Author: NJ HoveMothobi Mvala is a shining example of the transformative power of self-belief, determination, and patience. His uplifting story continues to inspire countless individuals both on and off the pitch.
In 2016, Mvala was a relatively unknown player in the National First Division for Highlands Park when he received a surprise call-up to represent South Africa's U23 team at the Rio Olympics. The young defender featured in the opening game against hosts Brazil, a match that ended in a 0-0 draw. However, Mvala's Olympic journey was cut short when he was sent off in the 58th minute following a second yellow card.

Fast forward to 2024, Mvala has become a rock at the back for Mamelodi Sundowns, winning the African Football League and finishing third in the 2023 AFCON tournament with Bafana Bafana. His game has undergone significant growth, establishing him as one of the most coveted ball-playing center backs in the country.
In an exclusive interview with our Digital Magazine Team, Mvala reflected on his Olympic participation, the unfortunate red card moment, and his journey since then.
While acknowledging it was not easy, he highlighted it as a valuable lesson in gaining composure and maturity, attributes that have contributed significantly to his development as a player today.

Representing his country for the first time in the 2016 Rio Olympics was a special moment for him.

"It was a very special moment for me because it was my first time representing my country. It came as a surprise because I didn't play in the qualifiers and I was still in the NFD when Coach Owen Da Gama called me up."

Despite the surprise call-up, Mvala was prepared for the challenge. The first match would pit him against the star-studded hosts, Brazil, boasting players like Neymar, Marquinhos, Gabriel Jesus and more.
"I was prepared for the game. In the heat of the moment, you don't think about names; you simply want to showcase your skills. However, playing against players like Neymar provides a benchmark to assess your competitiveness, given his reputation as a tricky opponent. Despite the challenge, we performed admirably, holding them to a draw.”

Mvala's experience at the Olympics taught him valuable lessons that have shaped his career.

"The call-up opened my mind to new possibilities, making me realise that I was worthy of competing at any level. It motivated me to redouble my efforts, striving to reach the next level of achievement. Through this experience, I learned the importance of believing in myself and my abilities. It instilled in me qualities of patience, maturity, and a resilient mindset."

Without a doubt, a difficult moment for him, Mvala reflected on his unfortunate red card in the 58th minute of that fateful game against Brazil, a start that he would not have anticipated. Nevertheless, he has risen to become a dominant player since then.
"The red card was a tough moment, but I refused to let it define me. It taught me a valuable lesson about composure and maturity on the field. While it wasn't the start I had envisioned, I used that experience as fuel to propel me forward, working harder than ever before. And it paid off. I grew as a footballer and the lessons have shaped me into the footballer I am today.”

As a champion athlete, Mvala draws inspiration from other sports and athletes, including short distance running and the legendary Usain Bolt.

"Short-distance running is another Olympic sport I enjoy. My favorite athlete is Usain Bolt. Growing up, witnessing Bolt shatter all those records was amazing. I used to do long-distance running and long jump in high school, but I wasn't as immersed in them as I was in soccer. A lot of South Africans have done very well in recent Olympics, although, If I hadn't chosen soccer, I probably would have played cricket because I was also good at it. My favourite cricketer is Kagiso Rabada."

Looking back at his Olympics journey, Mvala reflected on his Sundowns teammates who were also part of the U23 Bafana Bafana Olympics Squad.

“Other Sundowns players that I played with at the Olympics are Rivaldo Coetzee, Aubrey Modiba and Thapelo Morena. However, at that time, they were playing in the top flight while I was still in the NFD, so we didn’t know each other well. I didn’t want to talk that much but let my feet do the talking for me, which is what I did. Eventually, everyone became aware of Mvala and his abilities."

Mvala's advice to young South Africans representing the country in the coming Olympics is simple yet profound.

"Believe in yourself. You can become whoever you want to be if you believe in yourself. Work hard to become better every day, and ask God to guide you in your journey, and everything will come together."
To every young dreamer out there, Mvala's story is a reminder that with hard work, perseverance, and determination, anything is possible.