Nounouche editor-in-chief Bonnie Meslane hijacks me at the end of our intense CrossFit sessions to lure me into a sit-down and frank conversation with Teko Modise, one of the only retired footballers I call a Premier Soccer League ‘Galactico’ – a larger than life personality.
Of course I agree after she bribes me with free coffee (which I end up paying for anyway), but then she throws a curve ball my way: don’t just talk about soccer!
But when Modise shows up for the interview a few weeks later on a cold winter’s day in July, the 2010 World Cup poster boy lets the cat out of the bag on an imminent announcement regarding another exciting endorsement.
“I can tell you now because by the time you publish, this would have been confirmed. I’ve signed with Samsonite as an ambassador,” he reveals.
That’s a beautiful segue to get the former SuperSport United, Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns and Bafana Bafana international to open up about divorce, giving love a chance and working his way to being a fashion icon when many of his peers battle with their identity post their career.
Everyone in the room is not surprised by the news, ‘Dona’, as Modise is known in football circles, has become a solid brand in his own right by navigating his way during a period most retired players become irrelevant.
The majority go broke despite still being in their late 30s and wonder where all the money, cars, fame – and even love – went.
Modise has broken the stigma.
He is the founder and CEO of The Prestigious Group, a creative agency managing talent in the entertainment industry, but not pigeonholed into soccer because Modise wants to build a reputation in the business world too.
There’s enough evidence already that he’s ticking the boxes just four years after he hung up his boots at Cape Town City, a decision he says was made “on my own terms.”
That statement is powerful, his peers hardly have that luxury and are guilty of not thinking ahead – the reality for a professional athlete is there’s always a timecap to how far you can go.
It took self-introspection for Modise, who only ever wanted to be a footballer and nothing else, to now, being a businessman and loving husband – again.
“When you have a passion and a drive, you need to be with someone who understands that so that there’s a balance in the relationship. We did not have that,” he says of his three year marriage to Felicia Mokoena.
“I had the pressure of making sure I am in the Bafana team representing the country in 2010 along with the responsibility of performing for Orlando Pirates every week, plus I had commitments because of my endorsements (McDonald’s, sponsors of the FIFA World Cup, being the main one at the time). The training sessions were not enough – honestly, I was never home. Within six months of the marriage I knew it wasn’t going to work. I felt like I was in a position where I had to choose one and I knew I was not going to give up football. That’s my life and I wouldn’t allow anyone to put me in a position where I have to choose. My business was now in public because of the divorce and I started hating the media because of all the stories written about me. I thought we had agreed to handle it discreetly because I never got married so I could get a divorce. Football was my escape.”
Modise has since remarried and is flourishing now with Koketso, who is like-minded and is herself an entrepreneur with a similar drive.
“I didn’t think I’d do it again. When I moved to Cape Town I liked myself better as a person. I forced myself to leave Sundowns and I can tell you it was never about money. When I had money I was the most unhappy person. I learnt to make certain things a priority. I found time for myself and I got the feeling that I can get married again – I was ready for it, I had worked on myself. Now I am the type of person who rushes home for dinner,” he elaborates.
His time in the Mother City did come to an end and Modise relocated back to Joburg where he says reality sunk in. But fortunately he wasn’t twiddling his thumbs at home for too long before calls started coming in.
The biggest concern was becoming another ex-player added to the alarming statistics of having nothing to fall back on.
“I realised that once you sign a document where they are going to use your image, it doesn’t belong to you. They (the clubs) own that space. The first time I got to own the Teko Modise name was when I retired,” the 40-year-old explains.
“This started a total shift for me. I needed to position myself in a way that allows me to pick the brands that I want to work with. For so long the clubs I played for owned me, I knew nothing. I took the signing-on fee and gave them my name. I have moved differently since then, sustaining the relationships with the likes of Puma, moving into the jewellery space where I am also an ambassador for NJR Jewellers. I now understand my value, which has never been the case. My salary now is similar to being a footballer at the highest level, like I am still playing for Mamelodi Sundowns – and I am enjoying being in a different space. I have chosen the brands.”
What Modise is doing at the moment is breaking barriers.
Yes, to some degree he went the obvious route by agreeing to join SuperSport as a television pundit alongside other former players, who’ve not immediately gone into coaching following retirement.
But this appears to have been part of Modise’s grand plan to sit down with head honchos of multi-million cooperates, who probably had a blanket approach on the general IQ of soccer stars.
There’s a misconception about footballers, that the majority of them are airheads with no interest in education and how to run a successful business besides playing ball.
“I’ve always been trying to change that narrative,” says Modise.
“Just because we are footballers doesn’t mean that. I am not taking shots at guys who have gone the natural route like a normal ex-footballer, that’s their passion. I don’t have that. I have always tried new things that I believe will inspire a lot of guys who want to follow in those footsteps. When I was playing, we were carrying this stigma that we are good for nothing. People didn’t want to deal with footballers, but things are changing now. I sit in boardrooms with CEOs now and for the first time I don’t feel like I am the only one giving and things being taken away from me. I am receiving and benefiting as well. I am learning so much. Look at the trend all over the world, top footballers have become big brands and are taken seriously. Why can’t we do that in SA? There’s a reason why Doctor Khumalo is still who he is, twenty years after retiring – and he’s from a different era where there was really no money. We need more Doctor Khumalos in this country.”
Well, we need Teko Modise to multiply too…
Cover star: Teko Modise
Cover story: Mazola Molefe
Editor-in-Chief & Producer: Bonnie Meslane
Editor: Sesetu Holomisa
Photographer: Austin Malema of RTC Studios
Creative Direction: Lesego Kgosimolao & Bonnie Meslane,
Makeup: Caroline Greeff & Tumi Mbangi
Wardrobe & Styling: Advice by Kgosilego
Wardrobe Assistant: MrSuave_Dastylistsa
Photography team: RTC Studios
Lighting: Henry King
Digitech: Tyrone Jhns
Assistants: Donovan Malema & Tshepo Zitha
Videography: Dave Kabale
Graphic Design: Herbert Chaunzwa
Social Media Manager: Thandolwethu Khumalo
Silk navy blue two piece: David TLALE @davidtlale, The Antipode shoes available @preview_designer _collection
White designer linen blazer, top and blue linen trousers: @gvllvnt available at House of Nala @afi_sa
| Buckle strap shoe by @europaart
Karl Lagerfeld eyewear available
| Ribbon- embroidered brocade Genesis Blazer & loose fit juna pants : David TLALE @davidtlale
poppyseed print jacket with psych- chain two piece: David TLALE @davidtlale | brown leather sandals: @europaart | o wear by Karl Lagerfeld @preview_accessories