- South Africa defender Luke Fleurs sizes up Poland 2019 challenge
- Amajita paired with Argentina, Portugal and Korea Republic
- SuperSport United 19-year-old reflects on debut top-flight season
Pulling on the national team jersey for the first time is understandably a pivotal moment for any player. "It was one of my biggest highlights,” South Africa’s Luke Fleurs agreed.
But it was laced with a little bit more for the teenager from the outskirts of Cape Town. Having worked his way through the Ubuntu Football school and academy – a small charity with the goal of creating well-rounded people as well as players – with some self-confessed teenage rebellion thrown in, his selection for the U-17s was validation of the hard work he’d invested on the pitch.
Meeting up with the Amajimbos was much like starting school all over again – with the stresses of fitting in and proving yourself preceding that first day of training. "When I got the call-up to go for trials I was very nervous," Fleurs admitted with a reflective smile.
"Back then Ubuntu was very small, no one knew about it. I was asking the others who they played for, while I could see them coming with their fancy tracksuits and everything. I wasn’t embarrassed about my tracksuit, but it didn’t feel nice [laughs]!"
Once on the pitch, however, any doubts over image were quickly dispelled when substance became the focus. "As the training session went on I felt comfortable because I realised I could handle the pressure. After that, I got another call-up and everything started going in the right direction."
The SuperSport United defender had to watch on from home as his Amajita team-mates secured their place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019, though, as a nervy 1-0 win over Burundi saw them achieve successive appearances for the first time.
"I was in the squad for the qualifiers, but I didn’t go to the AFCON because my club didn’t release me, so hopefully they will let me go to the World Cup and I can show my talent on an international level."
That is not going to be without its likely challenges with the trio of 15-time participants Korea Republic and serial champions Argentina and Portugal lying in wait – not that Fleurs is fazed by that. "I can imagine it’s going to be tough but we’ll compete," the 19-year-old insisted. "We stand a chance with the talent we have here. I think I’ll be ready for a future [Leo] Messi or future Cristiano Ronaldo [laughs]."
Should he be part of the squad in Poland, Fleurs will head there with plenty of FIFA World Cup™ experience ringing in his ears, thanks to the expert tutelage he’s receiving from Boghani Khumalo – the former Bafana Bafana captain and his defensive colleague at SuperSport.
"I’m learning a lot from him,” Fleurs explained. "He’s always talking to me after training. If I do something wrong he’ll talk to me after and tell me ‘this is what you have to do in that situation’, so I’m gaining a lot."
Having signed a little under a year ago, the switch to Johannesburg from Ubuntu Cape Town – the professional second tier side owned by the academy – present plenty of hurdles, from the step up to Premier Soccer League to the big shift in altitude. With the side embroiled in a title race, first team opportunities have been limited, but Fleurs' debut has filled him with confidence going forward.
"The first five minutes I was actually nervous and made a few errors," he accepted. "After that I got comfortable. People said they could see I was nervous at the start, but there was one really good tackle and after that my confidence went sky high. I think I’m ready for this level. I’ve told myself ‘let’s just push for the World Cup, because I know I can make it there’."