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.        

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