Except for the few fans who have followed the MTN First Division Coastal Stream over the past few seasons, those attending the pre-season Soccer Bonanza at Chatsworth Stadium had no idea who the lean young man playing on the Manning Rangers left wing was. By the end of the day supporters were saying, "forget about Innocent Chikoya, we've got a new star !!"
New signings, Shakes Kungwane, Bruce Ramokadi, Mandla Zwane, Fees Moloi, and the new Mozambiquan signing, Helder Muianga all revelled in Gordon Igesunds instructions to play carpet football. But it was the sight of 22-year old Japhet Zwane swerving this way and that down the left at speed and whipping in dangerous crosses that had the going round that Rangers had uncovered a player of rare quality. Even Amazulu fans cheered when in Rangers 6-2 thrashing of of Free State Stars, Zwane embarassed the right side of Stars defence on countless occasions and scored a blistering goal that was chosen as World Of Soccers Goal-of-the-Week.
"He is very raw talent, who I believe will play for Bafana Bafana in a year" says Igesund of his young protege, "however, his biggest problem at the moment is that he has never really been properly coached before. For that reason I have been spending a lot of time with him, sometimes even taking him aside on his own for half anf hour our so before training."
Due to the position that he plays, comparison with Chikoya, arguably the top wing-back in the PSL over the past two seasons and a surprise transfer to Orlando Pirates as part of Igesunds big revamp was always going to be inevitable.
"But you cant really compare Japhet and Innocent because while they play in same position, they are two completely different players. Inno was a 'made' player, converted from a left back to a left wingback. I would never ask Inno to play the sort of role that Japhet plays for me now - Inno is not a player who can beat defenders, while Japhet is natural player who has loads of skill and pace. Inno has a very cultured left foot and he can beat defenders by curling the ball around them, and he is more defensively aware, but thats an aspect of Japhets game we will have to work on ", contemplates Igesund.
Zwanes first brush with fame came last season when he destroyed a shell shocked Vaal Professionals and inspired Pheonix City to a shock 2-1 victory in the Bob-Save SuperBowl first round in Durban. He was chosen as KICKOffs Star Player for his performance.
"The major difference between players in the PSL and the 1st Division is the pace of the game, which is far quicker in the PSL, but it is easier for me because I have a good coach who is working hard to help me to adapt. It has not been difficult for me to learn the style at Rangers because at Pheonix I was coached by Ngcebo Sibiya, who played under Gordon at African Wanderers and uses a lot of the same ideas." says the tall, gangly striker.
Certainly, Igesunds gameplan is tailor made for a player like Zwane. Tall and gangly, he has vicious pace and a wide legged running style that is as awkward to defende against as it is ungainly. Plus he has incredible close control.
"The new style here at Rangers really suits me, because it is based on skill and pace, and those are the strengths of my game ", says the Amandlethu High School matriculant who grew up in Umlazis N Section, "Playing outside of a player like Shakes makes a big difference, because he can feed you really good balls."
Like every up-and-coming player, Zwanes ultimate ambition is to play for Bafana Bafana. Unlike Igesund, thought, the youngster is more cautious as to how long it will take. "At the moment, I am happy to cement my place in the PSL, but in two seasons, I think I will be ready to play for my country."