By Ricky Zililo
Winning the Nedbank Cup Player of the Tournament accolade has reinvigorated goalkeeper Washington Arubi’s dream to return to the Warriors’ set-up before he retires.
The forgotten former national team goalkeeper capped the 2020/21 DStv Premier Soccer League season in style after being named the Nedbank Cup Player of the Tournament and pocketed R150 000 on Sunday night.
Arubi beat teammates Ndabayithethwa Ndlondlo and Mamelodi Sundowns’ striker Peter Shalulile to the award.
The PSL held a virtual awards ceremony due to Covid-19 protocols.
Arubi’s award was the third most prestigious at the PSL awards after the Footballer of the Season, which had R250 000 in prize money, and the DStv Players’ Player of the Season (R200 000), which were both won by Shalulile.
The 35-year-old goalie, who was also named Nedbank Cup Goalkeeper of the Tournament after leading his South African side Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (TTM) to the Nedbank Cup title following a 1-0 win over Chippa United in the final last month, now fancies his chances of making a remarkable Warriors’ comeback.
“I feel I still have what it takes to have a last dance with the Warriors, but it’s up to the technical team. If they feel I can add something to the team, I will be ready to represent my country because it’s every player’s dream to represent their nation. That’s why you see renowned world stars taking pride in representing their nations despite club achievements,” said Arubi.
Moving to TTM seems to have worked for the goalie, who had faced disappointments in the past two seasons before joining TTM.
His career appeared to have veered off the track after disappointing stints with Pretoria University, Stellenbosch and SuperSport United in the PSL.
He, however, quickly established himself as a key figure at TTM, playing a critical role in their Nedbank Cup success and avoiding relegation in their debut season in the topflight league.
Arubi kept four clean sheets in five games in the Nedbank Cup campaign.
His brilliant run started when TTM beat his former paymasters, SuperSport United, 1-0 in the round of 32.
He only conceded in the 2-2 draw with Swallows in the last 16 of the tourney.
Arubi then played a starring role in the penalty shootout, stopping two spot kicks, as his team emerged 4-3 winners.
The former Lancashire Steel, Highlanders and Dynamos’ shot stopper kept another clean sheet, in the 2-0 win over Black Leopards in the quarter-finals before frustrating favourites Sundowns in the semi-finals where he pulled off a number of top drawer saves.
The match statistics showed that Sundowns had 12 attempts on goal, with seven of them on target, yet they could not find a breakthrough for 120 minutes, thanks to Arubi’s athleticism.
The highlight of the match came during the spot kicks when he brilliantly dived to his right to block Hlompho Kekana’s firmly-struck shot to secure a shock 6-5 victory at the home of the champions in Pretoria.
In the final against Chippa, Arubi stood resolute to inspire TTM to their maiden cup glory and secure a Caf Confederations Cup ticket.
“I feel extra motivated to keep working hard, considering that the past two seasons were very difficult. So it was sweet to end the season like this. We started on a low since it was a new team, but I thank my teammates, management and coaches for helping us turn the tables around to maintain our status in the PSL,” said Arubi.
“Many thanks to everyone who believed in me to achieve this. You know when you are in a foreign land, it’s not easy to get up and dust yourself and try again, but with hard work, support, dedication, determination, teamwork and God’s favour, I’ve realised that nothing is impossible at all,” he said.
Arubi last played for the senior national team on September 8, 2015, in an African Cup of Nations qualifier against Guinea at the National Sports Stadium where he made a terrible howler.
He failed to deal with a seemingly harmless back pass from Danny Phiri and the ball bounced off his knee and fell onto the path of Guinea forward Sylla Idrissa, who easily scored.
Arubi’s blushes were saved by Knowledge Musona, who grabbed the equaliser and the game ended 1-1.
He was replaced by former Dynamos goalkeeper Tatenda M’kuruva in the next match, and that marked the end of his romance with the Warriors. The Chronicle