Luso Legend: Mario das Neves

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Ex-player and chairman of Vasco Da Gama Mario das Neves shares his views on the current state of South African football and takes you through memories of years gone by.

Mario, when did you begin your playing career at Vasco?
I started at Vasco in 1989, in my Matric year. My introduction to senior football happened the year before at Edgemead, when Danny Cameron played me as a 16 year old. I played against Vasco in that season, but I was always destined to play at Vasco; where most of the young Portuguese players of that era ended up.

I was at Vasco for two years before I joined Cape Town Spurs. I played for Vasco on three different occasions later. Once when I was recovering after a knee operation and then when I was put in limbo when Cape Town Spurs and Hellenic had a dispute over my registration. And finally much later when I joined the Vasco Over-35 team

How would you describe yourself as a player?
I suppose I was a hard worker, quite fast and dedicated. I had loads of energy, probably enough to spare for my brothers as well.

I used to enjoy creating chances and I loved trying to go past players. I had two sides to my game – at times a more attacking style and at other times a hard tackler. I was comfortable kicking with both feet.

It was probably why coaches played me in so many different positions, a bit of a utility player. I used to get in trouble for trying the impossible passes, but I suppose that was my nature.

You played alongside, and against, your two brothers, who was the better of the three?
I would have to say that Carlos is widely regarded as being the better of the three of us; however, all three of us were different – different playing styles, different personalities and temperaments.

Carlos was the most gifted and natural footballer, who should have won many more South African caps. Not many people realise that he was named the Castle League Player of the Year one season, ahead of all the famous names in the country at the time.

Paulo had a stint overseas at Celta de Vigo, and so he achieved something we did not. He also played in just about every position on the field including goalkeeper in the one Cape Town Spurs game.

I don’t think I realised the full potential I showed as a youngster and maybe that was down to the many injuries I had. As a result I had many interrupted seasons, my bad luck I suppose.

What would you describe as your best memory as a player?
There are a few, making the junior Western Province and Junior South Africa teams, making the SA Currie Cup team at 18-years-old.

Also playing my first home professional game at Hartleyvale for Cape Town Spurs against Carlos, who was captain of Hellenic, and being part of the double winning Cape Town Spurs team.

Playing with my brothers in the Coca Cola Cup Final; we were the first time three brothers who played in a Cup Final together – that was special.

Who was the most influential person in your career?
It was probably Carlos. It was easy to follow the path that he was carving out ahead for us. All I had to do was achieve what he had. He set a very high bar, but because we were so competitive at everything we did, from table tennis to cricket, we just did what came naturally to us.
You have also been chairman of Vasco. What is it like looking at a club from a business point of you after being a player?
I always vowed never to get involved in the admin of a football club as I had different views to those running the clubs I was playing for, and yet, I suppose it was a role that I was happy to accept at the time I was nominated to the position.

I never saw myself as anything other than a representative of all the shareholders and tried to create an environment of harmony between business and players.

It was important to keep business and the team as two separate divisions. It allowed the players and the coaches to concentrate on what they had to do with the full support of the Board and let the Board handle the mandate, expectations of the shareholders and the business returns.

What I can tell you is that football as a business is not for the fainthearted.

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What is your philosophy for football?
Let the Board look after business, and let the footballers look after football. As for players, talent alone is not enough. I would prefer a team with 90% perspiration and 10% talent.

At least I know my players are going to give me everything on the field. Ideally you want the most talented players giving you everything they have.

Would you say Vasco’s greatest memory was their promotion to the PSL, and if so, why?
Undoubtedly! It was the culmination of so many peoples’ dreams – so many people associated with the club since its inception and over the years. We kept on dreaming and kept on achieving.  And finally, under the Vasco Da Gama banner, we did it.

Where can we see Vasco in about 5 to 10 years?
Hopefully back in the PSL. It is, and always has been, our intention to win everything we can and aim as high as we can. We want to win trophies and we want to be back in the PSL.

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