The likes of Thomas Hlongwane in the 1980s, and Lesley Manyathela and Pollen Ndlanya, who both played in the 1990s and 2000s, allÂ managed to score more than 20 goals a season. But since then, South Afican soccer fans have been forced to celebrate mediocrity inÂ front of goal. Our strikers are not performing â€“ domestically or internationally, and weÂ have not seen a 20-goal striker in a decade. MICHAELSON GUMEDE examinesÂ the reasons why SA’sÂ strikers are firing blanks.
1. Defensive tactics
In modern-day soccer round the world, coaches most often deployÂ tactics that appear to be defensive; tactics that suggest that teams enter the field with theÂ intention of not losing, instead of walking on to the pitch with the sole intention of winning.
In the Premier Soccer League weâ€™ve seen teams like Kaizer Chiefs starting matches with seven defensive-minded players â€“ what does that tell you? It says: we might not win the game, but we areÂ surely not planning to lose it. If football were fashion, then this defensive tactics would beÂ the â€œin thingâ€, since world-renowned coaches have adopted this style and it has even earnedÂ itself a name â€“ parking the bus.
Parking the bus might work well in Europe (we saw Chelsea win the British Premier League using it), but weÂ seem not to have the kind of players that are required to execute this system. When youÂ force a team to defend, you find your strikers wanting.
2. Foreign players are hungrier
The Lesley Manyathela Golden Boot award â€“ which goes to the top scorer across all domestic competitions â€“ was won by foreignÂ players for four consecutive years from 2005 to 2008. It then came back home for two yearsÂ in 2009 and 2010, only to be taken by Zimbabwean striker Knowledge Musona in 2011.
Whether South African or international, the sad reality is that the standard of PSL strikers isÂ very low compared to the rest of the world. The holder of the 2015 Golden Boot,Â Moeketsi Sekola, won it with just 14 goals. In 2013, Bernard Parker scored a promising 10 goals after the first 10Â matches. But at the end of the season, he was still only on 10 goalsÂ -Â and still went on to win the golden boot. Where were his scoring boots? Where were the other strikers who shouldâ€™ve been catching up with him?
The all-time top goal scorer in a single season is Zambian striker Collins Mbesuma in 2005. MbesumaÂ nettedÂ 35 goals, a feat which we usually hear about only in leagues abroad. This kind of hunger Â and determination is needed in order to put our beloved PSL on par with the rest of theÂ world. We have the infrastructure, yes, but we lack what matters the most in soccerÂ â€“Â the goals.
3. Influx of foreign coaches
South Africa has its own style of football: we dribble, weÂ entertain the crowd. When was the last time youÂ saw a player pull off a â€œshow me your numberâ€ and a â€œshiboboâ€? I say this withoutÂ compromise â€“ foreign coaches have killed off our traditional style of football. Credit shouldÂ be given to those foreign coaches that have had success in the PSL, but has this success come at the fansâ€™Â expense? Why do you think teams play in spectatorless stadiums? I’d warrant it is because the PSL is noÂ longer producing crowd-pulling players.
When we talk about crowd-pullers, we areÂ talking about the likes of Jabu Mahlangu, formerly Pule; your Steve Lekoleas; and the lateÂ John â€œShoesâ€ Mosheou. The most promising crowd-puller, Mark Mayambela, was killed off atÂ Orlando Pirates, as was Thabo Rakhale.
Foreign coaches comeÂ here with the mentality of â€œmodern footballâ€, which is killing our style. The 1996 Afcon wasÂ won in the only way that we know how â€“ dribbling our way to goals. With foreignÂ coaches at the helm, our players are not given the necessary freedom toÂ express themselves.
4. Good goalkeepers and lack of technique
Perhaps the most positive of all these factors is the quality of our goalkeepers, together with the defence.Â It would be irresponsible to overlook the talent of our sticks man. One cannotÂ doubt the brilliance of Itumeleng Khune, and the heroics thatÂ the late Senzo Meyiwa displayed in CAF 2013.
However, our strikers cannot finish in front of goal. A thousand timesÂ weâ€™ve seen strikers missing clear-cut chances â€“ why is this? They lack technique and composure and oftenÂ make poor decisions. AnyÂ true supporter of theÂ PSL will agree that we should at least see 20+ goals from one man a season, butÂ unfortunately, our best last season was just 14.
All these factors make our goal keepersÂ look much better than they are. The situation is so serious that in 2011Â our president even had to take to the field to show our professional soccer players how itâ€™s done.