OJ set to show Downs his new tricks

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iol spt dec4 Old John

Gallo Images

Clive Barker believes Mbulelo Mabizelas, left, star could yet be resuscitated to become one of South Africas best. Photo by Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images

He’s been decried as a false hero who wasted his immense talent, but according to Clive Barker, Mbulelo Mabizela’s star could yet be resuscitated to become one of South Africa’s best.

Barker, the Black Aces coach, will place a lot of responsibility on Mabizela tonight, when the Mpumalanga side host Mamelodi Sundowns in an Absa Premiership fixture (Mbombela Stadium, 7.30pm).

“He’s simply incredible,” said Barker yesterday, as he sang praises of the player nicknamed OJ. “He’s a great team man. I reckon in about six weeks we’ll see the very best of him, and I’d be quite surprised if (national coach) Gordon Igesund ignores him.”

Not many people have ever doubted Mabizela’s exceptional talent, which saw him recruited by Tottenham Hotspur 10 years ago, but his off-the-field indiscretions have been too many to convince anyone if the now 33-year-old can still cut it at international level.

Aces are his ninth professional side in a 13-year career, but Barker is convinced he’ll get South Africa raving about the KwaZulu-Natal born player again. “What impresses me the most about OJ is that he can play anywhere. I’m not even sure where I’ll put him (tonight). It’s only a matter of time before he challenges to be our goalkeeper, such is his talent. He’s focused now and over the past few weeks, I’ve seen that he’s a super player. I thought he deserved the man of the match award in our last match against (Bidvest) Wits.”

AmaZayoni are unbeaten in five matches, and Barker will count on Mabizela’s experience to hold their own against Pitso Mosimane’s rampaging Sundowns, who have won five of their past six matches and have not lost a league game to Aces for nearly 20 years. “I’m expecting a tough game against a side that’s top of the standings,” Barker said. “Pitso’s got them playing some nice football. They are a great team but I’m confident that the youth and experience in our team can handle them.”

Unfortunately for Aces, Sundowns will once again invoke a loan clause that will bar Barker from using three players his team got on loan from the Brazilians. Abel Mabaso, Method Mwanjale and Themba Zwane, who have all featured regularly for Aces, cannot play tonight.

“It’s unfortunate that Sundowns have decided to enforce that clause. Perhaps our hierarchy should have been stronger and insisted on us being able to play these guys. But while I’m disappointed, I have a philosophy that someone else can always come in and do the job. It’s always like that in football – when one door closes, another opens. But there’s no doubt we’ll miss the three players.”

Barker identified Khama Billiat as Sundowns’ most dangerous player, who will have to be watched closely tonight. “He’s a great ball player and we have to make sure he doesn’t hurt us,” he said of the Zimbabwean, even as his team reported yesterday that he’s doubtful and may have to be put through a late fitness test. Sundowns are also expected to be without midfielder Bongani Zungu.

Fixtures

7.30pm unless stated

Tonight: Celtic v Arrows, Kaizer Sebothelo Stadium; Tuks v FS Stars, Tuks Stadium; Swallows v Wits, Dobsonville; Aces v Sundowns, Mbombela

Friday: Ajax v Maritzburg, Cape Town Stadium, 8pm

Sunday: Polokwane City v Aces, Peter Mokaba Stadium, 3.30pm

Standings

P W D L F A Pts

Sundowns 10 7 2 1 23 10 23

Chiefs 11 6 3 2 16 9 21

Platinum 12 5 4 3 14 12 19

Swallows 11 5 3 3 17 13 18

SuperSport 11 5 3 3 17 13 18

AmaZulu 13 4 5 4 13 19 17

Wits 10 4 4 2 8 5 16

Celtic 11 2 7 2 14 16 13

Ajax 11 3 4 4 9 12 13

Maritzburg 12 3 3 6 8 11 12

Free State 11 3 3 5 9 14 12

Aces 10 2 5 3 9 11 11

Polokwane 12 3 2 7 12 15 11

Pretoria 11 3 2 6 7 10 11

Arrows 11 3 1 7 9 15 10

Pirates 5 2 1 2 5 5 7 - The Star


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