Friday, 29 July 2011

Will Benni Buc up his ideas?

A mention of the word hunger in reference to Benni McCarthy usually has the headline writers rolling out all the old cliches about South Africa's most famous footballer.

'Fat Benni throws fit' was my particular favourite last May as he refused to attend a scheduled press conference at the pre-World Cup training camp after hearing a member of the coaching staff had criticised the veteran striker's weight on Brazilian TV.

But with the man who won the Champions League under Jose Mourinho at FC Porto in 2003 looking destined to return home, Benni is big news again. And this time, he claims to be hungry for silverware rather than sandwiches.

Having spent the past week training where it all began for him nearly 14 years ago, McCarthy appeared to rule out a move to Ajax Cape Town in preference for one of the Soweto giants an exclusive interview with Kickoff editor Richard Maguire.

"I'm still ambitious to win more trophies," he said.

"Orlando Pirates are talking about winning the African Champions League – I could become the first player to win the Champions League in Europe and in Africa. That will be a special record."

And with Ajax having relinquished Thulani Serero to Europe, treble-winning Pirates would certainly offer him a  better chance of more medals, while Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns have also registered an interest. The question is whether the 33-year-old Benni would get in any of their teams having barely played a match for the last year?

Despite winning an unprecedented treble last season, Dutch legend Ruud Krol was relieved of his duties as the Buccaneers' coach by owner Irvin Khoza and replaced by Brazilian Julio Leal. That would give McCarthy an opportunity to stake a claim for a starting spot under the new boss, although you can just imagine the pressure quickly mounting if the reigning champions get off to a slow start.

Future Bafana striker Bongani Ndulula - who recently beat Siyabonga Nomvete's goalscoring record for the national under 23 side - has already welcomed his prospective signing and there is no doubt that McCarthy still possesses the ability to be a hit in the PSL. But with so many speedy young players emerging in South Africa's top flight, would Benni still have the turn of pace to show off his unparalleled finishing ability? 

Goal-scoring is certainly a department where the league has struggled in recent seasons and in the man who has scored 33 times at international level, whoever signs him will have a master of the art at their disposal.

Whatever happens, you suspect the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

'Smash and grab' Musona to blaze a trail in the Bundesliga

 It's almost three weeks since I wrote on this blog about Knowledge Musona's trip to discuss a transfer to Germans TFG Hoffenheim. And, after much delay and the accompanying inevitable speculation, the 21-year-old's move will be confirmed by Kaizer Chiefs at a press conference on Thursday.

Hoffenheim's sporting director Ernst Tanner was reported to have arrived in Johannesburg on Wednesday to close the deal for around £1.3 million, making Musona the first Zimbabwean to play in Germany since the wonderfully-named Newton Ben Katanha turned out for second division Armina Bielefeld in 2004. 

But whereas his dreadlocked compatriot is now plying his trade in the second tier of the Swiss League, don't expect the man his home press refer to as ' Smash and Grab' to fade into obscurity.
When the deal is finally announced, Musona will be joining a competitive and ambitious Hoffenheim squad that finished 11th in last season's Bundesliga. Less than 20 years ago, the club from a tiny village in the south-western corner of the country languished in the eighth tier of  German football but steady progression and an injection of enthusiasm and funds from software millionaire Dietmar Hopp saw them turn professional in 2007.

Immediate promotion was followed by a stunning start to life in the top flight as they won the 'Herbstmeister' title awarded to the team who are top at Christmas. Injury to Bosnian striker Vedad Ibisevic eventually saw them drop down to seventh but the club has since maintained its status as a rising force in German football with two successive 11th-placed finishes.

With Celtic and several English clubs also known to have expressed an interest, Musona could certainly have made more money elsewhere (Neil Lennon offered almost £1 million more a few weeks ago). However, it is Hoffenheim's track record at bringing through African players that has persuaded the young striker to take the plunge.

Demba Ba, Chinedu Obasi and Boubacar Sanogo - who incidentally pulled out of a trial alongside Katlego Mphela at Celtic this week with toothache - all played an integral part in the imaginatively-nicknamed 'Hoffe's' historic debut season in the Bundesliga, with the former having enjoyed a decent start to his career in England despite relegation with West Ham. Musona should therefore get plenty of opportunity to show what he can do.
A spectacular start would certainly be welcomed by national team coach Norman Mapeza. Warriors' fans will be licking their lips to see if he can continue to build on his excellent partnership with powerful Mamelodi Sundowns striker Nyasha Mushekwi (match-fixing allegations pending, of course) but with the team still in with a chance of qualifying for next year's African Nations Cup, it could be a first finals appearance since 2006.
Newton Ben Katanha may struggle to get an invite this time though.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Sven's loss could be Tsepo and Macca's gain

You could forgive Tsepo Masilela for being more than slightly annoyed right now. The Bafana Bafana left back was in Sweden a couple of weeks ago as he looked to put the finishing touches to his season-long loan to Leicester City, when along comes Liverpool misfit Paul Konchesky.

Despite having worked on a deal with Masilela and his club Maccabi Haifa nearly two months, Leicester boss Sven Goran Eriksson decided to pull the plug at the last minute and sign the one-time England international  instead. Sound unfair? Just a little bit - but then Sven has never really been known for his loyal streak.

While manager of England, the Swede was famously courted by Roman Abramovich to take over at Chelsea and was even fooled into accepting an apparently lucrative deal to join Aston Villa presented by the infamous 'Fake Sheikh' in a sting for the now defunct News of the World. And then there were all the women.

So it should really have come as no surprise to Masilela and his representatives that the slippery Sven ducked out of a deal at the last minute. After all, with the likes of Lazio and Notts County behind him, Eriksson is busy building yet another over-priced squad that will be under enormous pressure to achieve promotion at the first time of asking and has no time to think about niceties such as keeping your word.

All of which leaves Masilela in a very difficult situation. Having seen the move to Leicester fall through, he has been training with PSL club Moroka Swallows in a bid to retain his fitness.

Meanwhile, his club Maccabi Haifa will face a crucial third round qualifying match against Slovenian champions Maribor on Wednesday as they bid to win a place in the Champions League group stages. But with the Israeli champions having already agreed to allow the full back to depart and having finalised their squad, Masilela finds himself out in the wilderness with only weeks left to resolve his future.

Salvation could come in the form of another ex-England manager. New Nottingham Forest boss Steve McClaren served as Eriksson's assistant before infamously bungling his attempt to fill the top post as his team failed to qualify for Euro 2008.

Winning the Dutch title with FC Twente went some way to rebuilding his shattered reputation (Dutch impressions aside, even if the spell with in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg didn't end so well. Nonetheless, Forest have decided to give chance to return to his home country and it seems there is a good chance Masilela could join him after speaking to his agent Mike Makaab this week.

And with Forest having finished a full eight points clear of Leicester in the Championship last season, who is to say McClaren will not have the last laugh over his former boss?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Serero set for superstardom

It's nearly 13 years since a youngster called Benni McCarthy blazed a trail for South African players in Europe as he fired nine goals for new club Ajax Amsterdam on their way to Dutch league and cup double.

Several Bafana Bafana players - most notably Aaron Mokoena and Steven Pienaar - have been and gone since that 1998 season, but the arrival of the sensational Thulani Serero to the Amsterdam Arena could easily overshadow his compatriots.

The 21-year-old made his first appearance for the four-time champions of Europe on Wednesday and marked his debut with a goal in a 3-0 victory over Danish side Brondby. Having monitored Serero for some time as he learned his trade at Ajax's sister club in Cape Town, you would have thought manager Frank de Boer would have known exactly what he was paying around 2 million euros for back in May but even he admitted to being taken aback at the quality of his new signing.

“Everyone told me how good he was, but even then he surprised me,” De Boer said yesterday.

“Serero is a player with talent dripping off him. He is incredibly quick and a very clever player.”

 High praise indeed, although South African fans will tell you Serero's skill is no secret. He swept the board at the end of season awards just before the deal to Holland was confirmed, relegating treble-winning Orlando Pirates midfielder Andile Jali ( the other top-class talent to have emerged from South Africa in the last five years) to second place.

But while Jali has already become a first-choice for Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane, his good friend Thulani has been used sparingly so far at national team level. That will surely change if, as predicted by de Boer and many others, the boy from Soweto takes the Eredivise by storm.

Quiet and unassuming, Serero lets his feet do the talking on the pitch and has added the ability to score goals to his brilliant passing and dribbling ability. Yet he is by no means the finished product and could certainly have scored plenty more than the 10 goals he managed last season as Ajax Cape Town blew their chances of a first league title on the final day of the season.

A year under the tutelage of Dennis Bergkamp - currently assistant to de Boer - should definitely help, as will his spell staying with a local family provided by the club. That should ensure Serero can do enough to force his way into a team that reclaimed the title for the first time since 2004 last term and will have designs on a place in the Champions League knockout stages.

So as McCarthy trains where it all began for him back in The Mother City, Dutch football should get ready for Mzansi's latest magician. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

As good as Gould

Being rejected is one of the worst feelings in the world. But it's a measure of the man that Morgan Gould decided to take my call earlier on today when the news that he hadn't quite made the grade at Selhurst Park was confirmed.

I've been speaking to the Bafana Bafana defender via his compatriot Kagisho Dikgacoi's phone since he arrived on trial at Crystal Palace last week and he must have groaned when the phone rang on his way to the airport. Most people would probably have just ignored it and got their head down before the long fight back to South Africa but Morgan answered, gave me a couple of quotes for Kickoff's website and tried to sound as upbeat as possible.

He was obviously disappointed having pinned his hopes on a move to Europe but it seems the price-tag of around  £500,000 was just too much of a stretch for Palace. Manager Dougie Freedman had to pretty much beg chiarman Steve Parish to release the funds to purchase KG from Fulham earlier his month and quotes from the Croydon Advertiser's website confirmed that he felt it was just too much for a player who has never played for a club outside his native country.

Pre-season matches against Basingstoke Town and Wycombe Wanderers were probably not enough to really test him, although Freedman knows he must live or die by decisions like this one. Gould nonetheless has taken the blow on the chin and is still hopeful that he may find a new club before the start of the new season, with plenty in South Africa certainly keen.

Europe remains the ideal destination though and even though he has undoubted pedigree as an established international, his age and the transfer fee in these depressed times make things difficult. Agent Glyn Binkin has often spoken about interest from Russia in the past so maybe there is some hope for him.

For Palace, the quest for a new centre back goes on. Rumours that Antony Gardner could be on his way would certainly explain Freedman's reluctance to offer Gould a deal, while French defender Francois Marque could be a much cheaper option with Champions League experience.

But, sadly, the prospect of two Bafana players turning out every week for the Eagles will have to wait.
Unless Freedman fancies a punt on fish and chip empresario Siphiwe Tshabalala, that is? Palace could certainly do with a bit of extra bite in midfield.

You can see my interview with Morgan Gould for Kickoff at

Dan Jones' Croydon Advertiser article is here:

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

RIP Johannes 'Mzion' Mofokeng

The passing of Johannes 'Mzion' Mofokeng this week has shocked everyone in South African football. I first met the Orlando Pirates official 'Number 1' supporter a few months before the 2010 World Cup and interviewed him several times for the book I have written on the tournament.
Here is an exclusive extract in tribute to a real football fan.

Born to a local pastor in the 1950s, Johannes Mafokeng’s family been forced to move from Meyerton - a small town to the south of Johannesburg - to a newly-built township 20 kilometres up the road called Sebokeng in 1966 after the National Party introduced its Group Areas Act.
At an early age, Mzion was forced to choose between his two major passions in life– football and the church. The former won hands down, even if his nickname provided a constant reminder of his religious background.
By the time Nelson Mandela had been elected as South Africa’s first black President in 1994, Mzion was a celebrity in the world of local soccer. He became known as the face of ‘The Bucs’ and travelled with the team to Cote D’Ivoire’s capital Abidjan to see them win the CAF Club Championship in 1995, as well as throwing his weight behind the fledgling Bafana Bafana team.
On my visit to meet Mzion a month after Holland and Spain had met in the World Cup Final at Soccer City, it didn’t take long to find his house. Everyone in his part of the township knew where he lived and a massive Orlando Pirates badge painted on a stone outside his driveway gave the game away when we eventually reached his road.
The flags of the tournament’s 32 competing nations still fluttered in the wind on a warm day in early spring as Mzion arranged to show me his astonishing collection of memorabilia. The padlock to the shed where everything is kept was stubbornly refusing to open but his son Nale – aptly wearing a Spiderman costume – was enlisted to climb through the window.
A stream of colourful makarapas and vuvuzelas were handed through to his father, including one effort that featured the faces of Sepp Blatter, Danny Jordaan, Irvin Khoza, Molefi Oliphant and Kaizer Motaung.
“It’s a tribute to all the people who made it possible for the World Cup to come to this country,” Mzion told me with pride.
As we sat down to start the interview, Nale and his older sister Thuli appeared and they had changed into their Bafana Bafana shirts to match their father. The same passion clearly runs in the family.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Killer ready to become a big Bhoy

About time too. Two years after he announced himself to the world with a stunning 30 yard free kick that arrowed into the top corner past future World Cup winning captain Iker Casillas, Katlego Mphela finally looks to be on his way back to Europe after confirmation he will attend a trial at Scottish giants Glasgow Celtic next week.

Agent Glyn Binkin revealed the news to a fellow Kickoff reporter on Monday morning after a weekend that saw his current club Mamelodi Sundowns turn down a bid of around £1.3 million from Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa. Ukranian giants Dynamo Kiev have also shown an interest in signing a player who spent two seasons in France's Ligue Un as a teenager before returning home to rebuild his career in spectacular style, although it seems Neil Lennon's Bhoys are now in pole position.

And should the now 26-year-old who boasts an excellent record of 19 goals in 38 international appearances (second only to a certain Benni McCarthy in Bafana Bafana's all-time list) seal a switch to the SPL, it would finally end one of the most drawn-out transfer sagas in South African football history.

For those that don't know, Mphela became so disillusioned at Sundowns' unwillingness to allow him to test himself once more overseas that he went on strike back in January. For three weeks.

But before any Celtic fans say 'thanks, but no thanks', they should take time to consider the circumstances. Having added another goal from close range in Bafana's thrilling Confederations Cup third-place playoff against Spain in 2009 and begun the new domestic season on fire, his club were inundated with offers from Europe - including a firm £1.5 million from then Premier League side Birmingham City.

Bankrolled by the mining magnate Patrice Motsepe since 2004, Sundowns are known as South Africa's version of Chelsea or Manchester City and have a reputation for not selling players. In fact, the transfer of Bafana full back Siboniso Gaxa to Belgians FC Lierse after the 2010 World Cup (he also went on strike to force through the move) was actually the first time since 2005 that they had allowed anyone to leave the club for a fee.

So when Mphela saw Birmingham, then Russians Terek Grozny and finally Serbian champions Partizan Belgrade all have a series of bids turned down in the course of the next 18 months, he simply panicked. After three weeks of stalemate, national team coach Pitso Mosimane stepped in and arranged for the disillusioned striker to meet with Motsepe to discuss his future, with the club president eventually agreeing to allow his star striker to leave if he stayed until the end of the season.

Mphela returned to the Sundowns team and promptly scored five goals in his first three appearances back, before notching a crucial injury-time strike to lead Bafana to African Nations Cup qualifying victory over reigning champions Egypt. Not a bad advertisement really.

Blessed with searing pace and a lethal eye for goal, it seemed like only a matter if time before Killer would get the chance to put his nightmare spell in France behind him and now, finally, his chance seems to have arrived. Celtic should have no problems meeting the new asking price of around £1.5 million and if all goes to plan, Lennon could have picked up one of the best bargains of the transfer window. 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Tshabalala staying put? You'd batter believe it

Of all the Bafana Bafana players you would have expected to be plying their trade in Europe by now, Siphiwe Tshabalala would have been the most likely candidate. His spectacular goal in the opening match of the 2010 World Cup ensured the man from Phiri in Soweto became a household name overnight and looked destined for a big overseas move.

But 13 months on and the 26-year-old is still at Kaizer Chiefs. Rumours of moves to Turkey, Greece, Spain and even English Premier League heavyweights Manchester United have so far failed to materialise - despite Chiefs' willingness to allow him to leave the club for the right price.

A well-publicised trial with Championship side Nottingham Forest back in January looked as though it had paved the way for Tshabalala to finally make his move but their failure to win promotion and the subsequent sacking of manager Billy Davies ended those hopes. Now, with the new campaign just weeks away, it looks increasingly likely that the player who stepped in for the injured Steven Pienaar to captain Bafana against Egypt last month will spend another season in South Africa's Premier Soccer League (PSL).

It's not for the want of trying either. After his client made no secret of his desire to play overseas (a night rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez et al at Fifa's gala dinner back in January after he was nominated for 'that' goal against Mexico only increased his determination), Tshaba's agent Jazzman Mahlakgane has been working overtime to secure a new deal but to no avail.

Last week, Jazzman admitted for the first time since the Forest trial that there is a strong possibility his client will still be wearing the famous gold and black strip of Amakhosi next season. Now that may not be such a bad prospect for someone who has yet to taste domestic league glory but it’s also slightly embarrassing given Tshabalala’s insistence he would be leaving.

Even at a decent asking price of around 1.5 million, it seems there is no club out there willing to take a punt on an established international who actually now possesses more caps than Pienaar. The main stumbling blocks seem to be his propensity to suffer from injuries and a lack of playing experience outside South Africa, although the latter that hasn't stopped several of his Bafana team-mates making the move in the last few weeks.

In a similar boat has been striker Katlego Mphela, but even he looks as though he may be heading to Europe with Dynamo Kiev and Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa reportedly both ready to make an offer (not that you can begrudge his superb record of 19 goals in 38 caps). That could leave Tshabalala as one of only a handful of last year's World Cup starting line-up still in South Africa, with only goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune and midfielder Reneilwe Letsholonyane alongside him.

At least it's not all doom and gloom for those famous dreadlocks though. The discussions with overseas clubs may not have gone so well of late but at least Jazzman has been proactive in helping Tshaba to purchase the franchise four local fish and chip shops as an investment for the future. Far too many famous Bafana players have fallen on hard times when their careers are over and his new empire should ensure he is never short of a penny or two in years to come.

But ask the player whether he would swap all that for a chance in one of Europe's top leagues and you can bet Tshaba would snap your hand off.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Bongani bides his time

It must have been a strange feeling for Bongani Khumalo as he touched down on South African soil early on Thursday morning. Part of the Tottenham Hotspur squad that arrived for their pre-season tour that will take in matches against Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, the 24-year-old may have been on the same flight as the likes of Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart but his career in England has yet to really take off.

While Modric and the debate about his future at the club will inevitably be the centre of attention throughout Spurs' sejourn in SA, Khumalo will just be glad to be part of the group having spent time on loan at Preston North End and on the treatment table after sustaining a broken foot that ended ihis season back in April. If things go well, he could even find himself making an official appearance in the Lillywhite shirt for the first time over the next couple of weeks.

But with Spurs widely acknowledged as a genuine top-six side these days, that is probably as good as it is going to get for the immaculately-spoken central defender who still plans to one day finish the degree in finance he abandoned to pursue his football dream. Harry Redknapp's assistant Kevin Bond made no secret of the fact that Khumalo is likely to go out on loan again this season, with Glasgow Rangers or Bristol City the likely destination.

Clearly, they see the player who announced himself on the global stage with the second goal of Bafana's memorable win over France at the 2010 World Cup as one for the future. That is fair enough given Khumalo's experience in English football amounts to a handful of games on loan in the Championship, although the number of defensive frailities at White Hart Lane may mean he is called upon sooner than Redknapp might hope.

But another season outside the spotlight of the English Premier League may actually be just the ticket for him. It's questionable whether a spell at Ibrox would provide a sterner test than Ashton Gate - save for the Champions League experience Khumalo could gain in Scotland - and given the success young defender Steven Caulker has last season at Bristol City, Spurs may look closer to home.

For now, though,Bongani has been given the opportunity to show that he belongs in the company of some of the world's best players. And with the presence of Bafana team-mate Steven Pienaar on tour and the friendlies against two sides he will know very well from his PSL days, South Africa should be the perfect platform to do just that.

Who knows, maybe then Harry will keep him on just a little bit longer?       

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Benni's homecoming - fat or fiction?

Sometimes as a journalist you get the kind of quote that makes all the waiting around worthwhile. Having spoken to top South African agent Rob Moore on Monday about his role in helping Kenyan youngster Victor Wanyama get his work permit at Celtic, a quick enquiry into the latest situation on good-old Benni McCarthy produced this gem:

"I spoke to him the other day and he had just got back from Disneyland with his family, but Benni just wants to take a bit of time to decide his next move," said Moore.

Now if the image of Bafana Bafana's record goalscorer tucking into a cheeseburger served by Mickey Mouse isn't funny enough, the idea that a player who is approaching his 34th birthday will be able to waltz back into any team he chooses is even more laughable.

McCarthy's disastrous 18 months at West Ham United yielded precisely no goals and cost the Londoners £1.5 million just to get rid of him back in April. Runaway Championship leaders QPR were interested in taking the former Ajax Amsterdam, FC Porto and Blackburn Rovers striker on loan at one point but his failure to play a competitive match for more than six months now means it's very unlikely another English club will be knocking down his door.

A lucrative deal in the MLS or the Middle East had therefore seemed much more likely for a player who is still remembered by international audiences for his performances for Bafana and for Jose Mourinho's Porto in their famous Champions League triumph back in 2004. However, reports in South Africa on Wednesday say Ajax Cape Town have already held discussions with him and Moore about a return to his home city - more than 13 years since he orginally left.

That would certainly be interesting to see, although something tells me he would be reluctant to sign what will probably be his final contract in the PSL. Despite his heroics for the national team (he has scored 31 international goals, including Bafana's first-ever at a World Cup Finals back in 1998), McCarthy seems to have more enemies than friends in South Africa - mainly due to his perceived 'big-time charlie' atittude that was encapsulated by the infamous sulk during a training camp before the 2010 World Cup.

His refusal to attend a press conference because he had been upset about comments made to a newspaper by the squad's fitness coach about his weight was the beginning of the end as Brazilian boss Carlos Alberto Parreira eventually left him out of his final 23. Even though McCarthy was gracious enough to admit he respected the decison, the strength of public feeling against him in South Africa at the time will surely be at the front of his mind as he considers Ajax's offer.

Whatever he decides, though, Benni had better be quick. I last spoke to Moore about his most famous client on June 16 and was told he was on holiday back then as well. Five weeks of all-you-can-eat buffets will surely have taken a huge toll on any professional - not to mention one who has struggled so badly with his weight in the past - and with the majority of clubs in Europe and South Africa already well into pre-season, time is certainly of the essence.


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Mbazo stuck between rock and a hard place

2011 has hardly been best year so far for Aaron Mokoena. Sensationally dropped by Bafana Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane back in March for the squad's biggest game since the 2010 World Cup, 'Mbazo' also saw his status as a first-team regular at Championship side Portsmouth brought into question as manager Steve Cotterill left the 30-year-old on the bench for the tail-end of the season.

He was back in the starting line-up for Monday night's 4-0 pre-season win over neighbours Havant and Waterlooville but with the competition for a starting spot likely to heat up as the first game of the new season gets closer, it's very doubtful whether he will stay there for long.

Recent stories that the player who won a total of 104 caps is therefore looking for a new club two years after his arrival from Blackburn Rovers were denied by Cotterill a couple of weeks ago, although he did hint he would be allowed to leave for 'a decent fee'. I've been in regular conversation with Mokoena's new agent Dietmar Wendorff (he split from long-term business manager Rob Moore - owner of the Extra Time Agency that also looks after Steven Pienaar and Benni McCarthy - just before the World Cup) and he insists his client has made it clear he would like to leave Fratton Park.

Where he will eventually end up is anyone's guess, although it is hard to imagine a return to the Premier League given the dramatic dip in his performance levels. The UAE has been mentioned by Wendorff as a possibility but given the fact that Mokoena has yet to announce his international retirement, only a move to another major European league would be enough to convince Mosimane he is worth a recall.

His actions after being dropped for the home African Nations Cup qualifier against Egypt in Johannesburg earlier this year may have burned his bridges for good, however. Understandably irked at Mosimane's failure to inform him personally that he was surplus to requirements for such a big match, Mbazo decided to get his retaliation in first and arranged a personal press conference on the eve of the match that most fans in South Africa agreed was ill-timed to say the least.

Regular football and a successful Championship season at Fratton Park may not help his quest to add to his 104 caps - even in a division that is becoming increasingly Bafana Bafana dominated of late. His chief rivals for a starting spot in the national team are both likely to be plying their trade at a similar level next term (Bongani Khuamlo is expected to go on loan from Spurs to Rangers or Bristol City and Morgan Gould is on trial at Crystal Palace this week) and they will take some dislodging after successive clean sheets against the triple African champions.

So it doesn't look good for the international career of a man who this time last year was the proud ambassador for his country's arrival on the global stage. But with his Pompey place also under threat and the riches that are meant to be on offer to him in the Emirates, Mokoena's best bet might be to take the money and run. 

Monday, 11 July 2011

Tsepo joins Sven's latest benefactors

It's hard to think of any supporters who will be looking forward to the start of the season as much as Leicester City's. As Sven Goran Eriksson's spending spree continues at The Walkers Stadium, (the signing of defender Matthew Mills from Reading last week for a club record £4.5 million made it six new signings so far) Bafana Bafana left back Tsepo Masilela joined the Foxes' squad in Sweden this weekend.

He was expected to have his medical ahead on Monday as the first step on completing a year-long deal from Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa, although Eriksson did voice concerns about his fitness last week. But after recovering from a serious knee injury that wrecked the start of his year, the 26-year-old who famously made his international debut before playing in South Africa's top-flight should have no problems having returned to action for his club at the start of April.

A UK permit should then be the only stumbling block but his status as a Bafana Bafana regular and experience of Champions League football should also make that a formality. Whether he can actually get a chance to show what he can do is another matter entirely.

There were rumours on Monday that Eriksson is also sizing up a move for Liverpool reject Paul Konchesky - reportedly on ludicrous wages of around £40,000 a week - and that could mean trouble for Masilela. Even if the man who somehow acquired two England caps takes a substantial pay-cut, his cost and experience of the Championship is likely to put him ahead of the Bafana full back - not to mention the other options already at the club.

Over the weekend, South African coach Pitso Mosimane warned his players that they must not join clubs where they will be spending most of their Saturdays keeping warm on the bench. The Benni McCarthy-dominated days of European-based superstars waltzing back into the Bafana team regardless of whether they were playing for their clubs are clearly over, meaning Masilela may find himself out in the cold very soon.

The lack of a real rival at international should keep him safe for the two remaining African Nations Cup qualifiers, although Bafana's likely presence in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in January will not exactly help his cause at Leicester. A player who is not the most at ease with the media, Masilela will nonetheless get his head down and work hard to fulfil his life-long dream of playing in England's top-flight by making his move permanent next summer.

Under a manager who has already won 17 major trophies for some of Europe's biggest clubs during a 35-year career, he should have a real chance of achieving that. But with UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules due to be introduced next season, it could be now or never for Leicester City.

Their fans will just be hoping Sven's latest spending spree is more Lazio than Notts County.

Friday, 8 July 2011

A little Knowledge goes a long way

The next seven days could be the most important of Knowledge Musona's short career. The Kaizer Chiefs striker turned 21 only three weeks ago but will fly to Germany this weekend to discuss personal terms with TSG Hoffenheim after the South African side accepted an offer of around 1.4 million.

If both sides are satisfied, the player from Norton - a small town 40 kilometres from Harare - will become the latest in a rather short list of Zimbabwean players (Benjani, Plymouth's Onismor Bhasera and, of course, the iconic Peter Ndlovu spring to mind) to have earned a contract in a top European league. With Glasgow Celtic and several other clubs also sniffing around, it is surely only a matter of time until 'The Smiling Assassin' is packing his bags for good.

I first saw Musona playing for Chiefs in his debut season back in October 2009. A product of the Aces Soccer Academy that also supplied exciting striker Khama Billiat to Ajax Cape Town, he came on in the 69th minute against Soweto rivals Moroka Swallows, despite having scored his first-ever goal on his full debut four days earlier.

Chasing the game, the scrawny-looking teenager tried in vain to grab a point for his new club but his raw talent was immediately apparent. Musona scored three more times that season and was voted the league's 'Rookie of the Season', although it wasn't until the start of the new campaign that he really came of age.

An intense fitness programme saw the boy develop into a fully-grown man - certainly way above the 1.69m (5ft 5') suggested on a certain website having seen him up close a few times in my local gym in Jo'burg. And the goals started flowing.

A brilliant performance in the big derby match last November against future league champions Orlando Pirates when he scored twice and forced an embarrasing own goal catapulted Musona to superstar status in South Africa. He was voted the PSL's player of the month twice in succession and feted as the key to Chiefs' championship prospects. (I even dropped my dictaphone at his feet when interviewing him on one occasion while I was asking him how he would spend all his prize-money!)

As is to prove the point, his absence for some of the title run-in did prove fatal for Chiefs as they lost out on the championship to their bitter rivals on the final day. But a return of 15 goals in 25 starts was clearly enough to alert the scouts, with Musona hammering home the point with a double for his country against Mali last month.

Ambitious Hoffenheim have certainly been tracking him ever since that Pirates massacre and given their reputation for developing African players such as Demba Ba and Isaac Vorsah, Germany could be the perfect stage. But with his pace, finishing ability and growing physique, the Bundesliga may just be a stop-gap.  

Thursday, 7 July 2011

No way to treat a legend

Anyone who watched the Confederations Cup in 2009 will remember the name Matthew Booth. You know, 'the only white bloke in the Bafana Bafana team' and all that?

Well, just over two years on from his rapid ascent to fame that saw some Spanish journalists erroneously report that South African fans were booing his every touch (of course, it was simply the locals playing homage to an icon by shouting his name - 'Boooooooooooth!'), he finds himself out of work.

A few weeks ago, Mamelodi Sundowns informed the now 34-year-old that his contract would not be renewed next season and he is now left with the prospect of recovering from a serious injury without the support of a club.  Booth played his last match for Sundowns back in February, when he was ruled out for at least six months with a very serious knee injury.

At the time, his club were in the running for the PSL title but their subsequent failure under caretaker coach Ian Gorowa - incidentally the sixth boss since Booth returned from seven years in Russia in 2009 - saw the man from Fish Hoek near Cape Town shown to the exit door. A five-minute meeting with CEO Kenneth Makhanya was all he was afforded and, with almost two months of his rehab still to run, Booth's agent is now trying to secure him a deal elsewhere.

That's not an easy prospect when he still can't kick a ball in anger quite yet, but the man who is still fluent - if a little rusty-  in Russian, remains hopeful something will be resolved soon. Nonetheless, a week spent on the dole is quite a contrast from December 2009, when Booth shared a stage with David Beckham et al at the 2010 World Cup draw.

In the six months before and after that night, the towering figure with the distinctive bald head and mixed-race children (thanks to his marriage to former beauty queen Sonia Bonneventia) became an icon for the 'new South Africa' as they prepared to welcome the world. The English tabloids even christened them 'SA's Posh and Becks', although Booth would certanly have swapped all the adulation for a minute of action on the pitch last June.

Unfortunately for him, Bongani Khumalo's emergence alongside captain Aaron Mokoena meant he had to watch on in frustration from the bench as Bafana Bafana bowed out in the group stages. Despite the setback, he had made a good start to the new season alongside future star Siyanda Xulu but the annual managerial crisis that erupted at Sundowns at the turn of the year was the beginning of the end.

For those who don't know, 'The Brazilians' (as they are known for their blue and yellow kits that pay homage to the Selecao) are owned by mining magnate Patrice Motsepe - who just happens to think he could also be a football manager. A series of coaches including Henri Michel and Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoichkov have tried and failed to bring glory to the club amid tales of massive interference from above.

With Antonio Lopez Habas sacked in January and Gorowa filling in temporarily, the decison to allow Booth to leave was therefore taken by the club's director of football Trott Moloto. Yet a few weeks later, Johan Neeskens was announced as the team's new head coach, presumably way before Moloto had informed the veteran he was surplus to requirements?

It all seems a very harsh way to treat someone who has enjoyed two spells at the club, including three championship-winning seasons at the turn of the century. No football clubs owe anyone a living but a bit of compassion goes a long way.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Bafana Bafana take over Selhurst Park

It's been a momentous couple of days if you're a Crystal Palace fan with a soft-spot for Bafana Bafana.

Hot on the heels of the confirmation that Kagisho Dikgacoi has signed a three-year deal at Selhurst Park on Monday, I heard a rumour that central defender Morgan Gould has been invited for a trial in south London on Tuesday morning.

A call to SuperSport United's Chief Operations Officer Jose Ferreira backed up the rumour and it seems the 28-year-old from Soweto whose father was also a professional player should be at Palace's training ground at Beckenham next week:,19528,11688_7021360,00.html

I had a brief chat with Morgan later that day and he seemed very excited about the prospect of coming to England. He preferred not to go on the record just yet but I'm sure he will be desperate to show what he can do after a brilliant end to his season with club and country.

If all goes to plan, Palace could certainly be on to a winner. At 28, Gould  was a pretty late developer at his first club Jomo Cosmos - much like the Eagles themselves a 'yo-yo' club that is famed for nurturing raw talent (they even wear red and blue for good measure!).

Owned by former playing legend and Bafana coach Jomo Sono, the likes of Benjani, Mark Fish, MacBeth Sibaya and Katlego Mphela are just a few of the names to have gone on to bigger and better things since the larger-than-life Sono bought a club that had played in a 'whites-only' league and re-branded it using his own name back in 1992.

Six years under his watchful eye eventually paid off for Gould when he joined SuperSport United in 2008 and proceeding to play a major role in their march to three successive South African league titles. But a disastrous injury on the day they won the third title back in February 2010 eventually ended his World Cup dream as then club-mate Bongani Khumalo took his place in the squad and eventually the starting line-up.

Despite the obvious heartache of missing a World Cup on home soil, Morgan was always approachable for an interview and was positive about the future rather than dwelling on the past.

Having previously been linked with a move to Spurs himself, Gould saw his good friend and current Bafana central defensive partner Bongani snapped up by Harry Redknapp instead and endured a poor start to the domestic season in South Africa on his return from injury. Slowly his form returned though and his ability finally gave national team boss Pitso Mosimane the opportunity to do something that most South African fans had been waiting for a very long time - drop captain Aaron Mokoena.

A man-of-the-match display against Egypt in March as Bafana defeated the triple African champions 1-0 in a crucial qualifier was followed by another superb display alongside inexperienced partner Siyabonga Sangweni in Cairo on June 6. That should have been enough to alert some interest in Gould but, aside from some links with unnamed Russian clubs, the invitation from Crystal Palace is the only offer that has been made public.

According to Croydon Advertiser's Daniel Jones @advertisersport on Twitter, Palace boss Dougie Freedman confirmed his interest on Wednesday afternoon so time will tell how this story progresses. But with his mate KG already signed up, there could be a sharp rise in vuvuzela sales in south London before the start of the new season..