/ 4 November 2011

Local football needs the playmaker to redirect the game

The proverbial No 10, the playmaker — or inside forward as he was known in some quarters back then — cheekily passed the ball using either the outstep or the instep, or sometimes preferred to curl the ball away from the groping hands of the goalkeeper in dead ball situations.

It was an almost unwritten rule in the township that before you passed the ball to a teammate you had to engage first in a dribbling act to leave your marker for dead. But it was not just to leave him on the seat of his pants, you had to do it in style, more like the way Jomo Sono used to dance on the ball like a ballerina while evading a tackle.

Many well-known South African players expressed the frustrations of the masses in the way they played — Lucas Moripe, Cedric Xulu, Pule Ntsoelengoe, Ace Mgedeza, Thomas Ngobe, Johnny “Magwegwe” Mokoena, Computer Lamola, Fetsi Molatedi, Doctor Khumalo, Shoes Moshoeu, Ernest Chirwali, Zane Moosa, Harold Legodi and Ace Khuse.

Sadly, with the advent of democracy and with the country accepted back into the international family of football-playing nations, the playmaker appears either to have lost the ability to swagger or has been systematically killed by a new all-embracing dispensation.

In the past, the playmaker thrived under the attacking 4-2-4 or 4-3-3 systems where he was given a free role to get the ball and went about destroying the opposition without defensive duties. You knew that the minute Diego Maradona or Jay-Jay Okocha got the ball something ­magical was about to happen.

It was written in the way they received the ball, the way they controlled the ball, the way they turned, the way they scanned the field with hawk eyes and the way they pushed the ball as if caressing it, which gave the impression of being in love with the ball.

They were like a Picasso painting, a masterpiece; like a conductor in a choir; uninhibited and free, yet in control at the same time.

These days, the playmaker is expected to track back. He no longer dictates the flow of the game with his creativity but is expected to defend, tackle and clear corner kicks in a new, rigid system described as the revolutionary 4-5-1 where emphasis is no longer on winning in style but on how to avoid losing.

Stakes have grown to alarming proportions in the modern game. The prize money has increased to frightening scales and, in the circumstances, coaches appear to consider the playmaker as a luxury player.

He seems to have lost his status and coaches have taken away his responsibilities and no longer have any meaningful role for him in the new ­dispensation of winning at all costs and to hell with the shoe-shuffling, f­ancy and beautiful football that used to be ­identified through the playmaker.

In the past five years the role of the playmaker has been reduced, if not completely destroyed.

Exceptional playermakers such as Papi “Ginger” Zothwane, Manqoba “Shakes” Ngwenya, Mthokozisi Yende, and the late Asanda “Scara” Ngobese are no longer required in the modern game by coaches who do not seem to appreciate the cultural background of South African football.

Abram “Wire” Nteo, Irvin Mhlambi, Lynch Pule, Michael Nkambule, Klaas Galane, Million Mkhabela — the list of players who showed potential and could have thrived in a free playmaking role but have not been given the opportunity to express themselves adequately is endless.

In the Telkom Cup this weekend Jomo Cosmos line up against Bidvest Wits. In the past, the fixture was driven by the likes of Lawrence “Sister Monica” Siyangaphi and Mike Ntombela in the students line-up. Spectators were guaranteed a spectacle. But will Sunday’s clash provide the crowd with enough sparks?

It is the same when one looks at the fixture between Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows. One prays that spectators in Soweto will not be left searching for a livewire like Daniel “Vader” Moposho or Matsilele Jomo Sono.