It’s an age-old discussion in South Africa, and to an extent, the whole world. There’s no doubt that in football there will always be those players that are more skillful than others. Some players will always be more flamboyant on the pitch than others. But when is it the right time to showcase those skills? Is there even such a time?
When do players cross the blurry line between entertainment and what is deemed disrespect? Or better yet, does showboating even have a place in the modern game? A lot of what happens on the field of play is certainly influenced much by Europe. Five of the last six World Cups have been won by a country from that continent, and there is no doubt that every player across the world wants to see themselves play in top leagues like La Liga, the English Premier League, Bundesliga, or even the Serie A.
I can guarantee you that that will remain a dream if you’re a showboating player. It is believed that when you do that you don’t play effective football. European coaches believe in tactical rather than technical football. I agree, football at the end of the day is about outscoring your opponents and winning the game.
However, I don’t think skillful players do not have a role to play in the game. Take Brazilian players for instance. Few can argue that this is the most technically gifted bunch there is. When you think of Ronaldinho in his Barcelona days, he was a match winner for Frank Rijkaard. He would dribble his way through a maze of players and amazingly emerge on the other side with one final pass to a teammate for a goal. The man was a magician.
These days you find Neymar at the very same club, and although I don’t think he is as gifted as Ronaldinho, he does have a few tricks up his sleeve that he uses for the good of the team. Now this is what players in South Africa need to understand, and quickly. It serves no purpose for a player to do a trick in the middle of the park while the team is trying to counter-attack, face his own goal, and end up losing the ball.
I have nothing against players with ball skills, in fact I think there’s a huge shortage of them. Some are even hiding that ability for fear of being benched. A player like Oupa Manyisa is incredibly talented and has so much in his repertoire that fans don’t get to see. Sometimes I think only some of us who get to see him in training really understand how gifted he is.
I remember back in 2006 when a certain Ernst Middendorp first came to South Africa. Oh how I wish he hadn’t. He found the late Scara Ngobese at Kaizer Chiefs and called him ‘nothing but half-time entertainment’. This did not go down well with the Chiefs faithful considering that he had been a crucial part of Ted Dumitru’s title-winning team. Sadly, that was the beginning of the end for Ngobese at Naturena.
Such players are special, and have special coaches who understand them, who know how to utilise them. In those days, Kostadin Papic was the coach of Orlando Pirates. Now this is another man like Dumitru, who allowed players to express themselves and had success. He had players like Steve ‘Chippa’ Lekoelea, Lebohang ‘Cheeseboy’ Mokoena and Joseph ‘Duku-Duku’ Makhanya. These are the players that could leave you on your knees any day, but were effective to the cause.
Another coach is Clive Barker. “The Dog” once said he encouraged Doctor Khumalo to do the shibobo as soon as possible in a match. He says this is so that the fans would get behind the team as early as possible and it worked for them. These are the coaches who could take advantage of these players instead of making them feel like their skill is a curse more than anything.
This past weekend we saw a few incidents that prompted some mixed feelings. The most talked about one was when during their clash with CS Sfaxien, Sifiso Myeni of Pirates juggled the ball in the middle of nowhere. Now this really irked the Tunisians and they mobbed Myeni in seconds. Their coach also said after the game that the incident was disrespectful and said “certain rules have to be followed in football”.
Well I did not know that there are rules against showing skill in the FIFA rules and statutes book. Another player at Pirates, Thabo Rakhale, gained world-wide attention last season when in a game against Chippa United he suddenly appeared to put a magic spell on the ball. With just one touch he put enough spin on the ball and left it behind, only for it to follow him. The crowd went into a frenzy, but the international media blasted Rakhale for this. The one thing about him is that Eric Tinkler has put so much trust in him these days that he is actually doing exactly what I said the Brazilians do. He is making the Buccaneers tick, he is creating goals, and he is scoring some fantastic ones as well.
Basically, when Rakhale is in the mood, the Sea Robbers are in the mood. This is what our football has been missing for so long – entertainment that yields results. In another game, Pitso Mosimane also bemoaned Masibusane Zongo being awarded the Man of The Match accolade, saying ‘he was only doing tricks’. He says that should not be the criteria for this award and he is right to a degree. If your tricks do not benefit the team in any way, then they’re all in vain.
Mark Mayambela had a pretty impressive debut against Amakhosi in PE on Sunday. He is also one of the “special’ players that are criticised a lot, but I think he has really grown as a player and if he continues with such performances, it won’t be too long until his abilities are appreciated again.
Lionel Messi left Jerome Boateng for dead in the semi-finals of the Uefa Champions League towards the end of last season. I can watch that clip over and over again and not get tired of it. He showed skill, vision, and maturity at the end of it all with a cheeky chip over the goalkeeper. Cristiano Ronaldo does the step-over all the time en route to destroying the opponents with that educated right foot of his.
Our players need to follow suit if they are so make anything of their incredible abilities. There is no shortage of talent in South Africa. We have had such players for years and years and having seen clips of Jomo Sono, Ace Ntsoelengoe, Professor Ngubane, and Teenage Dladla, one cannot help but lament the apartheid days that denied them global recognition. I had the privilege of seeing the late Shakes Kungwane, Thabo Mooki, and Jabu Pule play. Those gentlemen were a pleasure to watch. If we can channel such players in the right direction, their technical ability combined with tactical discipline, then we’ll have something special. With our league and particularly our big teams trusting the local coaches, their local flavour, plus formal coaching education, then I have a feeling that day is not too far from now. Let’s play.