After training with squash’s top female player Nicol David, former Perth Glory striker Ndumba Makeche says he is now ready to put his injury nightmare behind him at new club, Sarawak FA.
The speedy 23-year-old broke down in Malaysia Super League (MSL) preseason training last month with a series of leg injuries from his previous stint with Felda United.
But after undergoing an intensive rehabilitation programme, alongside Malaysian squash legend David, at the Institut Sukan Negara (ISN) in Kuala Lumpur, the Zambian-born Australian says he is “finally pain-free” and hopeful of starting the 2016 campaign with Sarawak.
And if Makeche is able to help Sarawak’s new coach K. Rajagobal by banging in a few goals, then David will surely get some of the credit.
The most decorated player in women’s squash history, who is renowned for her incredible physical fitness, recently lost her world No. 1 ranking — she’s currently third — but remains Malaysia’s most famous sporting export, alongside badminton’s Lee Chong Wei.
“Training with Nicol David has been an eye-opening experience because she’s so determined on her craft and she works effortlessly,” Makeche said.
“She’s inspired me to work even harder to be the best you can be. As a person who’s achieved so much, she’s humble and down to earth, which was great to see.”
Makeche’s physical ailments centred around his right knee, but he felt pain almost everywhere in his legs when he tried to sprint. But under renowned German sports doctor Joerg Teichmann at the ISN, he appears to have ironed out his problems.
“My body balance wasn’t right, my hips were not lining up straight and my knees were hurting,” he said. “Preseason has been hard for me but after rehab I am running pain free again and can’t wait to get fully fit and joking with my teammates in training.”
Makeche will team up with former Kelantan striker Gilmar for the 2016 campaign. The Brazilian’s 11 goals in 21 matches last season helped the Red Warriors pull away from the relegation zone.
During the 2015 season, Makeche was part of an exciting Felda United attack that included national team striker Indra Putra Mahayuddin, plus talented imports Thiago Fernandes and Zah Rahan Krangar.
Makeche contributed 10 goals in all competitions, but fell out with coach Irfan Bakti before leaving during the Malaysia Cup campaign last October because of the latter’s insistence to play him out wide.
Blessed with strength and pace, Makeche has been earmarked for success ever since then Perth Glory head coach Alistair Edwards threw him in the deep end just after his 20th birthday in 2012.
He played five games in the A-League but left in early 2014 in search of more game time. He’d impressed Felda United officials by scoring a hat trick against them for Perth in a friendly game.
Sarawak, under acclaimed former national boss Datuk Rajagobal, should present the perfect opportunity for Makeche to take the next step in his career. The Crocs were only one spot above relegated ATM FA in the 2015 season so the only way is up.
“I’ve set a target to reach double digits with my goals,” he said. “I really want to help Sarawak do better than last season.
“Life in Kuching is more relaxed than Kuala Lumpur, which is always hectic, so my new home is similar to Perth.
“Being under Datuk Rajagobal has been good so far, although I haven’t played any preseason games because of injury, but I can learn a lot from him.”
The ultimate aim, Makeche admits, is to return to the A-League as a more seasoned and accomplished forward. He would love emulate the feats of Adelaide United’s veteran striker, Bruce Djite, who also has African parents — from Ivory Coast and Togo.
“I had interest from one A-League club but I want to make sure I have enough games and experience under my belt before heading back,” he said. “I definitely want to play in the A-League again one day.”
Makeche may not be fit in time for Sarawak’s season opener, away to PDRM FA, on Feb. 13. But the former Stirling Lions junior can call on inspiration for extra fitness sessions from his new friend Nicol David — nickname ‘Duracell Bunny’ — who is trying to claw back her world No. 1 ranking.
Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. An ex-World Cup & EPL host with Astro, he has also been a CNN and BBC broadcaster. @JasonDasey