Last year, Tokelo Rantie signed for AFC Bournemouth on a record deal believed to be around £2 million. He found the back of the net just thrice in 24 appearances last season and despite a promising start at the beginning of the season, he didn’t quite live up to the initial hype expected from his price tag.
Most of that disappointment is not his fault. Prices are so inflated in modern football that whatever the fee and whenever there is a record, the expectation on players is grossly exaggerated.
Still, it is part and parcel of the modern game and Rantie, who wasn’t even planning to be an international footballer, has learned that lesson the hard way. His foray to here has been somewhat unusual. While training to be a chartered accountant and playing amateur football, he saw an advert looking for players to join the Stars of Africa academy, established by ex-Kaizer Chiefs assistant coach Farouk Khan.
He’d just finished school and while waiting for his bursary to go to university, he spotted the advert and applied, went for a trial and moved from the little town of Parys to Johannesburg. After a year at the academy, he moved to Mozambique’s Frist Division, had a loan spell at a few other clubs – including Orlando Pirates – and eventually moved to Sweden to play for Malmo. From there, he shifted to where he is now. It’s been a whirlwind four years for the South African youngster and, by his own admission, it’s a transition that has not been easy.
Moving away from home to different cities, different cultures and with different people when all you’ve known your whole life is a small town can be brutal. His mother was struggling with illness for a long time and being far away from home has not made things any easier.
“In football, you have to go through a lot of things in order to reach the top. You have to deal with the loneliness, but my experience when I was younger means I am able to cope with the situation,” Rantie said in an interview earlier in the year.
AFC Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe said in an interview with BBC Radio Solent that people underestimate just what kind of pressures players are under, especially when they struggle on a personal level.
“I think people underestimate how important that is. He’s been away from his family, he’s come into a new culture, a new way of playing, a totally new environment and new team-mates. He hasn’t been used to the English ways and the changing rooms. That’s before you even talk about the football side of things,” said Howe.
Bournemouth begin their season this weekend, away at Huddersfield Town, and now that Rantie has had a full season in the English game, the pressure should be less, the expectation should have dwindled and he should be able to go back to simply enjoying football.
Bournemouth’s pre-season preparations have been fair and Rantie has had an impact, too. He scored the opening goal in a 2-3 win at Portsmouth and chipped in with an assist in a 0-4 win at Eastleigh. While preseason fixtures should be taken with a pinch of salt, a little bit of confidence can go a long way. The faith the club has shown in Rantie will be tremendous boost. While his price tag will have been something of a burden, he tries not to think about it too much. He is only 23 and should have a long future ahead of him – both at club and international level.
“Bournemouth have put a lot of faith in me but money is not a factor. A player has to deliver on the pitch and it’s nothing to do with how much he cost. There is some pressure on me but if I think about that all the time I’d be worrying about satisfying other people rather than playing my game. Once I’ve settled in, I’m going to be unstoppable,” he says.
When he was a kid, Rantie used to have a poster of Benni McCarthy on his wall. By his own admission, he “worshipped” the former South African international, and called on McCarthy for advice when he had first moved to Europe. McCarthy, who won the Champions League with Porto, can surely teach the youngster a thing or two about settling in away from home – and if Rantie can channel just an ounce of the self-belief McCarthy had, he will go a long, long way yet. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Tokelo Rantie (L) in action against Spain’s Xabi Alonso (bottom) during the international friendly soccer match between South Africa and Spain at Soccer City in Soweto, South Africa, 19 November 2013. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK
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