Thursday, 26 January 2012

South Africa Road is calling for Bafana Bafana stars

It seems unlikely given that new QPR boss Mark Hughes has been linked to every player and their sister in this transfer window, yet should any of Steven Pienaar, Daylon Claasen or Katlego Mphela end up at Loftus Road they will find themselves in surroundings that sound strangely familiar.

Of the Bafana Bafana trio, Pienaar seems most likely to be taking a stroll down South Africa Road in London W12 over the next five days, perhaps even having time to pop into the General Smuts pub around the corner on Bloemfontein Road for a swift pint before he signs?

Unsubstantiated rumours also claim that Loftus Road is named after Robert Owen Loftus Versfeld - acknowledged as the founder of organised sport in Pretoria, where the famous stadium bearing his name played host to the 2010 World Cup. The area around the stadium is thought to have been named after the South Africa Pavilion in the old Exhibition Grounds, built in 1908 for the Franco-British exhibition, with many of the other roads in the area also bearing names from other parts of the Commonwealth.

As things stand, however, there's a long way to go until QPR fans will be firing up the braai to welcome any new signings from South Africa. Spurs have slapped a price-tag of around £6 million on Pienaar's head and confirmation that Hughes also has his eye on Wigan's Victor Moses - at 21, eight years Schillo's junior - is a worrying development for the Bafana captain.

With his path to regular first-team football blocked by the Premier League's best midfield combination, Pienaar is itching to make the most of the time he has left at the top and would probably jump at the chance of a move - if another club can match his estimated £60,000 a week wages. Nouveau-riche QPR are one of the few who can, although it remains to be seen how far the finances of Air Asia CEO Tony Fernandes will stretch after the signing of Manchester City defender on a whopping £4 million a year contract.

For FC Lierse midfielder Claasen, wages would not be a problem. He was a star of the 2009 under 20 World Cup alongside Kermit Erasmus and has been attracting interest from big clubs in Holland and Scotland as well. But issues over whether Claasen would be granted a work permit given his lack of international caps and the galaxy of stars likely to be ahead of him in the pecking order at Loftus Road make a summer transfer the most likely scenario.

That leaves Mphela, who boasts a better goalscoring ratio at international level than Lionel Messi with 22 goals in 42 matches for Bafana. His failed trial at Celtic back in July looked like being 'Killer's' last opportunity to return to Europe after a spell in France when he was a teenager but news of QPR's interest may give him some hope.

A natural predator in front of goal, astonishingly Mphela still has his detractors in his homeland but has shown his ability to find the net at any level. He may not end up being the man to entrusted with the job of keeping Rangers up, although there would be a great photo opportunity if any of the Bafana stars do end up at South Africa Road this January.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Tshabalala forced to play the waiting game

For anyone interested in whether Siphiwe Tshabalala is actually going to end up at Crystal Palace, the last few days have been confusing to say the least.

The Bafana Bafana midfielder spent a week at Palace's training ground in Beckenham earlier this month in the hope of impressing Dougie Freedman enough to win a move to the UK. According to his agent Jazzman Mahlakgane, 'Shabba' was informed that Freedman was very interested in signing him on a free transfer before he returned to South Africa.

A week later and with no news from Palace, though, Tshabalala's club Kaizer Chiefs issued a statement that said he would be signing a new three-year deal with them after the weekend that has just passed - a claim that was strongly refuted by Mahlakgane in the South African media. Sure enough, at the time of writing, no new contract has been signed after Freedman admitted in a press conference this morning that any move to sign him may rest on other players leaving the club.

All of which leaves Tshabalala in a bit of a dilemma. Having opened up a series of fish and chip shops (a venture that has included appearances on billboards around Johannesburg), he's not short of a few bob already and any offer of a new contract from Chiefs is likely to involve a hefty signing-on fee and substantial salary.

Unless they reach the Carling Cup Final or accept an offer for one of the club's coveted young stars like Nathaniel Clyne or Wilfried Zaha, that is likely to be more than Palace are willing to offer. As a top-earner in the South African PSL, Tshabalala could command wages of at least £6,000 a month (paying only 40% tax), with the signing on fee for such a crucial contract in his career ensuring he could expand the takeaway empire across South Africa and beyond.

Yet his willingness to attend trials at Forest last year and brave the English winter in south London suggest that he has bigger fish to fry. Seeing the success of compatriot Kagisho Dikgacoi in English football's second tier has given Tshabalala the appetite to prove himself on a foreign stage and he knows this may be his last chance to do that.

European clubs are unlikely to pay a transfer fee for a player who is tied into such an expensive contract and, at 27, is entering the final stage of his career, meaning Mahlakgane has been forced to play a dangerous waiting game. The whole saga should unfold over the next few days but Tshabalala will have his fingers crossed that his time has finally arrived.  

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Shabba and Spider set for Palace's Bafana revolution?

They say all good news comes in pairs but if things go to plan, Crystal Palace could have three Bafana Bafana internationals on their books before too long.

Destined to be forever known as the player who scored the first goal of 2010 World Cup after a slide-rule pass from Kagisho Dikgacoi, Siphiwe Tshabalala arrived in the UK on Wednesday in the hope of resuming the partnership permanently in south London.

So far, all parties have maintained their silence since the news was broken by a statement from the 27-year-old's club Kaizer Chiefs earlier this week. But a conversation with Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune - also said to be wanted on trial by Dougie Freedman in the statement - confirmed that 'Shabba' will begin his 10-day trial on Thursday morning.

He could hardly have picked a better time to arrive. With the Carling Cup semi-final against Cardiff City to come and rumours linking prized assets Wilfried Zaha and Nathaniel Clyne with moves in the January transfer window, Tshabalala has a real opportunity to show he is worth the risk of a tranfser fee that is likely to be considerably less than the 1.5 million euros Chiefs had previously been holding out for.

A failed trial at Nottingham Forest last year will certainly have lessened expectations, while persistent injury problems are also a big problem. On his day, though, Tshabalala is capable of unlocking the best of defences with his pace and trickery and possesses excellent delivery from set-pieces thanks to that famous left foot.

Bafana team-mate Morgan Gould also had a chance to join Palace in the summer but was undone by his lack of experience. That shouldn't be a problem for a player who has captained his country several times and amassed more than 70 caps already, yet a lack of physical strength may be found out in the rough and tumble of the Championship.

Remarkably, there's even the prospect of another Bafana player joining Tshabalala and Dikgacoi in south London. Khune seemed in the dark about any details of his proposed trial but admitted he had been following Palace's progress this season because of Dikgacoi, saying he had particularly enjoyed the win over Manchester United in the Carling Cup quarter-final.

Whether he gets the opportunity remains to be seen, especially given Julian Speroni's untouchable status as Freedman's first-choice. At 24, 'Spiderkid' still has plenty of time to make a move to Europe and prove he is capable of living up to the praise of Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel lavished on him after last summer's tour to South Africa.

"He’s not that tall but you can see the spring he has in his legs, that makes up for it and I think he can be able to manoeuvre himself around the goal just fine," said the US veteran.

"The thing that stands out is his distribution. It’s outstanding for such a young guy - at 24, he is still very young for a goalkeeper and as long as he keeps working hard he can only get better and better." 

And after beating Chiefs 3-2 as they became the first foreign club to play in South Africa following their readmittance to Fifa in July 1992, it would be apt for another two of the country's most popular current players to end up in the red and blue of Crystal Palace.