"Always work hard; you never know who is watching."
Not that he is old yet. Far from it. For at just 21, Johannes is still wet behind the ears. But you wouldn’t tell from watching him play or talking to him even – the lad from Bishop Lavis in Cape Town displaying such maturity on and off the pitch that you’d swear he is much older.
“It’s all about discipline,” he says “That’s something my mom instilled in me from when I was very young. She taught me that nothing comes easy and that I always have to work for what I want. She made me realize that to achieve things in life, it takes discipline, dedication, determination and hard work. She also taught me to be respectful. I always went to church with her and I knew to respect other people. And I think that has helped me to respect the game too.”
More than just natural talent
His natural talent aside, it was because he respected the game and worked hard that Johannes made such a rapid growth as a player to realise his dream of being a professional. A product of the famed Ajax Cape Town Academy, he played for the now defunct club in the National First Division (NFD) before being spotted by SuperSport in 2021.
“I grew quickly as a professional because I was disciplined. But also I was blessed to have good players around me who ensured I stayed on the right track. And playing for Ajax was very helpful because the set up was very professional and we got to travel a lot (tall over the world) and that exposed me to what the game at the top level is like.”
Do not, however, misconstrue that to mean Johannes had it easy.
“Of course my end goal was always to become a professional and I am blessed tht I am living the dream. But adjusting to PSL football was tough because the football is very different from the NFD. So it took a lot of hard work to crack the first team at SuperSport. It was difficult because there was very competitive competition for a place in the starting team. But I used that as motivation and it made me elevate my game until the coach saw I was ready.”
Motivation growing up as a young lad in the drug-land that is Bishop Lavis was the kind that leads many to either early death or prison life. But Johannes was fortunate to have a strong mom who brought him up in ‘the way of the Lord’. And his love for the beautiful game helped keep him far away from trouble.
“My surroundings growing up were gang-infested and stuff so yes one could easily have gone to the wrong side of the tracks of life. But for most of my boyhood days what helped me was football. It was my escape, my go to place. I never had time for other things but football and I believe that was the pillar that kept my life straight up.”
And because he worked hard, those who were watching saw and appreciated. So much so that Johannes found himself playing for the South African national Under 23 team which he helped qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
Like most he was delighted at the prospects of playing at the Games: “Of course it is everyone’s dream to represent your country at that level and I was obviously excitedly looking forward to it.”
But he did not make the final squad.
“It was devastating. I was heartbroken.”
Fortunately, he had a place to go to. A place where he could be open about his feelings and knew he would not be judged or seen as being weak.
“My family was very supportive They are the people I can’t lie to so I was free to speak about my devastation. I cried and they told me it was okay and that it would be okay. And I was also lucky that there was support at the club. I was close to some players who helped me through the pain and coach Andries Ulderink was very encouraging. I saw it all as a point of growth in my career and I decided to move and be supportive of the team when they played at the games.”
That brought about maturity as Johannes went on to work even harder on improving his game. And the rewards were swift as he was called up to the Bafana Bafana squad that contested the 2022 Cosafa Cup. He captained the team in the Plate Final where they beat Botswana for a fifth place finish.
And there were others watching, with sports apparel company Under Armour signing him up as one of their talents: “It’s an amazing brand and to be associated with such a prestigious and big brand tells me I was doing something right to grab their attention and be the guy they wanted to be associated with. And they help make my football that much easier because I don’t have to worry about the off the field things. They’ve got everything sorted out for me.”
All he has to do is perform to the best of his abilities on the field every time. And that is exactly what he intends to do tonight when he is expected to keep the Mamelodi Sundowns strikers at bay in their DStv Premiership clash Lucas Moripe Stadium, a match he is excitedly anticipating.
“I am definitely looking forward to it. I know it’s going to be an intense game because matches against them always are. It is about the bragging rights as well, so it’s one of those games we just don’t want to lose.”
Bet on him to work his socks off tacking on everything that the revered Sundowns forwards throw at the SuperSport defence. After all, besides wanting to help his team win, he has other bigger personal goals.
“My most important goal as a player is to go play abroad and reach the highest level in football. But then again in saying that, I’d also want to make an impact on South African football.”
For a player whose mantra is "Always work hard; you never know who is watching" there is every reason to foresee him achieving both goals.