Only 24, South African footballer Fagrie Lakay has seen a resurgence in his career over the last year, moving to top Egyptian Premier League side Pyramids FC.
By Nick Said
SOUTH AFRICAN FOOTBALLER FAGRIE LAKAY has long spoken about plying his trade outside of the country’s borders, but his move to top Egyptian Premier League side Pyramids FC is certainly a case of the road less traveled.
He is just the fourth South African to play in arguably Africa’s top league, following in the footsteps of trailblazer Phakamani Mahlambi, Gift Links and Percy Tau, who is currently with giants Al Ahly under coach Pitso Mosimane.
Lakay has seen a resurgence in his career over the last 12 months, one that had seemed to be stalled after a succession of failed moves. It is incredible to think he is only 24, but his debut as a professional for Cape Town club Santos at the age of 15 means he has been around almost a decade already.
He is the youngest player to feature in the top two tiers of South African football since accurate records were kept, and is also the youngest ever international for the country having made his Bafana Bafana bow against Ivory Coast in 2014 aged 17 years, six months and one day.
“We had a Dutch coach [Mart Nooij] at the time and my first professional game was a Cape Derby against FC Cape Town,” Lakay tells FORBES AFRICA of his Santos bow.
“I didn’t expect to play. I had come from school [for training] and was having lunch with the coach. And while we were sitting there, he just said, ‘I want to give you the opportunity to play this weekend’.
“I was very excited, and it was such a good feeling and a great experience. As a youngster, once you play that first game you just want to play more and more, and all the time. It kept me hungry.”
And he was even more shocked when handed his senior national team debut a few years later.
“To be honest, I never saw that one coming either! But if I think back now, it is definitely one of my best footballing memories. I had played for the junior national teams but playing for Bafana… it was just a whole different feeling.
“The whole country is behind you. The feeling is hard to explain. It is one of a kind, and to do it at such a young age was amazing.”
It would be almost seven years to the day before Lakay earned his second cap, against Zimbabwe in November 2021, with his strong club form for Cape Town City not only catching the eye of national team coach Hugo Broos, but a number of overseas teams as well.
There was a time it seemed unlikely he would wear the Bafana jersey again as stints Pretoria-based SuperSport United, Ajax Cape Town and Johannesburg club BidVest Wits provided little evidence that he would fulfil his potential.
“Staying that side [Gauteng] at a young age  and not being able to just come home to your parents, that was difficult for a young boy. But as they say, if you want to grow you have to go somewhere else and move away from home,” he says.
“It’s just unfortunate that when I moved there [to SuperSport], maybe the circumstances weren’t right and I didn’t play as much as I would have wanted to. But I learned a lot, I looked up to older guys like Jeremy Brockie and Bradley Grobler in terms of how I wanted to play my game. I used to watch what they did at training and how they got themselves into goal-scoring positions.”
He joined Ajax on loan in the 2017/18 season and they were relegated that year, though he was one of their better performers.
“It was unfortunate that it was the year Ajax got relegated, but for me personally it was a good season. It was something that I needed, the game-time,” he says.
“And I got to work with, in my opinion, one of the greatest coaches we have seen in the PSL in Muhsin Ertuğral. The experience that I gained from working with him was amazing.”
His next spell at Wits was hampered by a broken leg, but things changed for him when he returned from that set-back and Cape Town City brought him back to the Mother City.
“[Coach] Gavin Hunt told me that competition was tight at Wits and they were competing for the league, so the chances of me playing were kind of slim.
“It was not about my ability or anything, but I had been out a long time and only just come back from injury, so it was just in that moment that it would be difficult for me.
“I was quite excited to come back home and play for a quality side. And just getting another opportunity to play.”
It proved the right decision, and his career is in lift-off again, especially with the move to Pyramids, where he hit the ground running with a brace of goals in the CAF Confederation Cup.
“As a player, the more you play and the older you get, you need to learn and improve your game. That is something I have been focusing on,” Lakay says.
“Especially just getting into the box, because at the end of the day if you want to score goals, you need to be in the box. That is what the best strikers in the world do.
“Yes, I am quick and have pace, but I don’t need to use it all the time. If I am in the box at the right time, that is where I will get my goals.”