The Maritzburg United defender sacrificed school to fulfil his dream of becoming a professional footballer, but his road to success was potholed with regrets and low self-esteem.
The rise of Maritzburg United centreback Rushine de Reuck is a journey based on a leap of faith and commitment. The 23-year-old dropped out of school in grade 12 to pursue his childhood dream of playing professional football at the highest level in Europe. But his time there was short-lived because he missed home.
De Reuck says football was the only thing that made sense to him while growing up in the crime-ridden, working-class township of Kalksteenfontein in Cape Town.
"I am the first and only professional footballer in my community," De Reuck said. "I come from the ghetto, most of my friends are either in prison or dead. Loving football made me a better person and helped me escape crime.
"I started playing football at the age of eight, I was the goalkeeper then. I was not a goalkeeper because I was good at it. They just said I must be at the goalpost because I was tall. I moved around so many teams until I played for an academy school called AFC Cape Town. That's where things started to happen for me. In 2014, I played in the Bayhill Premier Cup [youth football tournament] and I made the dream team. The dream team is made up of the best players who go overseas after the tournament."
School or Europe?
De Reuck's golden opportunity meant he had to make a huge sacrifice in 2014, when he was invited for trials overseas. To attend those trials, he had to abandon his education.
"I was doing matric, I had to take a leap of faith and drop out of school and follow my dreams. Playing football was the only thing that I ever wanted to do," he said.
"Even with matric, I didn't have a chosen career path other than playing football. When I went to Europe, I started by trialling at [Portuguese club] FC Porto. They were promising to sign me but took long, so my agent decided that I move to another team before the window closes. I went to FC Pacos de Ferreira [also in Portugal] and they signed me within three days. I was playing for the B team but training with first team. After spending some time with the club, coach Paulo Fonseca wanted to sign me for first team.
"I was doing good in terms of football but not mature enough, hence I was homesick and decided to leave my dreams and come back home. I was supposed to be in South Africa for two weeks. While I was here I heard that the coach had left. I then decided to stay because I saw no point of going back because I knew that the new coach was going to sign his own players. I told myself that I have always wanted to play in the Premier Soccer League [PSL] and that was going to happen. I had always believed that playing a year in Portugal made me a better player and It was not going to be hard to get a team in the PSL."
Things didn't turn out the way De Reuck had anticipated when he decided to leave Europe and look for a team in South Africa. He regrets coming back from Europe earlier than planned, as most of the teams at home regarded him as an average player, one not destined to play at the highest level in the premier division.
"I trialled with so many teams. Ajax Cape Town, they said I was not good enough. I tried with Cape Town All Stars, Milano, Mbombela [United]... none of those teams wanted me. I went to Hellenic [in the ABC Motsepe League], I played there for a year. But even that year that I spent at Hellenic, I was injured most of the time. Everything was bad.
"To think that I came back from Portugal and struggled to get a team in South Africa. I had big hopes when I was in Portugal, I could even see myself playing for the national team. But things didn't turn out the way I wanted. After Hellenic, I stayed at home without playing football for 10 months. I felt like giving up, but I kept saying that I must try again because football is my first love."
Move to the Midlands
De Reuck signed for Maritzburg United two seasons ago, where he had a dream debut season. In his first campaign, he made 16 appearances in all competitions. He also featured in the Nedbank Cup final against Free State Stars in front of his family and community at Cape Town Stadium.
"I travelled to Pietermaritzburg by car from Cape Town. It was Easter weekend, the flights were too expensive. The day I arrived, I had to train. I could not even kick the ball. Everyone was looking at me in a not so good way. I told myself that I wasn't going to make it.
"After a week of training with the team, they told me they were going to sign me. I wasn't even expecting the first team contract. I was going to be happy even if they gave me a [reserve league] MultiChoice Diski Challenge contract. I had low self-esteem, I didn't even believe in myself because no one wanted me. I will always be grateful to coach Fadlu Davids for affording me the opportunity to play football again," he said.
Low in confidence after his struggles to get a contract, De Reuck set himself modest targets while he found his feet in the Midlands.
"I told myself that if I made 10 appearances, I would have made it. My first game was against Platinum Stars. I played the last two minutes and I was happy with it. I had told myself that even if I get a minute, I will play my best game. I kept on working hard.
"Not long after getting a few minutes each and every game, the big opportunity arrived. Bevan Fransman got hurt when the game [against Free State Stars on 20 January 2018] just started. Coach told me to go warm up. I just sat and looked at him because I could not believe that he was choosing me over the other guys that were better than me. From that game, I can say, the rest is history."
His promotion to the club's first team coincided with the best and worst of times. Reaching the 2018 Nedbank Cup final, the club's first appearance in a top-flight final, was a major milestone. But the following season they had to retain their status in the play-offs after finishing 15th.
"I am working with the best coach, Eric Tinkler. He is a good motivator and he is a winner at heart," De Reuck said. "I am hoping to do better than the past season. So far, I have done well. I haven't received any cards that will keep me out of game time. I am hoping to continue working hard. In my career, I am looking forward to playing for the national team and returning to Europe, because I feel I have unfinished business there. All I need to do is to keep level-headed and focus on my playing skills."
Now that he is an established figure in the team, De Reuck will be key in the Team of Choice's quest for their first trophy. He has played an instrumental role in the club's progress to the Telkom Knockout final. Mamelodi Sundowns, at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday 14 December, stand between Maritzburg and their first trophy.
"I am happy to play in the second final in my third season in the PSL. This is an opportunity that does not usually happen to other players," he said. "I am looking forward to it. We are playing a big team, we don't need any motivation. We just need to show up and play our best game. It's a final. It won't be easy, but anything is possible in football. I am hoping we will come back with the cup, the first in the history of Maritzburg."