OH, THE curse of playing for the ‘wrong club’! Under normal circumstances, Jabu Maluleke would be among the most celebrated footballers in this country.

But because he plays for obscure Polokwane City, the midfielder is nowhere near the limelight. Had he been at one of the Gauteng clubs, he’d be a headliner with plenty of Bafana Bafana caps.

For the past three seasons, Maluleke has been one of the most consistent players in the Absa Premiership. As captain of Rise and Shine, he is also the conductor of their fluid, attacking game that has seen them play arguably the most exciting football by any of the elite teams.

Granted, they were pathetic defensively under Kosta Papic, but when they went forward City were a joy to behold. And Maluleke was always the architect of their moves. Slight of frame, the 34-year-old is cut from the good-old creative playmaker role of days gone by - ala Ace Khuse, brilliant at fetching, carrying and distributing the ball.

You always see him jogging back to his own half to fetch the ball. And once in possession, you almost always know he will create something special. A feint to leave an onrushing opponent in his wake, a lift of the head to see his teammates and then an inch perfect pass - that’s Maluleke’s game. And at the root of it is football intelligence, Maluleke clearly a thinking player who always looks to have long decided what he is going to do with the ball before he receives it. And he has been doing it consistently for many seasons.

Add to that play-making repertoire his speciality as a set-piece taker supreme and you have a player who should surely have at least an international cap, especially in the previous two seasons.

I watched Maluleke again on Sunday as he led City’s domination of Orlando Pirates in their 1-1 draw at the Peter Mokaba Stadium and couldn’t help but wonder just how unfair the game can be.

While the crowd went ballistic at Oupa Manyisa showing off his skills without using them, Maluleke sprayed defence splitting passes all over the field to put Pirates under the kosh.

Of course, he is a bit old now and will probably never get to play for Bafana. In any case, the role of a creative playmaker has long been rendered obsolete at our senior national team, with Teko Modise and Papi Zothwane the last of the species to don the yellow and green.

But those of us who enjoy watching intelligent players do their thing with consummate ease will never tire of the likes of Maluleke. It is just a pity that he plays in a country where you need to play for one of the big clubs to get recognition.

The Star