JOHANNESBURG - When Siphiwe Tshabalala recalled his numbers for the 2016/17 season earlier last month, after he’d picked up an award for the best goal in March, those statistics forced a grimace on several faces in the room.
“I’ve not been at my best so far,” the veteran Kaizer Chiefs midfielder said at the time, adding that he’d only managed four goals and three assists compared to last season, where he ended the campaign with four goals and 16 assists in all competitions.
It was easy to conclude that the 32-year-old Amakhosi star had had an abnormal season and wasn’t likely to improve with only a month left before the 2016/17 edition of the Absa Premiership is wrapped up.
But Tshabalala stepped up last week - big time.
With Chiefs trailing Cape Town City in the Mother City during one of numerous top-of-the-table clashes around the country last Tuesday, he grabbed the equaliser with a goal that we are all still talking about.
Pity Amakhosi went on to lose 3-2.
And then on Saturday night at Mbombela Stadium, Tshabalala proved the stunning strike was no fluke as he replicated the same clever chip from outside the box to catch SuperSport United goalkeeper Reyaad Pieterse unaware and off his line, much like he did to City’s Shu-Aib Walters, to give Chiefs the lead.
Mandla Masango scored to get the two teams level-pegging again, but the Glamour Boys would again be on the front foot courtesy of Tshabalala.
This time he jogged into the opposition box and patiently waited for teammate Ramahlwe Mphahlele to deliver a low cross from the right flank before he picked his spot to beat Pieterse for the second time on the night.
Pity Amakhosi went on to draw the match 2-2, potentially ending their championship hopes.
But on a night when coach Steve Komphela was left frustrated at the prospect of finishing yet another season without a trophy at Chiefs, Tshabalala, who was playing his 300th game for the Glamour Boys, was a notable highlight.
“Unbelievable, unbelievable,” was Komphela’s initial reaction when asked to give his thoughts on Tshabalala.
“And he is still going on. We wish him well. He is a great servant of the game, of this club and a great role model. And we hope he will get another 300 matches under his belt.”
That’s a bit of a stretch, given than it took Tshabalala a decade to cover that kind of mileage, but Komphela only had good intentions with that statement, and more.
“He scores unbelievable goals,” the coach added.
“The goal he scored in Cape Town is one for the archives. The one he scored against SuperSport, a replica. It’s amazing.
“Let’s just pray he stays healthy and fit. We brought him out early (in the 58th minute) because the legs are starting to give. It’s too much and we need to find a way to rest them. ‘Shabba’ came out because he could feel the thigh was starting to give.”
While the trophy cabinet might be empty in Naturena, Tshabalala has at least collected every winners’ medals the elite league has to offer - the league title, the MTN8, the Telkom Knockout, Nedbank Cup, as well as 90 appearances for the national team.
He has not wasted it.