker, another rising prospect, has been deputising for McCarthy, while Israel-based Thembinkosi ‘Terror' Fanteni is knocking hard at the door for a chance to prove his worth.
Some have questioned where this leaves Zuma, a man who was once an automatic choice in the South African starting 11, and the man himself admits that at one stage he did flirt with the idea of retiring from international football. The veteran striker certainly looked to be on his way out when he gave an emotional, dejected performance at a press conference early in 2008, leading some to claim that he had lost his appetite to play for the struggling Bafana Bafana.
"We had just had a poor tournament (in Ghana at the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations) and I was disappointed," he explained. "Obviously a lot was going through my mind. It's not always easy to pick yourself up after the team has just gone through a rough patch."
Yet pick himself up he has, and if Zuma can back up his words with the performances of which he is undoubtedly capable, we might yet be seeing him at South Africa's showpiece events after all.