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NWU Vaal Soccer Academy | The Journey to the Gauteng Development League

By Ongama Gcwabe , in Football | Featured Football | News , at 2024-02-15 Tags: ,

NWU Vaal Team Photo. Photo: Mondli Dube

The Vaal might not be as famous as Soweto, Dobsonville, or any of the other areas of Gauteng that are known for producing the country’s top footballing talents. However, on the ground, the Vaal is respected in the football space.

With the products of the region ranging from former Bafana Bafana captain Aaron Mokoena to the stylish Thabo Rakgale, the Vaal has regularly contributed some of the best players in South Africa to the professional ranks.

However, without a team participating in the country’s top-flight, the DStv Premiership, the Vaal hasn’t received the wider recognition that it deserves.

That’s where the 39-year-old Tebello Kheswa comes into the picture.

Kheswa is a household name in the Vaal region, respected for his coaching credentials, his deep love of football and, most importantly, for pushing to put the Vaal area on the map.

One of his most commendable achievements was guiding the North-West University (NWU) Vaal Development Academy to promotion to the Gauteng Development League (GDL) – a league widely regarded as the best academy league on the African continent – at the end of the 2023 season.

Kheswa and his team spent only one season in the Gauteng Development Promotional League (GDPL) before earning promotion to the top level, thus pulling off a very rare feat.

“It was a very emotional day, not only for me but also for the academy boys, for the institution and for all the coaches,” Kheswa told SuperSport Schools in an exclusive interview when discussing that promotion.

“It was our first time playing in the GDPL which means we got promoted in our first season playing in the promotional league. Even today, we are still celebrating that achievement because we never thought that, in our first GDPL season, we would make it to the GDL.”

The NWU Academy began in 2017 and brought together the Vaal’s most talented youngsters, turning them into a formidable outfit.

By 2023, the team was competing in the Engen Knockout Competition, taking on some of the best teams in the country, including TS Galaxy, which also competes in the Gauteng Development League.

Kheswa looks back on NWU Vaal’s maiden Engen Knockout campaign with fond memories. It marked the coming of age of his team.

During the tournament, NWU Vaal reached the round of sixteen where TS Galaxy brought their adventure to an end. By the time Kheswa’s youngsters went head-to-head with the big teams again, during last season’s GDL Youth Cup, they had tightened up their game plans.

They went on to cause a string of big upsets that got the football community talking, recording wins over SuperSport United, The School of Excellence and the mighty Mamelodi Sundowns, to earn themselves the “giant slayers” tag.

“We started playing the big teams in May or June, when we played in the Engen Knockout. That’s the tournament that helped us have an idea of what is required from us when we play these big teams.

“We got the taste and got to gauge ourselves in terms of how far we are from the best teams in the country. That’s where it started.

“Then, when we went to play in the GDL Youth Cup last year, we were a lot more comfortable. That’s why we went and beat SuperSport United, the School of Excellence and Mamelodi Sundowns to reach the final,” Kheswa said.

error: Sorry ol' chap, those shenanigans are not permissible.