JOHANNESBURG - To compare Lebo Mothiba to the great Alan Shearer is a bit of an overreach. He dresses more like a schoolteacher than a footballer, with his jersey nicely tucked in as if he’s going to hand out life’s lessons.
But it’s more what he offers on the pitch that matters. He could very well be the best striker for Bafana Bafana since the national team’s all-time leading goal-scorer, Benni McCarthy.
Mothiba, who was likened to England and Newcastle United legend Shearer by coach Stuart Baxter at the weekend, has scored five goals in nine matches for his French Ligue 1 club RC Strasbourg. His Bafana scoring record is three goals in three appearances before yesterday’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Seychelles.
He is the first player to net in three consecutive games for the national team following a debut goal against Angola in the Four Nations tournament earlier this year, another one in the same tournament against hosts Zambia and then against Seychelles in the home leg of their qualifier on Saturday, a game Bafana won 6-0.
Mothiba is among several South African players who have never kicked a ball in the local Premier Soccer League, shooting straight to Europe shortly after he’d turned 19. In the early stages of his career he was on the books of Mamelodi Sundowns, but his time there never materialised to anything significant.
He first joined Lille’s B side before he was called up to the senior team earlier this year after impressing in a division below the topflight. Strasbourg reportedly spent R135m to lure him away in the final days of the transfer window at the start of this season - if that doesn’t speak to his quality then it would be difficult to find anything else that does.
One thing that wasn’t a stretch from Baxter’s comments was his plea to Bafana supporters to not put pressure on Mothiba’s “young shoulders”. But as my colleague Lungani Zuma brilliantly responded to that statement, Mothiba, 22, has such broad shoulders he has been able to assume the mantle for a top division French team week in week out, why can’t he continue doing so in national colours? If you are good enough, you are old enough, the adage goes.
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