South African soccer: where have all the goals gone?

The likes of Thomas Hlongwane in the 1980s, and Lesley Manyathela and Pollen Ndlanya, who both played in the 1990s and 2000s, all managed to score more than 20 goals a season. But since then, South Afican soccer fans have been forced to celebrate mediocrity in front of goal. Our strikers are not performing – domestically or internationally, and we have not seen a 20-goal striker in a decade. MICHAELSON GUMEDE examines the reasons why SA’s strikers are firing blanks.

1. Defensive tactics
In modern-day soccer round the world, coaches most often deploy tactics that appear to be defensive; tactics that suggest that teams enter the field with the intention of not losing, instead of walking on to the pitch with the sole intention of winning.

In the Premier Soccer League we’ve seen teams like Kaizer Chiefs starting matches with seven defensive-minded players – what does that tell you? It says: we might not win the game, but we are surely not planning to lose it. If football were fashion, then this defensive tactics would be the “in thing”, since world-renowned coaches have adopted this style and it has even earned itself a name – parking the bus.

Parking the bus might work well in Europe (we saw Chelsea win the British Premier League using it), but we seem not to have the kind of players that are required to execute this system. When you force a team to defend, you find your strikers wanting.

2. Foreign players are hungrier
The Lesley Manyathela Golden Boot award – which goes to the top scorer across all domestic competitions – was won by foreign players for four consecutive years from 2005 to 2008. It then came back home for two years 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 is very low compared to the rest of the world. The holder of the 2015 Golden Boot, Moeketsi Sekola, won it with just 14 goals. In 2013, Bernard Parker scored a promising 10 goals after the first 10 matches. But at the end of the season, he was still only on 10 goals - and still went on to win the golden boot. Where were his scoring boots? Where were the other strikers who should’ve been catching up with him?

The all-time top goal scorer in a single season is Zambian striker Collins Mbesuma in 2005. Mbesuma netted 35 goals, a feat which we usually hear about only in leagues abroad. This kind of hunger  and determination is needed in order to put our beloved PSL on par with the rest of the world. We have the infrastructure, yes, but we lack what matters the most in soccer – the goals.

3. Influx of foreign coaches
South Africa has its own style of football: we dribble, we entertain the crowd. When was the last time you saw a player pull off a “show me your number” and a “shibobo”? I say this without compromise – foreign coaches have killed off our traditional style of football. Credit should be given to those foreign coaches that have had success in the PSL, but has this success come at the fans’ expense? Why do you think teams play in spectatorless stadiums? I’d warrant it is because the PSL is no longer producing crowd-pulling players.

When we talk about crowd-pullers, we are talking about the likes of Jabu Mahlangu, formerly Pule; your Steve Lekoleas; and the late John “Shoes” Mosheou. The most promising crowd-puller, Mark Mayambela, was killed off at Orlando Pirates, as was Thabo Rakhale.

Foreign coaches come here with the mentality of “modern football”, which is killing our style. The 1996 Afcon was won in the only way that we know how – dribbling our way to goals. With foreign coaches at the helm, our players are not given the necessary freedom to 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. It would be irresponsible to overlook the talent of our sticks man. One cannot doubt the brilliance of Itumeleng Khune, and the heroics that the late Senzo Meyiwa displayed in CAF 2013.

However, our strikers cannot finish in front of goal. A thousand times we’ve seen strikers missing clear-cut chances – why is this? They lack technique and composure and often make poor decisions. Any true supporter of the PSL will agree that we should at least see 20+ goals from one man a season, but unfortunately, our best last season was just 14.

All these factors make our goal keepers look much better than they are. The situation is so serious that in 2011 our president even had to take to the field to show our professional soccer players how it’s done.


– Featured image: By Akidjoh via Wikimedia Commons; Graphic: By Safiyyah Patel.