Monday, 8 August 2011

Testing times for 'Sicknote' Schillo

When Steven Pienaar signed for Tottenham Hotspur back in January, the name Darren Anderton was not one Spurs fans expected to be reminded of.

But with yet another injury to his troublesome groin having apparently ruled the Bafana Bafana international out of the season opener against his old club Everton on Saturday, the 28-year-old is fast taking on the 'Sicknote' moniker that was reserved for the ex-England winger during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Despite spending a large proportion of his 12 years at White Hart Lane on the physio's treatment table, Anderton carved out a solid career in north London and is widely regarded as a loyal servant to the club (even if he is still waiting on a promised testimonial). If Pienaar is to be held in the same regard then he had better hope his injury troubles become a thing of the past.

Just five starts in the Premier League so far have yet to convince most Spurs fans that he was worth all the fuss following the switch from Everton in the last transfer window. With Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon occupying the wide positions and several other options in the centre of midfield, it remains unclear exactly how Harry Redknapp sees the new South African captain fitting into his plans.

His absence will give fringe players like Niko Kranjcar and Danny Rose the opportunity to establish themselves higher up the pecking order, although the potential sale of Luka Modric to Chelsea could hand him a much-needed lifeline. 

Pienaar's withdrawal from the Bafana squad that will meet Burkina Faso in Johannesburg on Wednesday night is also the second successive  international that he has been forced to miss. That's not great when you are trying to prepare for two crucial African Nations Cup matches that will determine the fate of Pitso Mosimane's men.

Siphiwe Tshabalala has taken over the armband in his absence and has also now amassed more caps than his more illustrious compatriot but doubts remain whether either is the right man for the job long-term. Spurs team-mate Bongani Khumalo - who made his debut on loan to Championship side Reading on Saturday - is most peoples' favourite and with Pienaar's 30th birthday coming up in March, he may find himself quietly moved to one side if the injury problems persist.  

But give the number of times his groin seems to have been afflicted in recent months, the prognosis doesn't look good. The problem first appears to have surfaced back in October 2010 when he was forced to miss a month of Everton's campaign and it also caused him to have two seperate lay-offs after moving to London, ruling him out of the Champions League quarter-final aganst Real Madrid.

Rumours that he was suffering from a hernia appeared to have dissipated as Pienaar prepared for the new season, although this latest setback makes the decision for him not to have surgery back in June now look extremely ill-judged.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Too old at 26? Killer blow for Mphela

Nearly six years after he played his last match for a European club, Katlego Mphela’s 45 minutes for a Celtic second-string against Wolves last Wednesday was as good as it got.
Despite a superb record over the past two years that has seen the 26-year-old move into third spot in Bafana Bafana’s all-time top scorers’ list, Celtic manager Neil Lennon decided not to pursue his interest in signing the player known as ‘Killer’. We will never know if a superb save from Wolves keeper Wayne Hennessey from his first-half header made the difference in the final reckoning, although it must be said Mphela has already proven he can score goals at any level.
Nonetheless, Celtic’s unwillingnes to sign him without first seeing him the flesh spoke volumes about the major problem facing most of Pitso Mosimane’s first-choice Bafana Bafana team who are still based in South Africa. While 21-year-old Knowledge Musona could virtually take his pick of clubs before settling on Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga, the likes of Siphiwe Tshabalala (26), Morgan Gould (28) and now Mphela’s age and lack of experience of playing in Europe have ultimately counted against them. 
Celtic have already signed Kenyan 20-year-old Victor Wanyama this close season, even though his national side are ranked almost 100 places below South Africa. But while Mphela struggled to adapt during his spell as a teenager at Racing Strasbourg in France, Wanyama made excellent progress with Germinal Beerschot and eventually turned down a move to the English Premier League with Aston Villa.
But it would be a real shame if a reputation carved from a couple of youthful seasons in Ligue Un mean Mphela never gets another chance to prove himself in Europe. His improvement in the last two years has finally allowed Bafana to move on from the Benni McCarthy era and the goal against Egypt back in March showed his class in front of goal.
Unfortunately, the rejection at Celtic will make him a less attractive option for many clubs on the market – especially with Sundowns unwilling to accept anything less than the asking price of around R15 million (£1.4 million).
 Always refreshingly honest and good for a quote, I managed to speak to Killer on Sunday and he was trying his best to be optimistic about his chances of still going overseas.
However, you could sense the frustration that a player who has scored goals against the best teams in the world for his country flew thousands of miles for a trial and only had 45 minutes to prove he was good enough to make the grade. A hefty salary like the one he commands at Sundowns certainly helps, but money is no substitute for rejection.