PODCAST | Safa doctor Ngwenya relives potentially saving Sadio Mané’s career
SA Football Association (Safa) chief medical officer Dr Thulani Ngwenya has relived the events of a night in January when he ran onto the field in Yaoundé, Cameroon to overrule medical staff and correctly declare Sadio Mané concussed.
Ngwenya's intervention outside his official role at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations as the tournament's doping control officer was hailed as potentially preventing a career-ending injury for then Liverpool and now Bayern Munich star Mané.
The striker had a nasty clash of heads with Cape Verde goalkeeper Vozinha — who was red-carded after a VAR review — in Senegal's 2-0 last-16 win at Olembe Stadium on January 24 this year at the tournament delayed by Covid-19. Senegal's medical staff inspected the striker and found he could continue playing, and he soon scored the 63rd-minute opener to break the deadlock.
However, Ngwenya ran down from the VIP area to intervene. The doctor told Marawa Sports Worldwide Liverpool later thanked him for his actions.
“I was sitting in the VIP tribune and had my people helping me with doping control doing their things down there,” Ngwenya said.
“Then I saw the header [and head clash] of Sadio with the goalkeeper. He went down and went out. There's something tricky there — he was out for a few seconds.
"[Medical] colleagues came in, they assessed him, they said, 'No, go back and play'. Sadio went and scored the goal that took Senegal to the net stage of the competition.
“But Sadio was still concussed. Because I saw what happened I had to rush down, but when I got there they were already celebrating a goal.
“I spoke to the fourth official to say: 'Sadio is not fine, and I understand the colleagues took a decision but I cannot as a Caf [Conferedation of African Football] representative stand there and allow that to happen.'
“The match officials understood that and I used a bit of authority and stopped the game. I went in, called the doctors from Senegal and said, 'He needs to go out'.
“Fortunately they agreed. Sadio pulled out and we found out he was concussed. Liverpool were grateful and sent messages thanking us for saving Sadio.”
Senegal went on to win the Nations Cup and Mané was man of the competition. Ngwenya defended the decision of the Senegal medical team in international media reports after the game.
Ngwenya also discussed his role in putting in place the health measures necessary for the Premier Soccer League’s return to play during Covid-19, where SA was the first country in Africa to return to play.
“It was extremely difficult because we had so much pressure from people in business, and people who love football and wanted to see it playing. But we also had the challenge of people dying.
“So we needed to make sure there was a balance. But I also had challenges because I would get calls, I would be attacked going shopping. At some point my life was threatened.”
Pressed on how, Ngwenya said: “They said: 'Who do you think you are in football? Football doesn't belong to you. You're going to die,. You need to be careful'.”
Ngwenya played down the threats, saying emotions were running high at the time.
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