Loneliness isn’t something you would usually associate with professional footballers who play in front of thousands of fans every week. Yet four months after becoming Bournemouth’s record signing when he joined from Swedish club Malmo for £2m, South African striker Tokelo Rantie admits it’s not been an easy transition.
“I’m here on my own so it’s been really tough,” he says ahead of Bournemouth’s FA Cup third-round match at home to Burton Albion Saturday. “My family are all back home in South Africa and my mother is sick but we make sure we stay in touch and I’m on Skype all the time with them. In football, you have to go through a lot of things in order to reach the top. You have to deal with the loneliness but my experience when I was younger means I am able to cope with the situation.”
Rantie’s story is an unusual one. Raised in the remote town of Parys in the Free State, he was playing for local amateur side Dangerous Darkies and planning for a career as a chartered accountant when he spotted an internet advert to join the Stars of Africa academy, established by ex-Kaizer Chiefs assistant coach Farouk Khan.
“I’d just finished my school exams and was waiting for the bursary for university to come through,” he remembers. “Where I’ve come from there’s nothing in terms of scouting – you have to do it for yourself. That’s how I ended up finding about Stars of Africa. They invited me over for a trial and liked me so I came to live in the academy in Johannesburg.”
Within 12 months, Rantie was playing in Mozambique’s First Division before having his first taste of European football when he joined Malmo. A successful loan spell at feeder club IFK Hassleholm earned him a place in their first-team squad and a first international call-up for South Africa. But with French side St-Étienne and Middlesbrough vying for his signature in the summer, Rantie instead chose to move to the Cherries.
“I chose Bournemouth because I thought it was the best place for me to learn the English game,” he says. “I came and met the manager [Eddie Howe] and he told me about the history of the club and said that he wanted to help me develop as a player. That made it easier for me to decide. It’s an ambitious club who want to make a name for themselves and so do I.”
A return of just one goal so far is not exactly the start he had in mind on the pitch. But Rantie, who also intends to resume his accountancy studies, is convinced he is finding his feet despite the pressure of his price-tag.
“They’ve put a lot of faith in me but money is not a factor. A player has to deliver on the pitch and it’s nothing to do with how much he cost. There is some pressure on me but if I think about that all the time I’d be worrying about satisfying other people rather than playing my game. Once I’ve settled in, I’m going to be unstoppable.”
It was that kind of self-belief that helped South Africa record an unlikely victory over world champions Spain in a friendly in November. The 1-0 win has been hailed as their best results since the days of Benni McCarthy – who Rantie played with at South African side Orlando Pirates last year during a short loan spell.
“When I was a kid I had a big poster of him on my wall. I used to worship him. I still believe that there’s no one like him,” Rantie says. “He guided me with a lot of things and spoke a lot about his career in Europe.”
If he can achieve half as much as McCarthy – who won the Champions League for Porto under Jose Mourinho before moving on to Blackburn Rovers – accountancy’s loss will be football’s gain.