Ayabulela “Aya” Konqobe. A well-known name in South Africa and parts of Scandinavia – soon you will hear a lot more about him.
A product of the Ajax Cape Town’s academy, one of the most prestigious academies in Africa, Konqobe was considered one of the best African talents of his generation. He was captaining South Africa’s youth national teams, but, along the way, somewhere, he lost his hunger for football. The result was a few rocky adventures before he finally decided to follow his dream of moving to Europe and pursue his football for real.
But who is he?
– I like to think that I’m a versatile player. A player who always creates solutions. I’ve been playing as a number ten, playing in between the lines and in between the pockets. I’m trying to create solutions for the team going forward and try to make scoring opportunities. And my goal is to get as many assists and goals as possible, so I’ve been working very hard for that, says Konqobe to FootballElements.
Konqobe had offers from Sweden, Belgium, but finally decided to join Ekenäs IF in the Finnish second-tier division.
– When I was playing in South Africa, I had a friend who had a lot of people he was talking to in Sweden, Finland, Belgium, and he was trying to get me to come to Europe for a long time. But every time I was supposed to come I signed a new contract in South Africa until I came to a point where I felt ‘OK, now I think I should give this move a try’ to see what can happen and how far I can go with my football. I’ve always wanted to play in Europe and the UEFA tournaments since I was a young boy.
With Ekenäs, Konqobe has taken the league by storm. In his first fix league-games, the midfielder has 272 InStat Rating (Best in the league), 5 Goals, 2 Assists, 83% Chance Conversion Rate, 53% Key Passing, 58% Dribble Success, 85% pass completion in the final 3rd. After the first month of the league, he was awarded Player of The Month as well.
When it comes to football in Scandinavia, Finland isn’t usually the league footballers opt to join, with the Swedish, Danish and Norwegian leagues being the main leagues. So why did Konqobe decide to move to Finland and the Ykkonen league?
– When I came here, I met the coach, and he was somebody who I thought was a young coach who understands football. He was going to give me the freedom that I needed to show what I can do, and he believes in me. But also, he and the club made me feel like I’m at home, which was important for me as it is my first time in Europe. I don’t want to be in a place where I’m all along and don’t understand the football. And our coach is Spanish, so he speaks English and his style of play fits me perfectly. So, I decided, ‘okay let’s sign for the season here and see what can happen’.
Moving to Europe can be a shock for players coming from other continents – and Konqobe was no exception. It was a challenge. However, the way he sees it, challenges are what makes you grown and makes you stronger.
– With the football I’ve realized that there are more tactics and more strength. There’s a bigger focus on that. There’s more knowledge of football. So, for me, it’s been good because I’m becoming a better play for understanding the types of plays – so I’ve been having a good time and enjoying myself.
The result has, as mentioned above, been impressive for a player moving to another country for the first time and taking on European football. But, for Konqobe, this adventure has given him much more than just a platform in Europe to show his footballing abilities. At Ekenäs, he’s regained the hunger for football, that spark that went missing somewhere along the way, as well as growing a lot as a person – not just as a footballer.
– I think I would say that my work ethic has maybe doubled from what I was used to. Working more in the gym. Working more on myself. I have different goals. I’ve been working really hard, and the amount of work I have put in has changed me as a player. It gives me more hunger; I know where I want to be in the next couple of years. So, I think I needed that, it was something maybe I lost along the line and I’m so glad I got that back. I’m hungrier than ever and working even harder.
A new club, a new adventure, a new culture, and a new league. All factors that will push you out of your comfort zone and grow. Konqobe, however, recognizes that but dedicates a lot of the personal growth to his newly born son. He’s become a family man whose entire outlook on life and the world has changed.
– Off the pitch, it’s changed my life, Konqobe says proudly with emotion. It’s made me realize I can’t do stupid things because at the end of the day I’m a father. I have someone to look after. I have someone who’s looking up to me. Even when I’m on the field, I’m not playing for just me anymore. I’m playing for my son also, even though he’s still young, but in a couple of years I can show him like “look, this is your daddy’s videos. You can watch daddy in the biggest leagues now”. So, I’m working and building myself so that when he’s older he can see all my achievements, and hopefully, that can push and inspire him to become something special in his life.
Has that been part of the hunger you’ve regained?
– Yeah, I definitely think that. Because at the end of the day I don’t want to disappoint him, and I also don’t want to disappoint myself. So, I’m working harder every day for me and him, pushing myself even when I feel ‘okay I’m a bit tired or I’m a bit down today’. I must pick myself up, I must keep going because it’s not only about me now.
The natural question, though, for a player of Konqobe’s talent is; what comes next?
– I’m pushing to make it to the biggest leagues and I’m pushing to get to the biggest teams. I want to play European tournaments, win trophies, so I’m pushing every day. Because by pushing you lay a brick for the future every day. I want to go forward with my football and play in the biggest leagues and biggest teams. I want to strive for greatness. So, we’ll just have to see what the future has to offer.
You’ve previously played in the youth national team; do you have any ambitions to join the South African national team?
– Yeah obviously. For any youngster they want to be part of their national team, be part of the culture, to be able to say that I was part of the national team. So even when I’m working here, I’m working towards that. Working towards fighting for a spot in the national team and to become a regular there. All of that I believe is happening from what you’re doing on the field even now. Things like that might happen eventually, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself and think about that right now. Right now, I’m focusing on doing my best for my club in every training and in every game.