South African football journalist Wright Mbongo discusses Manchester United's relationship with his country and highlights some young prospects capable of following the same path as Quinton Fortune.
Manchester United has always been close to South African football.
The English giants are one of the few European clubs to have a good relationship with South Africa in terms of luring players, with former goalkeeper Gary Bailey and star midfielder Quinton Fortune flying the South African flag high in the famous United shirt.
Gary Bailey, who paid for the flight himself to the city of Manchester from South Africa before passing his trials, didn't have the best of starts after winning a contract at Old Trafford in the late 70's. He memorably allowed rivals Arsenal to score in the dying seconds of the match to give away the FA Cup in the 1979 final.
But he bounced back to be considered one of the best goal-minders in the country in the mid-80's.
Apart from the player movements from South Africa to Manchester United, the rainbow nation has been like a second home to the Red Devils, they've enjoyed touring the country in their off-season and have built big a fan base here. In the last decade, Manchester United have toured South Africa three times, in 2006, 2009 and 2012.
According to Manchester United fan base stats, they are the most followed team in Africa and have more support than other continents such as Asia and South America. The city of Cape Town, where United played inside an almost sold out World Cup venue Cape Town Stadium in 2012, is the city that has an official branch of the club's supporters, as their former player from South Africa Quinton Fortune was also born there.
Quinton Fortune joined in 1999 from Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, and made 129 appearances under the guidance of one of the greatest football managers Sir Alex Ferguson from 1999 to 2006. Fortune enjoyed his stint at Old Trafford, even though he was mostly used as back-up for Ryan Giggs. The left-sided wide player established his own team back in South Africa and playing in the second tier called FC Fortune.
It is the same club that once Manchester United super-kid Paul Wheatcroft had a loan stint before going back to United, where he was loaned again out to Bolton Wanderers. He failed to make an impact at the Reebok Stadium and then went onto non-league football.
The other South African player who almost made a switch to Old Trafford is none other than Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar. There was a lot of speculation here over the close-season that the 31-year old attacking midfielder would follow his former manager David Moyes to United, but the Scot thought twice before bringing him on board given the number of players that are playing in his position at the club.
At the moment there might be few South African players who could match the standard of Manchester United, but there are two players who have the credentials to don the United jersey in the near future - Ajax Amsterdam attacking midfielder Thulane Serero and FC Twente bound attacker Nhlakanipho Ntuli, who are both following the same path of former Tottenham man Pienaar.
There is also Ayanda Patosi, who currently plays for Belgian outfit KSC Lokeren OV. He has caught the eye of Manchester United's rivals Chelsea, after the 21-year old scored a sensational volley in 2012 against Standard Liege that rocked in the internet (You Tube) around the globe.
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