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Horsepower wanted for PSL

2008-12-19 11:50 Tumo Mokone

Last Saturday I missed the Telkom Knockout final as I was out bundu bashing. I could have found a pub in Senwabarwana town (formerly Bochum) to watch the spectacle, but I decided to give it a miss and enjoy bush pleasures around the Blouberg Mountains in Limpopo.

Around 22:00 a SMS from a friend disturbed the peace, with the news about Orlando Pirates’ defeat. Though I predicted Ajax Cape Town to win in my column last week, I still preferred to learn about Pirates’ loss in the morning.

When I got home I settled down to watch the highlights. I saw Ajax striker Mabhudi Khenyeza using old fashioned predatory instincts to score two goals which won his team the cup. As much as I was impressed by Khenyeza, I was also reminded, to my disappointment, why South African players struggle to find the net.

With his team trailing 2-1, and with only a few seconds on the clock, Pirates forward Bennett “Tsetse Fly” Chenene, fluffed a clear goalscoring chance with only the goalkeeper to beat. A slow-motion replay showed that after he was set free with a pin-point through-pass, Chenene ran goalward with his eyes fixed to the ground. He was still looking down even when he took his shot; he lifted his head only to watch his shot go astray.

Amateurish conduct

Apart from the R4.2 million at stake, the reputation of the club was also on the line, as Bucs sought to end their eight-year run without cup success. Pirates also considered taking Chenene to task for his amateurish conduct inside the danger zone, but later decided to let the matter rest. The management thought the player showed genuine remorse for his boob when he openly wept after the final whistle.

I think the club should have gone ahead and punished him with a fine. Pirates players are some of the biggest earners in African football, and what the club wants in return is a commitment to professionalism. In my book, Chenene’s miss was tantamount to misconduct and therefore needed to be addressed.

A stern message must be sent to the players, that they cannot enjoy professional incomes in exchange for the amateur stuff they dish out. An unmarked player in a goal-scoring position must lift his head, watch the positioning of the goalkeeper, pick his spot and shoot for goal. This is a basic requirement.

Sometimes a striker needs far more than the basics to create goal-scoring chances. Talented strikers therefore rely on other attributes to score goals, for example the speed and ferocity of the shot, trickery and instinct.

Revered

I saw the above attributes in Platinum Stars striker Luis Ranteria in their match against Mamelodi Sundowns. The Colombian striker took me back to the days when strikers were revered for their physical appearance, over and above their goal-scoring prowess.

Those days a striker did not need movie star looks, lest he became soft and approachable even by upstarts of defenders. The man needed to be kwaai, or “awe-inspiring” for the lack of a suitable translation. Rantieri fits the bill in all respects, including his keenness to hustle.  Before him in recent years in the PSL, there were Collins Mbesuma and Christopher Katongo, both Zambian strikers.

South African football had such players by the bucketful in the past. I can recall names such as Jeffrey “Tornado” Nsibande, Kenneth “The Horse” Mokgojoa, Mandla “Metro Blitz” Sithole, Moren “Samora” Khulu, Leonard “Wagga Wagga” Likoebe, Daniel “Mambush” Mudau and Jerry “Legs of Thunder” Sikhosana.

These guys were no hunks according to pop culture standards, but they sure knew how to rattle the net and entertain crowds at the stadium. With his knock-knees, a permanent sneer and a couple of missing teeth, Tornado was truly a sight to behold, just as it was tough for goalkeepers to hold his shots.

Right formula

Nicknames also played a significant role in building an aura of invincibility and fear around the striker, especially those who were relatively good-looking. Benoni United’s Mokgojoa became a menace to defences who just dreaded hearing the moniker, The Horse, which brought images of a wild stallion galloping towards them at a furious speed.

Horsepower and speed seemed to be the right formula to freeze goalkeepers in the past. Wagga Wagga and Legs of Thunder were champion racing steeds, Metro Blitz a speed commuter train to Soweto while Tornado speaks for itself. 

To drive home my point one last time, it is the stuff of legends that the late Samora Khulu battled to follow the instruction of then Kaizer Chiefs coach Joe Frickleton, because of Joe’s incoherent Scottish accent. So the burly striker depended on team captain Johannes Mofokeng for clarity. “The coach says you must stay in the area and shoot on sight,” lied Mofokeng.

Samora lived by that “lie” and scored many goals for Chiefs, using his bulk and warrior looks to good effect. So prolific was Samora that he became the first soccer player to have a graphic at Ellis Park. The graphic would pop up on the big screen each time he scored, praising the KZN-born striker who died earlier this year aged just 50. May his soul rest in peace.

Staking his claim

I look around for similar attributes among the present crop of strikers and I see no killer instinct. The proof of this dire situation is in the national team, where Benni McCarthy is like a demi-god because there is nothing better.

Thanda Royal Zulu captain and goal getter Bernard Parker is fast staking his claim, and he looks good (no pun intended). Sundowns’ Lerato Chabangu brought a lot of hope when he first broke into the big league four years ago. However, the grapevine suggests his potential has been ruined by a hectic nocturnal schedule.

There are more promising and hard-working forwards in the PSL. However, I still have to see a local striker "kwaai" enough to be tipped for legend status.

Tumo writes exclusively for Sport24.

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