Johannesburg - Some years ago, I worked with an elderly gentleman who was a staunch AmaZulu FC supporter.
However, he used to confess that Nelson “Teenage” Dladla nearly made him switch his allegiance to Kaizer Chiefs.
There were many Amakhosi supporters then who swore by their ancestors' bones that they only supported the club because of 'Mgabadeli's' trickery on the field.
You see, Dladla was the sort of player who could carry the club on his tiny shoulders when the chips were down.
Quite a scrawny fellow, he had a huge heart and the temerity to sometimes take on defenders twice if not thrice his size, slice through them and score vital goals or lay them on a silver platter for his team-mates to finish.
He was not the only one.
In that era, he was surrounded by team-mates such as Patrick “Ace” Ntsoelengoe, Jan “Malombo” Lechaba and others who could do the same.
They could be relied on when things were not going their club’s way.
In the same era, Orlando Pirates had Jomo “Troublemaker” Sono who could carry the club single-handedly.
The story of how he left his wife Gail at the alter on their wedding day upon hearing that his dear club was losing to Highlands Park, opting instead to rush to the stadium and help Bucs out, is legendary.
Way before the arrival of the likes of Sono, Ntsoelengoe, Dladla and other players of that generation such as Cedric “Sugar Ray” Xulu (AmaZulu), Lucas “Masterpieces” Moripe (Pretoria Bantu Callies), Wellington Wesi (Mangaung United), Alfred “Ace” Mgedeza (Welkom Real Hearts), Themba “Thizah” Thwala (Lamontville Golden Arrows), Thomas “Junior” Ngobe (Witbank Black Aces), that kind of a player was the hallmark of South African football.
One can trace this to the 50s and 60s where Stephen “Kalamazoo” Mokone (Durban Bush Bucks), Daram Mohen (Avalon Athletics), Different “City Council” Mbanya (Moroka Swallows), Eric “Scara” Sono and later Kaizer “Chincha Guluva” Motaung (both of Orlando Pirates) played this role at their respective clubs.
Journalists would run out of superlatives in describing these players in their match previews and go overboard in their match reports because of the magic they possessed and produced on the playing field.
One might be accused of being wrapped up in the warmth of nostalgia but even for some recent generations such as the times of Jerry “Legs of Thunder” Skhosana and Doctor “16-V” Khumalo, that magic still existed.
So what has gone wrong with our football that we no longer have such a crop of players?
There are no playmakers who take the game by the scruff of the neck or produce magic that turns the odds in favour of their clubs when the chips are down.
One watches with glee when Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid and Portugal) and Phillip Coutinho (Liverpool and Brazil) take responsibility and dictate terms.
However, there is a serious dearth of such a player on our shores and in our Premier League.
Is it something to do with our development? If so, why – just like the failure to score goals – is it not being addressed and sorted out?
It doesn’t have to be strikers and midfielders only doing that.
One can think of the likes of Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba who spent all his playing career as a defender but always chipped in when the going got tough and was on several occasions given the role of player/coach at both Pirates and Swallows.
Can such players raise their hands lest we continue having as dour a season as we’ve witnessed so far?
S'Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa's leading sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of the biggest awards in a career spanning over 30 years. He is currently City Press Sports Editor.
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