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Box-To-Box - Midfielders In The Game Past And Present

A quality box-to-box midfielder is often the driving force behind a successful football team. He must be a complete player in how he attacks and how he defends. In this Namaqua feature, we look at players both past and present who have enjoyed success in this role...

This week’s focus is on Orlando Pirates midfielder, Thandani Ntshumayelo.

‘Bibo’, Tenacious at both ends of the park

The evidence is clear that Thandani Ntshumayelo is the heart and soul of how Vladimir Vermezovic wants Orlando Pirates to play. The Serbian demands an exhaustive work-rate, high pressing and a bullish mentality. These are all traits that exemplify ‘Bibo’ as a box-to-box midfielder. Along with Issa Sarr and Oupa Manyisa, he provides Bucs with the unshakable midfield foundation they need to dominate teams. Sarr’s job is more to sit deep and protect the back four. ‘Ace’s' role is to act as the link-up man between midfield and attack, whereas Ntshumayelo works tenaciously to help both at either end of the pitch.

The Heilbron Pit Bull

‘Bibo’ is a pit bull when it comes to a scrap in the centre of the park. When the studs start flying, the brawny box-to-box midfielder from Heilbron is a man upon whom you can depend. It’s true that Ntshumayelo may lack the cutting edge of his counterpart at Kaizer Chiefs, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, in the final third, yet his numbers show his primary role is to assist Sarr defensively and give support to the more advanced Manyisa. ‘Bibo’ leads ‘Yeye’ in the tight contact areas – he wins three tackles per game and only gives away possession 13 times. The Chiefs man averages around two tackles, but loses the ball around 19 times on average per game. Ntshumayelo’s 89% successful pass-rate is further proof of a distributor who understands the value of keeping that ball. When you consider that Bucs have averaged 57% ball possession in 2014/15, it becomes even clearer why the aggressive number six is so integral to Vermezovic’s approach. ‘Bibo’ pointed out in edition 886 of Soccer Laduma why VV’s style is so suited to his game, “We want to play high tempo games, pressing teams early, high up the field – that’s how we want to play.”

A player custom built for VV’s demands

His committed nature, fighting qualities and speed over the ground mean he is a custom built blend of bullishness and physicality to perfectly meet Vermezovic’s demands. VV is a coach who bases much of his philosophy on the importance of tactical discipline, high levels of fitness as well as the ability to dominate a physical contest. Speed, pace and power are high on the coach’s agenda when it comes to realising those objectives. With a midfielder like ‘Bibo’, you’ve simply got a performer who thrives on snapping at the ankles of the opposition. For a 24-year-old who only stands at a relatively slight five-foot-six inches tall, Ntshumayelo’s box-to-box presence is undoubtedly growing in Parktown. And like Andile Jali before him, he’s fast becoming the man who leads the fight for Bucs!  

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