Stellenbosch head coach Steve Barker has opened up after the exit of Sibongiseni Mthethwa to Kaizer Chiefs and, while wishing ‘Ox’ the best of luck, he admitted it’s a “devastating loss” for the club.
Mthethwa’s highly-publicised move to Chiefs was confirmed on Thursday after the Soweto giants agreed to pay the buyout clause that was in Mthethwa’s contract.
The Bafana international had only been at Stellies for 18 months, but Barker waxed lyrically about the impact the 29-year-old made at the club.
“I’d hoped Friday arrived last week Friday. Yeah, it’s been a long transfer window, and I was hoping that we could hopefully survive it without any further losses to the team,” Barker said on Thursday.
“But unfortunately, and fortunately, let me start on the fortunate side of things, I think I as a coach and us as a club have always been advocates of enhancing careers, and not stalling career.
“So you know, we always have the opinion that we want to find talent and part of our strategic objective is to find talent and give them the opportunities, especially in the Cape Winelands, where there hasn’t been a professional team ever.
“So sometimes you get players from other teams and Ox joined us from Black Leopards 18 months ago. At the time, it was difficult to get him, he was a key player for them. So a lot of hard negotiating had to be done. We paid a transfer fee to Leopards. And during the negotiating process, the agent insisted on a buyout clause.
“At the time we were desperate to get the player and we accepted the terms of the buyout. Also not knowing what Ox could end up becoming and turning out to be. So in hindsight, one may have looked at it separately and differently, but it was as it was at the time.”
Barker also explained that Stellenbosch initially rejected another offer and tried to extend Mthethwa’s contract themselves, but their hands were tied when Chiefs came and activated his buyout clause.
“Ox has been fantastic for our football club, not only on the field, but just his character, his personality, his energy, his engagement with the younger players at the club, his affection and the way he’s interacted with the community and the fans,” he added.
“He almost became the heartbeat of the team in terms of what he was doing on the field, as well as what he meant to his teammates and off the field.
“So are we devastated losing Ox? Yes, we are. We cannot hide from the fact that it’s a loss for us. But at the same time, for a player like him to have broken through at a late age in his career, from SAB to Leopards to us and now to Chiefs, we’ve also got to congratulate the club, his teammates, for affording him that opportunity.
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“It’s an opportunity that he’s now got, which one can say it’s going to be life-changing for him. And then it’s difficult when there was an offer for the player which didn’t meet the buyout clause, we didn’t accept it because we didn’t want to lose him.
“And then as recent as yesterday, the buyout clause was triggered. So once that is done, and the player wants to leave then there’s nothing we can do. It’s not that Ox wanted to leave either, easily. He’s been very emotional himself. He’s very thankful for what we’ve done for his career.
“And we had also tried to keep Ox on a longer term, we had offered him a new contract, and unfortunately just through time and that, and maybe the agent anticipating maybe there might be something in the pipeline, we weren’t able to secure him longer, which then obviously put us in the situation when the buyout clause was triggered, that he’s left.
“So we would like to thank Ox as we’ve done in our statement from the club, for what he’s done for the club, the team, the community, and we can only wish him well on his journeys forward, and hope that he can continue to grow and elevate his career, and we wish him all the best.”