Andile Jali will be hoping to finally get his due reward – the Footballer of the Season Award – when the curtain falls on the 2021/22 DStv Premiership campaign with the annual end-of-season awards taking place this Sunday.
This past season was arguably the Matatiele-born midfielder’s best in the PSL and the five nominations that he’s received are a true reflection of his bossy performances in the heart of the Mamelodi Sundowns midfield on a consistent basis. Come Sunday evening, the name that everyone will be hearing mentioned the most at the PSL awards ceremony will be that of the 32-year-old midfielder, affectionately known as mXhosa. Jali has been nominated for five of the awards available on the night, making him the most nominated player. This comes as no surprise for someone who ranks up there among the best players who consistently proved their worth on the field this past season, showing not just great form but fitness and professionalism of the highest order. Jali has hardly been off the field due to injury, loss of form or any other reason you can think of. The strong midfielder has literally taken from where club legend and most successful captain, Hlompho Kekana, left off by helping the team dominate the nominations’ list.
Out of the five nominations, Jali will surely be looking at the biggest one – Footballer of the Season – in which he faces stiff competition from teammate Peter Shalulile and Royal AM and Bafana Bafana marksman, Victor Letsoalo, for the biggest gong of the night. He also has the same Shalulile and another teammate, Surprise Ralani, to fight it out for the MTN8 Last Man Standing and Shalulile and Zwane for the Players’ Player of the Season award. Jali also has Zwane and Cape Town City’s Mduduzi Mdantsane to battle it out for the Midfielder of the Season gong, before squaring off with another teammate, Aubrey Modiba, and Marumo Gallants’ King Ndlovu for the Nedbank Cup Player of the Tournament in the five categories that have his name on them in what is sure to become a Mamelodi Sundowns show as they dominate all the awards.
It is only fair and sensible to expect Jali to have a night to remember on Sunday, but as history has it, the awards ceremony expectations and reality can become chalk and cheese. Ask Kekana and he will tell you all about it – the excitement, the honour, disappointment and jubilation that comes with being on the nomination list season after season. Ask Siyabonga Sangweni and you will hear it all about the disappointing nature of these awards and how they can turn out to be something completely different to what common sense seems to dictate. These are just two of the players who have been so unlucky in recent history at the awards that the way they lost out on big awards left many dumbfounded. This is not the first time Jali goes into the PSL annual awards ceremony as a favourite to sweep clean. Those who have been around the block will remember the 2010/11 ceremony where the diminutive midfielder was beaten to the biggest gong, Footballer of the Season, by now-defunct Ajax Cape Town’s young sensation, Thulani Serero, who walked away with four of the biggest prizes on the night, leaving a huge disappointment and disapproval on those who had tipped Jali for an amazing ceremony night.
In many people’s eyes, what happened the night of May 29, 2011, at Gold Reef City was ‘daylight robbery’ and an insult to Jali as the then influential Orlando Pirates midfield maestro helped his team to their first treble, winning the MTN8, Nedbank Cup, the league title and losing the Telkom Knockout final against archrivals Kaizer Chiefs. While Serero had a phenomenal season for the Urban Warriors, it remains a popular opinion that Jali – who had a formidable combination with partner-in-crime Oupa Manyisa in the heart of Bucs midfield – was more deserving of the lucrative and most-respected award. By virtue of playing more games than Serero and reaching every cup final, Jali was touted as the favorite, but the very same scenario played itself out when Sangweni, who was head and shoulders above everyone in the league, thought the Siyabonga who was called to ascend to the podium to receive the Footballer of the Season award was him, only to find out it was actually his namesake, Siyabonga Nomvethe, who was voted the winner. Even those who were seated next to the strong defender commonly known as Nsimbi, including Mamelodi Sundowns senior coach, Steve Komphela, were already congratulating him, only to find out he had not won the award.
This is the first time, since that disappointment in the 2010/11 awards ceremony, that Jali has come close to this coveted award and making his presence felt in the league. Will he finally get what’s due to him or continue being snubbed? It remains to be seen if this is the time that Maduna (his clan name) will finally get his just reward, although it is not going to be easy to wrestle it out with Shalulile, who has also had a stelar season for the Chloorkop-based side, while Letsoalo’s 15-goal season can’t be overlooked. Interestingly, as it was the case with Sangweni and Kekana, while it is easy to measure the offensive players’ exploits through the naked eye, looking at the number of goals and assists, how do you measure a defensive player who was solid enough to see his team concede less than the rest? The number of clean sheets is dedicated to the goalkeeper as a yardstick to measure them. The defenders also get recognised for the clean sheets achieved by their clubs, while nothing gets said or done about defensive midfielders who screen and protect the very same defenders and goalkeepers. Instead, they are made to compete in the same category as attacking midfielders for the Midfielder of the Season award, which is seldom fair to the defensive soldiers. Maybe this calls for a separate award for these ‘dirty workers’ so that they can also get much-needed recognition.
Sometimes awards become a popularity contest because, by their nature, they are subjective. This has been Jali’s best season since his return from Europe where he’s been injury-free, consistency and form have not been an issue at all and one season that has proved just how serious Mhlekazi is about his career. This is one season where Jali has been all about football, a consummate professional who deserves everything that has come his way. This is the season where Jali has been most focused on his career, little talk but more action, as he bossed the midfield and stamped his authority. That he’s yet to make coach Hugo Broos’ Bafana Bafana squad is as perplexing as the R22m aborted national flag project. Jali has been the oil that keeps the Sundowns engine running this season and one hopes he doesn’t suffer the same fate as Kekana, who made history by being consistently nominated, only to be overlooked for the awards that should have, at least in the eyes of many, been his. One hopes that Jali will finally get his due reward as he’s expected to sweep the floor at the annual event. Come Sunday, all shall be revealed!
Before I forget, congratulations to Sundowns on their record fifth consecutive league title. The Chloorkop-based outfit were the deserving winners as they continue to make history in the domestic game. On the contrary, Pirates were very unfortunate in their 5-4 penalty shootout loss against RS Berkane in the CAF Confederation Cup final on Friday night. Unlucky, Bucs!