The PSL is, for the most part, a rather bland and predictable arena. Season after season it’s the same old, same old – the same players, the same coaches, the same dour tactics, the same dodgy technical skills…
But every so now and then, the domestic football top flight churns out a highly talented young footballer to set tongues wagging. Previous incarnations include Benni McCarthy. Steven Pienaar, Mbulelelo Mabizela, Aaron Mokoena, Nasief Morris and Rivaldo Coetzee, to mention just a few.
And now this season, 18-year-old Wits striker Phakamani Mahlambi has pencilled his name in among this illustrious bunch.
Mahlambi’s precocious performances for the Students have been nothing short of sensational. In addition to netting three goals in Wits’ last two fixtures, his skill, technical ability and game maturity set him in a class of his own. His eye-catching displays have inspired the Clever Boys to the top of the PSL standings.
And if there’s anybody who knows what a young, emerging talent looks like, it’s Wits coach Gavin Hunt. The 51-year-old Capetonian was the man who gave a raw 17-year-old McCarthy his first taste of big-time football during his coaching tenure at Seven Stars in the mid-1990s.
Now, he’s unleashed Mahlambi on the PSL, and Hunt believes that at this stage and age, the Wits youngster is even a little better than McCarthy was then.
“To be honest, I haven’t seen a player so quick in a long time,” said Hunt.
“It’s always difficult making comparisons… but I think this kid is better than McCarthy was as a teenager. He can beat people inside a phone booth, that’s how good he is in one-on-one situations. He goes past people in small areas, and he can score goals.”
For Hunt, it’s never about age. It’s always about attitude. And as far as he is concerned, for Mahlambi to realise his full potential, he has to leave the PSL and continue his career in Europe. He’s certainly good enough, and Hunt has already alluded to the fact that some overseas clubs are interest in the youngster.
“We have produced many youngsters recently and given them an opportunity in the PSL,” the Wits coach said. “It’s great to see a player like Mahlambi doing well. He shows great hunger, we just have to work on his final ball, especially when to play the simple ball… because sometimes knowing when to play the simple ball is the hardest thing in football. Decision-making, these are things that come with experience.
“But for me as a coach, if a player is good enough, he is old enough. The most important attribute is attitude. If the attitude is bad, you can’t work with a player.
“There is interest in Mahlambi, there were scouts at our last game against Cosmos. The best thing for him is to get out of the country and further his career abroad. I tell you, I haven’t seen a talent like this in a long time.”