Siyabonga Nomvethe, who whilst well into his 30's, netted 20 goals for Moroka Swallows seven seasons ago. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/Backpagepix
Siyabonga Nomvethe, who whilst well into his 30's, netted 20 goals for Moroka Swallows seven seasons ago. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/Backpagepix
We don't have a problem of playing football in SA, but a mental block that stops our players from putting the ball in the back of the net, insists Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix
We don't have a problem of playing football in SA, but a mental block that stops our players from putting the ball in the back of the net, insists Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN – It's a problem which is not going to just go away, and it's an issue that's holding back the national team as well as nearly all clubs in South Africa's football leagues.

It's not something new, but it's a problem that's seemingly getting worse and becoming more noticeable. And with coaches alluding to issue after nearly every game, it's a topic that continues to pop up in the media and on chat forums.

Only once in the last 12 years has a PSL striker hit the 20-goal-mark, and that was Siyabonga Nomvethe, who whilst well into his 30's, netted 20 goals for Moroka Swallows seven seasons ago.

Since then, the amount of goals needed to win the Golden Boot award reads as follows: 13, 10, 14, 14, 13. Which is rather poor for a 30-game league season.

The country's three biggest clubs, Kaizer Chiefs, Pirates and Sundowns, those with seemingly the most spending power, have been struggling for years now to find a reliable goal-scorer, someone who for example can net 30 to 40 goals over two or three seasons. 

The only player in the PSL who has been doing that of late is unfortunately as far as the national team is concerned, from New Zealand – SuperSport United's Jeremy Brockie.

 South Africa's lack of goal-scoring prowess was once again exposed when Bafana Bafana failed for the third successive time to qualify for the World Cup finals. But if their qualifying campaign is analysed, Bafana played well in nearly every game (bar the home match v Cape Verde), only to squander chances upfront.

Unless a new approach is adopted, and more patience is afforded to coaches in this country, it won't be too long before Stuart Baxter becomes the latest causality of a problem which the senior national team coach has virtually no control over. 

By the time a 26-year-old striker is chosen for the national team, he should already be close to the finished article, it shouldn't be Baxter's job to teach him how to shoot; that should have been taken care of during development.

Orlando Pirates coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic for one has been banging on about the goal-scoring issue ever since he returned to the Buccaneers for a second spell, a decade after he was last in the country.

“We don't have a problem of playing football in South Africa,” said the Serbian. “The problem is the mental block that stops our players from putting the ball in the back of the net. That's why our national team didn't qualify for the World Cup. 

“From what I saw in Polokwane and Dakar, Senegal (who qualified at Bafana's expense) will be a punching bag in Russia if they don't quickly improve. I have been to 138 countries, believe me, I have never seen this amount of misses in my life.” 

The verdict is still out on as to whether Micho has been to 138 countries, but his point is valid nonetheless!

We don't have a problem of playing football in SA, but a mental block that stops our players from putting the ball in the back of the net, insists Pirates coach Milutin Sredojevic Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

On their day, Bafana have matched some of the world's best teams, impressing with their brilliant build-up play, where our players' natural flair comes to the fore. But the bottom line is that goals win games and earn points and qualification to major tournaments and in South Africa, we are short of natural goal-scorers.

Instead, PSL club bosses continue to fire and hire new coaches, hoping they will miraculously fix things. Or, they go hunting in Africa for prolific forwards, hoping to pick up a bargain in places like Zimbabwe and Zambia, countries which have been far outdoing South Africa in terms of the quality and quantity of strikers being produced. Lately, when options in Africa run dry, PSL clubs seem to be turning to South America to try and find goal scorers.

It's not that our players lack the skill or ability, they are blessed with these in abundance. The problem might instead lie in the culture of the beautiful game in this nation. Here, it's very much about trickery, clever flicks, deft touches, nimbleness of foot and movement. We're never short of brilliant midfielders.

Street football is played with a couple of stones as goals and as such, there is very little to no shooting involved, it's all about trying to outwit one's opponents and being able to walk the ball into the goal. And too often this kind of approach is carried over to the club environment, at both amateur and professional levels.

Not to say that flair and freedom of expression should be eradicated or that we should adopt a rigid old-school-European approach. But skill and trickery are only a part of the greater footballing puzzle, of which South Africa is clearly missing a piece.

Scoring goals is a habit, and also largely a mental issue – it's the most difficult thing to do on the pitch. The problem appears to be that this habit is not encouraged and nurtured enough from the early years of development.

There is surely no doubt, South African soccer players' ability taken into account, that we could produce world-class strikers (as we have done in the past). But only if the focus is shifted. African-born players, or least those of direct African lineage, are certainly managing to get it right, in the biggest league across Europe.

So when our soccer bosses talk of development, and when SAFA executives announce pipe-dreams like 'Vision 2018/ Vision 2222', etcetera, fixing the striking malaise should be at the top of the priority and budget lists.

It won't be easy, there is no quick fix, and it could take as long as a generation. But if the commitment is there and the money is made available, we can start looking at things like specialised striker coaches across the professional leagues, and striker-specific academies, where the most promising young forwards can on a regular basis hone their skills in a productive goal-scoring manner, while still in their formative years. 

So that by the time they are ready to play in the PSL, goal-scoring is second nature and engrained in their DNA. 

African News Agency (ANA)

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