Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Swede taste of success for Mahlangu

The exploits of May Mahlangu in Sweden this week have got me thinking. Why do so many South Africans usually struggle when they go overseas?

The 22-year-old midfielder from the Mpumalanga province was the toast of the Allsvenskam after inspiring Helsingborgs to the league and cup double and picked up the Swedish Player of the Year Award on Monday night. Yet he was one of just a handful of the more than 20 eligible for Bafana Bafana selection who saw any action in Europe this past weekend.

Mahlangu's rise has gone under the radar for most observers after moving to Sweden nearly three years ago from the Stars of Africa academy in Johannesburg. But he has made a name for himself thousands of kilometres from home in a league that - although it may not be the most fashionable - will certainly attract the attention of bigger clubs.

It wasn't enough for him to be included in the latest Bafana Bafana squad to play Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe, even if Safa did cover their tracks by selecting him for the under 23 squad this week. Of the nine foreign-based players who did make Pitso Mosimane's squad, only Bevan Fransman, Anele Ngcongca, Daylon Claasen and Siboniso Gaxa have started more than 80 percent of their respective clubs' games this season in Israel and Belgium.

Again, neither league is rated among the elite and suggest that perhaps moving directly from the PSL to one of Europe's top leagues remains a bridge too far. Recent evidence in the cases of Bongani Khumalo and Thulani Serero seem to back this theory up given that both were outstanding performers in the domestic league before their high-profile switches to Tottenham Hotspur and Ajax Amsterdam respectively.

Khumalo spent his first two months in England training with superstars like Rafael van der Vaart and Gareth Bale at the Spurs training ground before going on loan to struggling Preston North End. Injury curtailed a promising spell after the former SuperSport United captain looked like he had been finding his feet in the Championship and big things were expected of him when he joined Reading at the start of this season.

Yet he has failed to appear since the end of August, while Serero has seen his opportunities limited to cameos off the bench since moving to Holland in July. Injuries have not helped either player settle in but  there's no doubt the transition has been very tough for both.

Before Khumalo's move, Kagisho Dikgacoi proved just how hard it can be to make the leap as he spent two frustrating seasons with Fulham before moving to Crystal Palace. The midfielder now appears much more at home in south London but would be the first to admit the difficulties he has faced settling in.

Perhaps the examples of Mahlangu, Ngcongca and Lokeren's Ayanda Patosi - who all bypassed the PSL and headed straight for Europe as teenagers - gives players the best opportunity to succeed where so many have failed?

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciated this article. I am a coach from Sweden - I coached Helsingborg more than 9 years, latest 2008-2009. Six years ago I saw May Mahlangu in Stars of Africas academy. 4 years ago May came to sweden for trainin g together with 2 boys from SoA. August 2008 he played for a small team (Castle league) called Hässleholm and also 2009 up to July 2009. This team allowed him to play in the first team because of his level. After that he went to Helsingborg in highest level in Sweden and came into the first eleven 7 times directly. The rest is history!
    I think this has been the best way for the player to develop his qualities. Today he is ready for the next step - into a top club in Holland, Italy or Spain.
    Another example of the same development is Surprice Ralani in Landskrona in superettan (Mwela). He plays for henrik Larsson as a coach and has already created interest from some clubs in Holland.
    I really think patience is important to develop step by step and also to have realistic possibillity to play in the first team.
    Best regards and good luck with your soccer in SA. Bo Nilsson