Zanele Nhlapho showing off her medal after being crowned CAF Women's League Champions© Samuel Shivambu - BackpagePixAuthor: John AliuCaptains are integral to the beautiful game of football. They often act as a conduit between the dressing room and the coaches. Skippers usually possess an unbreakable spirit and an unyielding commitment to lead by example.

Great captains also have an undeniable passion for the game as they are often required to give their absolute best whenever and wherever required. Somehow, Zanele ‘Mazet’ Nhlapho seems to tick every single box.
During the treble-winning campaign, Masandawana were lauded for their goal-scoring prowess, but it was their defensive rigidity that was constantly hailed across the continent. The Nhlapho-inspired backline which was supported by Bambanani Mbane and Karabo Makhurubetshi was notable for possessing an unflappable defensive structure that regularly dictated play from the back. The super-composed Nhlapho was a nightmare to opposition strikers, an enigma that opponents simply never understood.
Zanele lifting the trophy after winning the Hollywoodbets Super League© Gavin Barker - BackpagePixThe highly influ ential captain also dazzled with her impressive range of passing with both feet and often presented herself as a no-nonsense commander from the back. The hard-tackling Sundowns defender exuded confidence, yet stayed humble. On several occasions, Nhlapho also proved that she was more than capable of doing the business further up the pitch. The inspirational captain bagged seven goals during the Hollywoodbets Super League campaign and also scored the winner against Rivers Angels during the group stages of the CAF Women’s Champions League in Cairo. Thanks to her impressive all-round performances in Egypt, she was named into the ‘squad of the group stage’ as selected by the CAF Technical Study Group. Sundowns Ladies would go on to clinch the continent’s premier women’s tournament without conceding, an unprecedented feat.

Apparently, the Tembisa-born defender has been gaining some biceps thanks to the heavy trophies hoisted in the last few weeks. The Mamelodi Sundowns Digital Magazine crew linked up with the relentlessly energetic defender who spoke on the outgone season and went ahead to unpack some of her fun moments off-the-pitch.
Zanele Nhlapho emotional after the win© Samuel Shivambu - BackpagePixMamelodi Sundowns (MS): How would you describe your performance during the treble-winning season?
Zanele Nhlapho (ZN): I feel very blessed to be part of the Mamelodi Sundowns family. It was a record-breaking season for the club and myself as well. I am delighted at the trophies we won both in South Africa and on the African continent. To be named among the ‘CAF Women’s Champions League best XI’ at the tournament in Egypt left me so excited. The team worked very hard throughout the season and we duly reaped the rewards in style.
MS: What do you do in your spare time when you are not playing football or watching matches?
ZN: That is an interesting question. During my leisure period, I watch local television series like ‘Skeem Saam’ and ‘The Queen’. I also enjoy listening to music, particularly Gospel songs. I grew up in a family that always enjoyed going to church, hence my love for the genre. I do listen to other songs, but Gospel stands out for me.
MS: Who do you refer to as your role model?
ZN: It has to be my mother because she has been by my side from the onset. Initially, she did not understand the game of football but she made provisions for me to play the game right from my tender age. Through diligence and commitment, I have always repaid her faith by giving my best whenever I am on the pitch. Winning the CAF Champions League has put the family name on the map and I know she is proud of my achievement.
MS: What are your life aspirations after football?
ZN: I would love to give back to the game that has given me so much. I am looking forward to an opportunity within Mamelodi Sundowns that would enable me to mentor young girls and to ensure that they have a smooth transition into the club’s structures. I believe I would function very well in an ambassadorial role working with the club legends like Teko Modise and Tiyani Mabunda.
MS: If you were to assemble a Seven-a-side squad, which players would make the cut?
ZN: Oh that is quite easy. I would pick Bambanani Mbane, Thembi Kgatlana, Refiloe Jane, Melinda Kgadiete, Lebogang Ramalepe, Andile Dlamini and of course, myself.
Zanele Nhlapho celebrating with the 2021 CAF Women's Champions League Trophy© Samuel Shivambu - BackpagePixFor the next set of quick-fire questions, could you tell us?
MS: Your best defender
ZN: Rushine De Reuck
MS: Favourite Footballer
ZN: Percy Tau
MS: Mamelodi Sundowns Home or Away Kit?
ZN: Home
MS: Favourite sport to watch: Rugby or Cricket?
ZN: Rugby
MS: CAF Champions League or UEFA Champions League?
ZN: CAF Champions League
MS: Favourite International Women’s player: Megan Rapinoe or Asisat Oshoala?
ZN: Asisat Oshoala from Nigeria
MS: Favourite Sundowns striker: Peter Shalulile or Andisiwe Mgcoyi?
ZN: Andisiwe Mgcoyi
MS: International South African stars: Black Coffee or Trevor Noah?
ZN: Black Coffee
MS: Favourite Comedian: Skhumba or Shampooniza?
ZN: Shampooniza
MS: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp
ZN: Instagram
MS: Favourite Colour
ZN: Black
MS: Kota or Mogodu with Pap
ZN: Mogodu with Pap
The Skipper leading the team in a celebration dance© Samuel Shivambu - BackpagePixAs Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies bask in the euphoria of their treble-winning season, the performance of Captain Zanele Nhlapho cannot be overstated, as she proved her qualities with both the ball and leadership. The tireless defender was a fearless figurehead throughout the season thanks to her passion, composure and determination. Due to her organizational skills, Banyana Ba Style played with the same focus, whether six goals up or chasing an opener.
Overall, Sundowns Ladies played 36 games during their treble-conquering campaign (Hollywoodbets Super League, COSAFA CAF Women's Champions League qualifiers and the CAF Women's Champions League in Egypt). The Brazilians kept 21 clean sheets and conceded only 15 times.

Difficult to beat on the ground and almost impossible to beat in the air, every drop of sweat that Nhlapho shed on the field during the season had the Blue and Yellow of Mamelodi Sundowns.