Hardly a year since teenage striker Zuko Gxabuza was invited to train with the Jomo Cosmos senior team, Jomo Sono’s latest protégé has already secured a move abroad.
The 16-year-old has been snapped up by Brazilian second side Grêmio Esportivo Mauaense, alongside three other Cosmos players, as part of a newly established partnership between the two clubs.
Other Ezenkosi players heading to Sao Paulo are Silas Maziya (22), Onke Moletshe (19) and Mpumelelo Zondi (21).
However, due to his age, Gxabuza will join the Grêmio reserve side. Fifa rules prohibit minors from signing professional contracts until they turn 18.
Sono indicated that provisions were being made to ensure the Grade 10 pupil would continue his schooling abroad.
Fifa requires that clubs “guarantee the player an academic and/or school and/or vocational education and/or training, in addition to his football”.
Gxabuza, the son of Cosmos’ long-serving groundsman Adriano Masinga has been a hit with the Cosmos Under-17s, and Sono is hoping his charge will be the latest to make his name abroad despite not kicking a professional ball locally.
“Grêmio really believe this boy will go far because. They immediately identified him when they saw him upon their arrival in South Africa last week,” Sono told City Press on the sidelines of the announcement in Sandton, Johannesburg, on Wednesday.
“He will play in their reserves and attend school there. We hope he won’t be homesick.”
Sono said he was also not ruling out the possibility of Brazil’s top clubs, such as Santos, Palmeiras, Corinthians and São Paulo, enquiring about his players in the near future.
City Press' profile of Zuko Gxabuza in August
“I hope that our boys will make an impression in Brazil. I still have a strong relationship with Santos. Remember, I took Arthur Zwane and Kennedy Nagoli there [in 1996],” said Sono, who also has Brazil legend Pelé among his contacts born out of their days as team-mates at New York Cosmos in the US during the 1970s.
It has been a while since Sono last exported a player overseas – 12 years ago to be exact – when Christopher Katongo was sold to Brøndby IF of Denmark in January 2007.
“Mjomane” admitted that his club’s being in the wilderness of the NFD negatively affected it, even though Cosmos was still able to sell players locally.
“The business plan of Jomo Cosmos is to export players. That’s what we are known for. There were offers for Maziya, but I told him the moves here will be stupid. I said to him: ‘Go overseas, the salary will be much higher there’,” he said.
“The partnership with Grêmio will also make other players want to come to Cosmos.”
At the conference to announce the Grêmio deal, Sono was in good spirits, despite coming from a week in which tabloid Sunday World reported that Cosmos’s assets could be attached due to Sono owing the SA Revenue Service (Sars) millions in unpaid tax.
“The partnership with Grêmio is bigger than what I owe Sars and I am humbled to be recognised by a foreign club, which has also seconded me to serve on its board,” he said.
“The tax bill will be paid and everybody will forget, but you don’t forget Jomo Sono when he walks on the streets. The legacy will remain there. I don’t allow the storm to take me away. I enjoy dancing in the storm.”
It hasn’t been easy for Cosmos in the field of play either, with Sono’s side among those battling relegation in the NFD.
Ezenkosi will host Uthongathi FC at Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa this afternoo.
“We don’t expect much this season because we started the campaign with a completely new team. Instead, we are building for next season already.”
As part of the rebuilding process, Sono said he was earmarking a Nigerian striker, but he would reserve two foreign player slots for Brazilian players.
“I will go to Grêmio to pick players before the season starts. I am looking for a schemer; a person who can think between the midfield and strikers; a person who can pass the ball,” Sono said on the benefits of the deal, which was facilitated by former Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows Brazilian striker Pio Nogueira, who is part of Grêmio’s management team.