The end of a football season brings with it the end-of-season awards and one of the major ones in South Africa is the top goal scorer award for the Premier Soccer League, or PSL as it is more commonly known.
The top five goal scorers in the PSL for the 2010/11 season are Knowledge Musona (Zimbabwe) with 15, Lehlohonolo Majoro (SA) and Nyasha Mushekwi (Zimbabwe) with 14 each, Katlego Mphela (SA) and Bradley Grobler (SA) with 13 goals each.
Of the five mentioned above, two are Zimbabwean and of the remaining three, Katlego Mphela is the only player who regularly plays for Bafana Bafana.
In fourteen PSL seasons, scoring more than twenty goals in a single season has only happened three times. The low strike rate in the PSL is clearly an issue and in an effort to try to improve the return, the league introduced new financial incentives two seasons ago to reward the top goal scorer. Should the top goal scorer bag less than fifteen goals the prize would be R25 000, more than fifteen goals the prize increases to R50 000 and above twenty goals the prize is R75 000.
South African football appears to suffer from a similar problem that afflicts the English Premier League – the top goal scorers comprise a sprinkling of foreign players and the South Africans who are up there are not regular representatives for the national team, Bafana Bafana.
Nothing sums up the paucity of South African striking talent more than the abject performance of Bafana Bafana at the 2006 edition of the African Nations Cup where the team failed to score a single goal in their three group matches. At last year’s World Cup, Bafana Bafana scored three goals in the three games they played – one by a striker, one by a midfielder and one by a defender.
The most successful South African striker was recently relieved of his duties at West Ham football club, due to persistent weight issues. The former marksman referred to is none other than Benni McCarthy, who in his heyday used to bang in goals for fun. Unfortunately, for McCarthy in recent times the goals would appear to have been replaced by a penchant for pies. Notable former Bafana strikers in terms of goals scored include Shaun Bartlett, Phil “Chippa” Masinga and Siyabonga Nomvethe. What should worry the national association, SAFA, is the fact there do not seem to be any prospective young strikers on the horizon who are ready to emulate or exceed the likes of McCarthy, Bartlett and company.
The reasons put forward for the scarcity of South African strikers are many.
One of the potential reasons is that the PSL clubs increased the number of foreign players allowed per team from three to five. This has resulted in the young, local strikers being sidelined in favour of established foreign players. The clubs are looking to buy the finished product that will fit seamlessly into the team and provide the path to league and cup glory.
A former golden boot winner with 24 goals in the 1998/99 season, Daniel Mudau, who played for Mamelodi Sundowns believes that current strikers focus too much on “beautiful goals”. In an article written by Nkareng Mtashe in April 2011 Mudau stated, “today’s strikers are shy to hit the ball. Instead they want to walk it into the net.” Mudau believes that a return to scoring “ugly goals” would vastly improve the scoring rate in the PSL.
Another potential reason often put forward is poor coaching methods. It is difficult to quantify and put forward empirical evidence to support something as intangible as coaching methodology. However, it can be inferred that if former players can convert their playing abilities to management in the same way as Pep Guardiola of Barcelona, for example, then hopefully the fortunes of the team can improve. However, coaching is a complex and difficult business and not every former player can transition to become a coach or manager.
One much talked about reason is that the net of youth scouting and development is not cast widely enough in a country as large as South Africa, and as a result there are a lot of hidden gems lurking in rural areas who just do not get identified. This surely should be within the remit of SAFA to work towards ensuring that the next generation of youth players are correctly identified and nurtured to become Bafana strikers.
There may be a myriad of reasons for the decline of Bafana Bafana strikers, but a solution has to be found soon if South African football is ever to regain the heights of 1996 when they won the African Cup of Nations.
Over to you SAFA.