I stop the ball with my foot and quickly survey my options. Khaya is closing in on me fast and he could go either left or right. With a flick of my foot I change the direction of the ball and then chip it into the box where a striker would be waiting if this were a match.
But this is not a match. Khaya and I are just working through drills under the watchful eye of Karl Reinecker.
“Not bad,” Reinecker says, “but I think you could be more aggressive Nathi, Khaya was boxing you in. You need to create space.”
I nod as Khaya and I swap roles. Now Khaya will attempt to attack while I defend.
Reinecker blows his whistle and Khaya shoots off the mark so quickly he takes me by surprise. I race across to cut him off and manage to get a touch on the ball, but Khaya deftly moves the ball backward and fires it toward the box.
“Good,” Reinecker comments, but I can see he’s not happy. He waves me over.
“Killer instinct, Nathi!” Reinecker hisses. “Unless you have that you’ll get nowhere.”
I look across at Khaya.
“He’s good,” I explain, “I just couldn’t get the ball off him.”
Reinecker’s face twists in a scowl.
“Well then you force the ball off him! I’m not interested in the word can’t. Can’t is a word for losers. You go out there and you take the ball from him!”
He dismisses me with an abrupt wave of his hand.
“I want you boys to do that again,” he calls.
Khaya nods and puts the ball down to start again. Reinecker blows the whistle and again Khaya shoots forward quickly.
“Killer instinct,” I whisper to myself as Khaya comes barrelling toward me.
As he reaches me, I charge forward and swing into a sliding tackle that smashes his feet out from under him. Khaya spins in the air and lands hard on the ground. He quickly rolls onto his back, clutching his hand.
“Damnit Nathi!” he exclaims, his face furious. “What the hell was that?”
I stand up, breathing hard. Khaya’s right. That tackle was way too hard. In a match I would have been sent off for a crazy tackle like that. My mind is racing as I look guiltily across at Reinecker, expecting him to be as furious as Khaya. But my coach is smiling. He sees me looking at him and raises his hand and gives me a thumbs-up. Reinecker is too far away for me to hear him, but when he speaks, I read his lips.
“Perfect,” Reinecker mouths, as one of the medics rushes across to bandage Khaya’s wrist.