Mphela is irreplaceable

15 November 2011 - 02:07
By Carlos Amato

Katlego Mphela's sulky goal celebration against Ivory Coast was understandable. Not that his sarcasm will put a stop to the asinine antics of the Bafana Boo-Boy Association.

Mphela is the only male citizen of this republic, Benni McCarthy aside, with the ability to score reliably at international level. He ripples the onion bag in every second game, season after season, whatever shirt he's wearing. Born finishers are a rare breed in any country, but in South Africa they're almost as rare as giraffes that play mean maskandi guitar.

So it is no wonder "Killer" finds it annoying when "supporters" moan and waggle their arms whenever he has the audacity to miss a chance.

Those arm-wagglers will get their fervent wish tonight, when Zimbabwe host a Bafana side so raw it will resemble an 11-piece sushi platter. Young strikers Bradley Grobler, Siyabonga Nontshinga and Kermit Erasmus may all get to stake claims for regular Bafana selection - but if we're honest, none of the three look like international material.

Erasmus has ample talent, but seems chronically unfit. Grobler is a decent club-level forward. Nontshinga has scored a grand total of three goals in the PSL; that he has been picked at all is an illustration of how desperate Pitso Mosimane's search for finishers has become.

It's early in the season, but when Pitso casts his eye over the chart of leading PSL marksmen right now, there's nothing to work with. Mphela aside, the list is a mix of foreigners, evergreen veterans, such as Siyabonga Nomvethe, and strikers who have already flunked the Bafana test, such as Terror Fanteni. Ryan Chapman and Nontshinga might become plausible prospects, but I'm not holding my breath.

And if Pitso looks abroad, the pickings are even thinner. In the injury absence of Davide Somma, the only prolific overseas forward we have is former Bucs starlet Philani Kubeka.

He scores at roughly the same rate as Mphela - but for Binh Duong FC in Vietnam. I've Binh Wuong before, but I don't think Kubeka is the answer.

The roots of the striker drought are old and structural. Most youngsters are still not getting proper, intensive coaching with decent facilities until their mid-teens. By that age it's usually too late to inculcate the fine art of finishing, which must be done through intensive training drills with plenty of balls and proper goalposts.

Mphela aside, our strikers battle to remain composed and choose the right options when they get chances mainly because they didn't get and convert enough chances when they were nine or 10.

Shakes Mashaba deserved our sympathy last week, but let's not overstate the importance of progressing to the Olympic tournament, which is never going to transform someone like Bongani Ndulula into a Benni McCarthy. We can't try to "develop" strikers who are 21; it's way too late.

It's often said that strikers are born, not made, and there's a grain of truth to that claim. But if the development system is failing, even born strikers can be robbed of their birthright.

Seventeen months after the World Cup, Safa's much-trumpeted National Academy System remains at the "concept plan" stage. Let's hope South African football is not missing out on the next Mphela as we speak.