After seven years away from WA, Tando Velaphi is delighted to be back in his hometown and is relishing working under the guidance of Head Coach Tony Popovic and Goalkeeping Coach, Danny Milosevic.
“It’s fantastic to be home,”he said. “You can’t complain with weather like this in the middle of winter. I’m a Perth boy so I’m going to say it’s the best place in the world.
“[Popovic’s] attention to detail is on a global level,” he said. “I didn’t experience this, even in Japan.
“It’s great to be a part of this group, there’s a great atmosphere and we’ve got some big things to come this season, which I’m really looking forward to.
“It’s such a good environment where everyone is so positive.
“In terms of the goalkeeping unit, we’re all experienced ‘keepers. Milo’s been there and done that and young Jackson Lee is coming through. We’re working hard each day, which you can see from the sweat all over me during this interview!”
After rising through the ranks at Perth Soccer Club and then attending the AIS, Tando Velaphi made his first appearance in a Glory shirt back in 2007, keeping a clean sheet in a goalless draw with Adelaide United.
But the man who would go on to chalk up 73 further Hyundai A-League appearances during his first spell with the club feels that the competition has changed massively since those early days.
“I think the A-League is a lot more professional now compared to when I first started here,” he said. “Sports Science is such a big part of Australian sport and that’s come on board, plus game analysis and that sort of thing has come on a lot. I think that transcends onto the pitch. The standards are a lot higher and it’s a great league to be a part of.”
After heading over east in 2011, Velaphi enjoyed spells at Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart/City, as well as most recently with Wellington Phoenix.
It was his time in Japan’s J-League with Shonan Bellmare, however, that proved especially memorable for the ‘keeper and his young family.
“My mother’s Japanese, so it wasn’t such a big shock going there,” he said. “I spoke a bit of the language which was good with the locals who are such friendly people.
“The food and the culture is brilliant and my wife and I really enjoyed that side of it, as did my little boy. We lived in a great area, the people were great and my wife was a bit sad to leave, but Australia is great; nothing beats it.”
Apart from an injury here and there, Velaphi insists that his two years in Japan were significant for his development as a professional both on and off the pitch.
“It was a fantastic experience,” he said. “The players there are very technically gifted and there are a lot of Brazilian players on big money that come in and boost the league.
“I learnt a lot from the players there and managed to win a Championship too, which was nice.
“The work culture is really strong over there, so we found ourselves in the gym and in the analysis room a lot whenever we weren’t on the pitch.”
Upon his return from Japan, the 31-year-old signed a short-term deal with Wellington and it was while playing for the Kiwi club last season that he made a dramatic penalty save from a certain Spaniard.
“To be honest, I actually haven’t mentioned it [to Diego Castro] yet,” he revealed. “I don’t know how he would take it because this is the first time I’ve properly met Cas, but give me a month and I’m going to ask, ‘what happened with that penalty, mate?!’
“People will say what they want, but I stood up and managed to grasp it and we’ll leave it at that because Cas will kill me otherwise!”