SA football desperately needs to end goals drought

2014-08-09 00:00

ANOTHER PSL season is under way, and I find myself dipping my toes into the water with both excitement and trepidation.

KwaZulu-Natal is short-changed with Golden Arrows in the NFD, but Maritzburg United in the Midlands and AmaZulu in Durban will represent the Zulu Kingdom.

The beginning of every season brings a sense of anticipation. Watching the two KZN clubs on their quest for a top-half finish — Usuthu are actually eyeing a top-four finish — will be intriguing enough. But it is the title race that really catches the eye with what many are anticipating to be a four-horse race. Champions Mamelodi Sundowns are drenched in wealth, resources and a seemingly limitless squad of players.

The credentials of Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates speak for themselves and both sets of supporters will settle for nothing less than the championship.

The real underdog of the season, according to many a critic from up north, are Gavin Hunt’s Wits. The Students finished third in the league last season, ahead of Pirates, and there is a feeling that they could go a step further and challenge for honours in 2014/15. The potential of four teams thrashing it out for 10 months is mouth-watering.

The PSL remains an almost impossible league to predict. Moroka Swallows went from challenging for the title under Gordon Igesund in 2011/12 to flirting with relegation just two seasons later. That’s how quickly it can change. On any given day, any of the 16 teams can win against any opposition. This is part of what makes the league such an exciting one to follow. But the unfortunate truth is that much of the reason that the PSL is unpredictable has to do with the quality of football on offer.

So often we see the favoured sides dominate matches while displaying an all too familiar inability to finish off chances. It is a common theme of South African football now, expected whenever a match kicks off. That is not to say that the quality isn’t there. All over the park players demonstrate their skills in fleeting glimpses. A deft touch here, a precision pass there and expertly timed tackles aplenty.

But in between these heart-in-mouth moments are long periods of frustration for coaches, players and fans.

I remember a game day towards the end of last season where 12 or 14 of the 16 PSL sides were in action at the same time. As half time approached, there wasn’t a goal scored anywhere in the country. All of the matches were deadlocked at 0-0. Because scoring goals is such a problem for PSL sides, coaches know that they are a rarity and that conceding once could end in defeat.

The result is that, often, coaches will approach a match with a defensive mind-set that prioritises not conceding over scoring. So, we begin a horrible cycle. The PSL needs more goals, but how are we to get to that point when coaches are too scared to go out looking for goals for fear of conceding goals? The blame can’t really lie with the coaches, either. It is log points that ultimately determine a season, not a noble quest to play entertaining football.

Watching a Pirates or Chiefs side in full flight, 2-0 up in front of their home fans, is an experience. There is relaxed freedom that comes over the players and that is when we get to see their true ability. But the league is so competitive that such a situation seldom arises. Instead, we see far too many sloppy attempts at snatching a winning goal by any means necessary.

Let’s hope that this season we see more coaches taking fearless approaches of attacking intent. SA football needs goals now more than ever.

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