There is a dying breed in South African football, a player who possesses the all important surprise element in his arsenal, a player who can improvise, and use creative movements around the box, with or without the ball to disorganize and break the opposition’s last line of defence with ease.
Such players tend to help their teams create goalscoring chances with a high probability of being converted into goals. This is the type of player that makes us catch our breath. These are the players we talk with joy about and yearn to see.
Unfortunately, in South Africa, that type of player is a dying breed, especially in the Dstv Premiership.
“Players like Thomas Muller and Themba Zwane are space navigators and they are a dying breed. You only have to watch ‘Mshishi’ navigate his way through the pitch to understand what he gives,” said Mokwena in an article published by The Citizen on the 13th of September 2022.
You can find them in abundance in Kasi tournaments, but in the PSL, the best we have is Themba Zwane and Thembinkosi Lorch.
Lorch, who recently returned from an injury, showed why he is a special player last Saturday night, inspiring Orlando Pirates to a 2-0 win over All Stars.
And he is still far from his best in terms of match fitness, one can only imagine how much of a damage he can do to opposition defensive lines when he reaches his peak condition.
Lorch’s comment after the game highlights the importance of having a player like him on the pitch, and his coach, Jose Riveiro, knows it too.
“The coach told me that I must find space; I must find a pocket. Even if you can check the first goal, I was half-space, then I passed to Dzvuka [Terrence Dzvukamanja], then Dzvuka crossed to Saleng.”
Sinethemba Badela, a promising tactician coaching at All Stars, who lost 2-0 to Orlando Pirates in the Nedbank Cup last 32 match, also emphasized Lorch’s importance for Orlando Pirates.
“A Lorch that’s on the pitch is good for South African football and you can see the quality, the movement in between the lines, how he turns, provokes the defenders to come at him.” – All Stars coach Sinethemba Badela.
Mshishi’s influence at Mamelodi Sundowns is well documented, up to a point where a Downs team without him in the starting line up is never the same.
The midfielder’s exploits for Mamelodi Sundowns were so good that they even convinced a stubborn Hugo Broos to call him up for the national team, after giving him an ice cold shoulder, ignoring calls from the South African football fraternity to include the talented midfielder in the Bafana set up.
Perhaps, the following passages from an article written by Hamza-Sello Ladwaba, published on Breakingthelines.com, explores Themba Zwane’s influence on the field of play more than I could ever attempt.
“Although he does not mind dropping deep to collect the ball from the defensive line, his great strength is receiving behind the midfield line on the half-turn, before facing the defensive line and sliding a teammate through towards goal.”
“The data shows that he often scores and creates a lot of goal-scoring opportunities. He averages just under 0.55 xA and just above 0.5 xG. These numbers translated to an accumulative xG of 10.47 while scoring 11 goals. He further recorded and accumulative xA of 10.01, while assisting eight goals (data courtesy of @mba_lm).”
“In the 2019-20 ABSA Premiership season, Themba Zwane was directly involved in at least one goal in every 102.84 minutes. Usually deployed as an attacking midfield player or an inverted wide midfielder, Mshishi tends to influence games from making attacking runs from midfield to the attacking line. He always arrives late in the box unmarked, usually because he would have been involved in the build-up phase that would have led to the ball entering the area.”
*Look out for part two of this article, as ThisIsFootball.Africa explores this issue further.