Ntuka 'happy' to be home
In the next few months, there is bound to be debate on whether Jeffrey Ntuka's decision to give up on fighting for a first-team place at Chelsea in order to return to South Africa was a wise choice. The 23-year-old, who had been loaned by the English giants to Belgian side, Westerlo, recently signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Kaizer Chiefs.
Although his move to the Glamour Boys has been subject to scepticism, Ntuka insists it was a move inspired by his desire to inject life into his chances of playing for the senior South Africa side. "I don't want to go into details as to why I decided to come back, most of the reasons are personal, but I think I made a good decision," Ntuka told FIFA.com.
"People are going to talk, they will have an opinion and I fully respect that. But I guess at the end of the day, it's up to an individual. A man needs to sit down and make a decision on what he wants to do with his life. I made mine, I decided to come back home and I'm happy at Chiefs."
It is no secret that the South African defence is still under reconstruction, and Ntuka's chances of breaking into the side may be realistic. "Right now, I want to do well for Chiefs and get back to the national team. I love playing for my country. I know there are some guys who have been doing well there, but I have to concentrate on my game," Ntuka said.
But after almost 12 months of inactivity, prompted by injury, Ntuka is aware that he has a lot of catching up to do before he can expect a call from Joel Santana. Two years ago, he would not have comprehended the possibility of returning to South Africa considering he was on the brink of breaking into the Chelsea first-team under then-manager, Jose Mourinho.
"I liked Mourinho as a coach, he is a fantastic person. And, I think I impressed him a lot because he wanted me to remain with the first-team. But at that time, I couldn't get work permit as I haven't qualified for a Belgian passport. I was part of his plans. But he left, it was sad when I heard that he was leaving because I was in Belgium at that time and I only had few months left before I could get my passport," Ntuka said.
Ntuka made his international debut in September 2005, against Senegal in Port Elizabeth, under then-coach Stuart Baxter. Then he was unexpectedly omitted from the Bafana Bafana squad for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations Egypt 2006. It was a double blow for the youngster as he had planned to use the tournament as a platform to showcase his talent and convince Chelsea that he was ready to compete for his place.
"It was heartbreaking for me. Mourinho said he was going to fly to Egypt to watch me play but all of a sudden, I heard that I was dropped from the team. I was disappointed. But I had to pick myself up and continue doing well," he said.
And that is what he wants to do now. For a player whose skills were honed in South Africa's talent school, the Transnet School of Excellence, which has produced other renowned players like Steven Pienaar, Ntuka's talent is undisputed. He started his career with South African semi-professional side City Pillars, before moving to the School of Excellence in 2001. He was roped in by Chelsea soon after.
Ntuka, who hails from Polokwane, made his break into top-flight football at 19, as a robust defender, but it was when he captained the country's U-23s that the player truly flourished and prompted Baxter to promote him to the senior side. The potential that Baxter saw back then is now what Ntuka is focused on realising.