Not many local clubs are blessed with special players, but Maritzburg United have such a rare footballer in Fortune Makaringe.
The past fortnight was quite eventful for the midfielder and his team-mates, but it was Makaringe’s qualities that came to the fore in the Team of Choice evading automatic relegation.
The back-to-back man of the match awards in Maritzburg’s past two league matches point to the role Makaringe has played in handing his side a lifeline.
Often used by coaches as a grafter or an attacking midfielder, coach Eric Tinkler got the maximum from Makaringe’s versatility after he pushed his charge to the front line in the team’s past three matches.
The end results were wins over Black Leopards (2-1) and SuperSport United (3-1), where Makaringe created all three goals, as well as netting in the draw against Baroka FC (1-1) last weekend.
Promotion play-offs fixtures
Maritzburg United vs Royal Eagles (Harry Gwala Stadium, 3pm)
Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila vs Maritzburg United (Thohoyandou Stadium, 3pm)
Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila vs Royal Eagles (Thohoyandou Stadium, 3pm)
Royal Eagles vs Maritzburg United (Chatsworth Stadium, 3pm)
Maritzburg United vs Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (Harry Gwala Stadium, 3pm)
Broadcasters: SABC and SuperSport
Such has been the influence of Makaringe, who on Monday celebrated his 26th birthday.
However, another challenging two weeks await the player in the form of the NFD promotion play-offs against Royal Eagles and Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila.
Can the player from Vosloorus, Ekurhuleni, inspire Mairtzburg in the mini tournament that has seen only a few top-flight clubs retain their status via this route?
Tinkler will hope for the same magic from the Orlando Pirates-bound Makaringe when they face the Eagles today.
The coach had an advantage of assessing the Eagles and Tshakhuma in a game this week.
The two NFD sides kicked off the play-offs on Wednesday, with Eagles taking a 1-0 win at Chatsworth Stadium to assume an early lead in thethree-team mini-log.
In the past five play-off editions, only Baroka and Polokwane City lived to see another day in the elite league, while Platinum Stars, University of Pretoria and Moroka Swallows all plunged down into the NFD.
Whether they survive or not, Maritzburg will yet again lose one of their prized assets.
Tinkler revealed Makaringe’s imminent move to Pirates during a post-match interview after their narrow defeat to Bucs last month.
“No player wants to lose a game. He [Makaringe] pushed the team against Pirates. He wanted to show them that he is coming over there next season,” Tinkler said at the time.
For now, the 48-year-old tactician still needs his charge, who made 30 appearances in all competitions for the KwaZulu-Natal outfit – he chipped in with four goals and nine assists.
Makaringe has forged a good understanding in the heart of a unit that also features Siphesihle Ndlovu, Miguel Timm and Bandile Shandu.
It was clear that the departure of Lebohang Maboe to Mamelodi Sundowns at the start of the campaign somehow depleted the team that reached a historic Nedbank Cup final last term.
The downfall for Maritzburg will be to underestimate Eagles and Tshakhuma, who already beat Ajax Cape Town to the play-off spot on the NFD race that was decided on the final day a fortnight ago.