Bafana Bafana teenage target Nikola Tavares has been named captain of Crystal Palace’s Under-23 side that competes in the English Premier League reserve competition, despite being only 19 years old, a sign of the esteem he is held in at the London club.
The centre-back led Palace in their 4-0 victory over Charlton Athletic on Monday as he continues his rapid development that must put in him the frame for a first team place under coach Roy Hodgson in the near future.
But any hopes that Bafana coach Stuart Baxter, who has already met with Tavares, might have of roping him in to help the national team could be dashed by a successful few games the defender enjoyed with the Croatia Under-20 side this month. It could turn into a tug-of-war between the two countries. And, for now, it looks like the European side is winning.
“[Playing with Croatia was a] really good experience. We won both games out there and I played well and impressed, so that’s all I can do,” Tavares told the Palace website.
Tavares was leading a number of senior players in the Palace U23 side, including Norway international Alexander Sørloth and Senegal defender Pape Souare.
“[Playing with first-team players] was really good because they understand their roles and are disciplined, so it makes your job a lot easier. I’ve done the last few games as captain now and I’m enjoying it.”
Tavares recently returned from long-term injury after injuring his anterior cruciate ligament but says he is now back to full fitness and ready to kick on.
“It was devastating when it happened but since the injury, it’s almost like it hasn’t happened because my rehab was so good. So thanks to the physios for taking care of me. There are little things you do in the gym to stay on top of it but it’s like it didn’t happen.”
Tavares was born in Cape Town and developed through the Hellenic academy by Mark Byrne before heading to England to further his career. He was previously on the books of Kamohelo Mokotjo’s club Brentford but left when they closed their academy in 2016.