In 2010, South Africa was on top of the world. They had just become the first African nation to host the World Cup, displaying an electrifying atmosphere. They scored the tournament’s first goal, a great strike from Siphiwe Tshabalala. They even beat France, although the Bafana Bafana didn’t make it to the knockouts — the first host nation to do this, although they have since been joined. Surely the only way was up for the emerging football nation.
More than a decade later, much of that optimism is gone. The team has been plagued with mismanagement, corruption, and other problems, resulting in the team’s continued struggles. South Africa has qualified for just three of the last seven African Cup of Nations and has missed out on the last three World Cups, albeit with some controversy in their loss to Ghana.
However, investment in South African academies is starting to pay off. The first tier in South Africa, the DStv Premiership, is starting to see some talented players emerge and succeed. Just look at one of the brightest talents in African football — Mduduzi Shabalala.
CAM Mduduzi Shabalala, 18, Kaizer Chiefs
Shabalala joined the Kaizer Chiefs academy at a young age, progressing through the ranks and quickly becoming an exciting prospect. Last season he took off, scoring an impressive 13 goals in the DStv Diski Challenge (South Africa’s youth league) and becoming one of the club’s youngest-ever debutants.
In the summer, clubs across Europe eagerly pursued Shabalala. The South African went on trials to Belgian side KVC Westerlo as well as Spanish side Villarreal, with Westerlo reportedly coming close to reaching an agreement before talks broke down. Shabalala returned to South Africa this season, and was gearing up for a big season.
The promising talent started the season on the bench for Kaizer Chiefs and was an unused sub in the season opener. Shabalala was subbed on in the second match, promptly speeding down the field and finding the back of the net within a few minutes.
Stunningly, he has yet to see the field in the league season since then. Historically one of South Africa’s most successful teams, Kaizer Chiefs are currently 4th in the league and have scored just 16 times in 13 games. Shabalala surely could boost their offense, and hopefully, he’ll get more chances as the season goes on.
Lightning with the ball at his feet, Shabalala excels at dribbling, footwork, and making excellent runs down the field. He’s a very versatile player, too, and can play almost anywhere in attack — although I’ve listed him as a CAM as he often plays in the center and drops back to defend. Shabalala is an energetic player, pressuring defenses to win the ball back. His finishing, too, is impressive, and in combination with his positioning makes him deadly in the middle.
Shabalala is likely going to spend the remainder of the season with Kaizer Chiefs, where he will attempt to earn a more prominent role in the squad. After that, he should move to a league where he can develop: the previously-mentioned Belgian side Westerlo would be a great option, while South African players have had success in the Netherlands and Portugal.
One thing is for sure: Shabalala has a bright future, and with plenty of emerging talents, so does the Bafana Bafana.
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