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Now Here’s A Score To Settle…

Dear Soccer Laduma readers, in case my ‘face’ is not ‘familiar’, I work for Soccer Laduma Radio and convey my utmost gratitude to the editor, Vuyani Joni, for affording me this hallowed platform this week, as I can no longer suppress my emotions on one burning issue when it comes to local football.   
 
There is a quote about trusting your instinct, which you may have come across at some point in your life. It’s an instruction on what kind of relationship one ought to have with their instinct. I must say that I have an enormously strenuous relationship with mine or anything else that relates to it… hunch, suspicion, first impression etc. 
 
My first impression of the freshly concluded season of the Absa Premiership was one filled with uncharacteristic pessimism. All the fixtures in the opening weekend of the season had two or less goals scored.
 
Aesthetically, the sight wasn’t pleasant either, with most games characterized by missed opportunities (as usual) and at times a pedestrian tempo. One rainy Wednesday night at Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town City faced Platinum Stars during Peter Butler’s bizarre tenure of less-than-handful games. Benni’s Citizens won the match 3-1, but I distinctly remember the game for being excessively lethargic in pace and poor in finishing – an impression confirmed by the Bafana Bafana legend himself post-match.
 
Instinct confronted intellect at that point. Patriotism intervened and correctly insisted that the league was not a sprint but a marathon. In any case, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support my impression at that point. More needed to happen and a proper comparison against other seasons could only be made once the season had been completed.
 
So here we are then, at end of season. We have now witnessed the worst goal-scoring season of the decade! For once, the mob has been proven correct, at least in the goal-scoring department. In general, whenever someone makes a negative remark about South African football, I jump in with a defending counter-argument or I provide a mitigating alternative. Ladies and gentlemen, there is no mitigating for this – our league has been poor in front of goals, the matches make watching paint dry look exciting and ambitious tactics have made way for boring pragmatism borne from the need to survive at all costs. 
This season, the 16 Absa Premiership teams conspired to score a lousy 489 goals; i.e. 49, 73, 66, 36, 57, 94, 113, 10 and 80 goals less than the  preceding nine seasons. 
 
In fact, in terms of goals, the NFD teams have provided their tiny portion of spectators with better value for money consistently over the past five seasons. This season, NFD teams outscored their handsomely remunerated and more famous counterparts by 58 goals; not only that, they have outscored the Absa Premiership teams every season for the last five seasons. 
 
Sweden’s all-time top goalscorer Zlatan Ibrahimović reveals in his eloquently crafted autobiography, I am Zlatan, that when he arrived at Juventus, Fabio Capello assigned his assistant coach with the task of improving the scoring of the young dribbling wizard. Apart from the general training with the squad, the strikers were given additional assistance to improve their craft. He adds that, every day, he would be fed with hundreds of footballs from all angles and, by the end, he felt like a machine. The same logic is applied in sports like cricket and rugby, with specialized coaching supplementing the overall coaching. Actually, in a way, South African football clubs do follow this logic of specializing its coaching to supplement the overall coaching, but it’s currently limited to the goalkeeper coach. Nothing stops teams from employing specialist attack coaches, especially with the wealth of experience the country has in former strikers. Scoring is a problem that has needed solving for a very long time.  
 
If you thought Lebogang Manyama’s 13 goals as top scorer was an embarrassing return for South African professional players, I wonder which adjectives will be attached to Rodney Ramagalela and Percy Tau’s 11 goals return this season. As unfair on the strikers as this will sound, I would suggest that, in future, the R25 000 prize money be donated to charity for any Golden Boot winner who scores less than 15 goals a season. Another reason why this season has been a bore is the sheer number of scoreless draws it has managed to cough out. Again, in this regard, this season has taken top prize against the last nine seasons that preceded it. There have been a whopping 35 matches ending in scoreless draws! Leagues that play far more games than ours had far less scoreless draws this season. LaLiga (20 clubs) had 25 scoreless draws, EPL (20 clubs) had 29, French Ligue 1 (20 clubs) had 20.  
 
If the scoreless draws were as a result of this country’s wealth in terms of a new generation of footballers who are more adept at reading the game and have a higher propensity for blocks and tackles than the previous crop of players, surely the national team would have been beneficiaries. A glance at Bafana Bafana’s  past results over the last 12 months suggests that we are neither potent going forward nor stable at the back. 
 
I am a PSL geek that watches thousands of minutes of SA football per season. I remain an optimist. We are 18 years into a new century, football has evolved tremendously over the years and the only people left behind are those who refuse to change. The younger generations of football supporters, due to TV access, are Man City fans first, before they are Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates supporters. They need something to attract them to supporting Mzansi football. The best place to start is to create new heroes for them, strikers that score 25 goals per season.  
 
By the way, Soccer Laduma Radio recently had an interview with Doctor Khumalo, who spoke about Downs v Barca, the PSL relegation/promotional play-offs, Kaizer Chiefs and more. At the time of writing, the  podcast had been downloaded 122 105 times. So head out to the Soccer Laduma website to download Doc’s podcast.
 
That’s it,
Nkululeko Nkewu 
 

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