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.

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