There are times when it does'nt take long to notice a footballer of genuine class. Often the really good players draw extra attention to themselves through the use of distinguishing hairstyles or clothing. Ibrahim Ba with his golden hair, Ruud Gullit with his lions mane dreadlocks, Taribo Wests green shrubbery or Brian Baloyis growing range of hairstyles from Spiderman to Malcolm X. It is players like these who most certainly do not want to hide away on a soccer field, rather they have the instrinctive confidence to say: "Hey, look at me!"
The first thing that you notice about Manning Rangers' new Mozambicuan defender, Helder "Mano-Mano" Muianga is the golden tinge to his hair. After 90 minutes of soccer, thought, it is the class of his game that leaves you with the most lasting impression. His comfort on the ball and distrubution skills, allied to his composure and physical presence have his coach Gordon Igesund saying "he is a class above every other player in this League".
After seeing a videotape of Mano-Mano playing for Mozambique, Igesund arranged for him to come and train with Rangers.
"I needed only one training session, in fact it was only 20 minuites, and I'd already made up my mind that I wanted him" says the coach, "he is the most complete player I have ever worked with in South Africa. He has everything, he is physical, he has the height, the speed, the brain, the mentality. I've never seen him give the ball away, even in training."
His team-mates are equally enthusiastic, "in his first two weeks at training, Mano did'nt give the ball away once", Bradley Muir raves.
Mano-Mano whose nickname means "Brother" and was given to him by his older sister, follows in the generation of outstanding Mozambiquans to have made an impression the PSL. These include Nuro Tualibadine, his international captain Manuel Bucane and Rangers teammate Antonio Trigo. He has played alongside these players for the Mambas from the age of 19 and started his career as a professional footballer at the only 17, with the Maputo club, Costa del Sol, where he won a League Medal in 1994.
"If you were to compare me to a South African footballer, it would be Mark Fish," says Mano-Mano, though his resemblance on the field bears as much towards the silky class of Lucas Radebe as it does the raw exuberance of Fish. "the strength of my game is attack and that is why I am happy to be playing at Rangers where the coach wants me to play as a sweeper who defends and is also involved in the attacking moves."
Igesund says that he intends to use Mano-Mano as a playmaker from the back. With PSL games aired live on Mozambicuan TV, Muianga is not a complete stranger to South African football.
"I used to follow the South African matches, including Bafana Bafana games very closely. Pirates, Chiefs, Sundowns and Rangers were the teams that always impressed me - but it was always Kaizer Chiefs style of play that I admired the most. Steve Lekoela and Doctor Khumalo are the players that I enjoy watching, but I think the player who is going to be a real challenge is Andries Sebola. He looks to be an in-form player."
Mano-Mano may be soft spoken, affable and shy as a mouse off the field, but on it, he plays with the maturity of a seasoned player and the physical menace that suggests that he wont be easily intimidated by even the PSLs best strikers this season. He has settled in well and his English is good enough for him to understand what is being said to him, though he still has a few problems shouting instructions on the field.
"I sometimes find myself calling out in Portugeuse, but I have found it easy to adapt to Durban. The people are all very relaxed and friendly, there is a beach, and the weather is hot and humid, so I feel quite at home."