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How La Liga legends Simeone and Baraja influenced Hlompho Kekana at Mamelodi Sundowns

8:32 pm AEDT 12/2/22
Hlompho Kekana, Mamelpdi Sundowns, June 2021
The Zebediela-born star used to be one of the best players in the middle of the park in South African football

Former Mamelodi Sundowns captain Hlompho Kekana has revealed how top midfielders from La Liga influenced his style of play.

For someone who never liked the central midfield in his early football days, Kekana went on to establish himself as one of the greatest midfield kingpins ever witnessed in South African football.

Watching La Liga football, he always concentrated on midfielders and drew inspiration from them.

He discusses what he enjoys about watching the Spanish top division.

“I love La Liga because I love midfielders. I watch football from player to player," Kekana told GOAL.

"I analyse midfielders, I enjoy watching players play in La Liga because they always have something unique to bring to the league.

“I used to be a fan of Ruben Baraja when he was at Valencia simply because he used to score crazy goals! For me, as a midfielder who scores from outside the box, I’d say Baraja truly inspired me and he’s one of the players I loved watching.

“Pablo Aimar was also one the players I used to watch closely. He was brilliant! Not forgetting Diego Simeone as well. Those are some of the midfielders who’ve influenced my style of play.”

Growing up in Zebediela, Kekana preferred being a striker while playing with his friends.

He felt being a forward required less work as compared to the central midfield position both his cousins played in when they started out at his former amateur side, Zebediela Junior Swallows FC.

Opting to become a linkman paid off in his career and the midfield maestro boasts two Fifa Puskas nominations and a glittering haul of trophies with both Supersport United and Mamelodi Sundowns.

The 35-year-old also revealed that he has a soft spot for one of the Spanish league's oldest clubs, Athletic Bilbao.

“I also have a soft spot for Athletic Bilbao I love that team," he added.

"I would love to visit just to delve into the deeper history of the club and its culture. I think they have one of the most fascinating football stories. They are such a special club.”