Brockie, Ngoma and Lebesse – what’s gone wrong…

Soccer Laduma - - Siyag Bhoza -

Mamelodi Sun­downs have signed sev­eral big names in re­cent trans­fer win­dows, in­clud­ing Jeremy Brockie, George Lebese and Aubrey Ngoma as they looked to plan for the departures of Khama Bil­liat and Percy Tau. All of those play­ers came for big trans­fer fees and high salaries from other Absa Pre­mier­ship clubs. Those three play­ers were ex-

JEREMY BROCKIE Trans­fer fee: R10m Why was he signed?

Sim­ply put, Brockie was signed be­cause of his abil­ity to score goals at a high rate, and for his abil­ity to score goals with his right foot, left foot and head. At Su­perS­port, the Kiwi front man would head in crosses, score vol­leys from corners, run be­hind de­fences and threaten on coun­ters, and also when link­ing up with a strike part­ner like Bradley Grob­ler. Af­ter com­plaints over a long pe­riod of time that Mamelodi Sun­downs were dom­i­nat­ing games, but not putting the ball into the net, Pitso Mosi­mane de­manded to sign the man he nick­named “The Sniper” to help put that right. Brockie’s ex­ploits in the CAF Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup, scor­ing 10 goals in 17 ap­pear­ances for Su­perS­port United in that com­pe­ti­tion, also made him an at­trac­tive ad­di­tion as Mamelodi Sun­downs chased a sec­ond CAF Cham­pi­ons League crown. He scored 16 goals in 27 do­mes­tic cup games for Su­perS­port too, so would also help Masan­dawana lift do­mes­tic tro­phies, or at least that was the plan. It was clear why Brockie at the time seemed po­ten­tially such an ob­vi­ous “must-have” sign­ing for Sun­downs.

Per­for­mances so far

Un­for­tu­nately, things have not worked out as well as ex­pected at Downs for Brockie. He joined Downs on 15 Jan­uary 2017 and sub­se­quently went a full cal­en­dar year with­out net­ting a goal, from his last goal for Mat­sat­santsa to his even­tual first goal for Masan­dawana. His low­est point came in Oc­to­ber as he missed out on six games in a row, not ap­pear­ing at all and not even mak­ing the squad in some of those games. That led to his agent say­ing that he would need to con­sider his fu­ture in Jan­uary. How­ever, since then, he has net­ted against Free State Stars and twice against Leones Vege­tar­i­anos in the CAF Cham­pi­ons League pre­lim­i­nary round, but the lat­ter goals were against poor op­po­si­tion – the club’s name, Vege­tar­ian Lions, says it all! BROCKIE’S STATS AT SUN­DOWNS (ALL COM­PE­TI­TIONS): Matches Played ........................................ 28 Matches Started ....................................... 18 Min­utes Played ..................................... 1464 Min­utes Per Ap­pear­ance....................... 52.3 Goals........................................................... 3 As­sists + Pens. Won .................................. 2 Per­cent­age of Mins Played ................ 36.9% See *

These stats re­veal sev­eral alarm­ing is­sues. Firstly, Brockie did not score in his first 947 min­utes on the pitch for Sun­downs and had contributed to only two goals: he won a penalty against Kaizer Chiefs in the first league game of this sea­son, which Ri­cardo Nasci­mento con­verted, and an as­sist for a Thapelo Morena goal against EC Bees in the Ned­bank Cup last sea­son. Since then, he has bro­ken his duck but is still not scor­ing reg­u­larly in the league or do­mes­tic cups.

Since join­ing the club, he has played only 36.9% of the min­utes avail­able to him and has started just 19 matches, eight of those in the last 10 games (*as at Jan­uary 7). Mosi­mane and as­sis­tant coach Man­qoba Mngqithi both spoke at lengths about the New Zealan­der need­ing time to ad­just to the side’s sys­tem of play and pat­terns, but this is a low num­ber of min­utes and ap­pear­ances.

Fu­ture prospects

For Brockie, his fu­ture prospects look more pos­i­tive now than a cou­ple of months ago, es­pe­cially be­cause of his run of starts in the side, and his three goals. The in­jury to Sibu­siso Vi­lakazi also meant less com­pe­ti­tion for a place, and Phaka­mani Mahlambi is yet to look ready to pro­duce, so Brockie is re­ceiv­ing a re­prieve and could still turn around his Sun­downs ca­reer. This is only likely to hap­pen, though, if Sun­downs look to ad­just their tac­tics to pro­vide more crosses and make them­selves a lit­tle more fo­cused on ser­vic­ing the Kiwi for­ward.

Ver­dict: Flop from a goals point of view but 100% for at­tidude. GEORGE LEBESE Trans­fer fee: R3.5m Why was he signed?

This ad­di­tion was a strange one as George Lebese had lost his place at Kaizer Chiefs to Ed­more Chi­ram­badare and had not con­sis­tently de­liv­ered good dis­plays for Amakhosi, in­stead show­ing only flashes of bril­liance. Sun­downs were clearly look­ing to find a left-footed re­place­ment for Kea­gan Dolly, but with Ngoma out with long-term in­jury at the time and Downs’ chase for De­olin Mekoa be­ing aban­doned, they paid out a not in­signif­i­cant R3.5m for the then Chiefs man. Lebese was seem­ingly also signed be­cause he was born in Mamelodi, and Mosi­mane thought he could get the player to fo­cus and get fit, and de­liver con­sis­tently as he reaches his 30s. Un­for­tu­nately, Lebese has had nu­mer­ous is­sues at Sun­downs, from poor fit­ness and weight is­sues, to in­juries, and not un­der­stand­ing the tac­ti­cal role de­manded of him, as Pitso men­tioned in De­cem­ber 2017:

“Lebese is tak­ing too long to ac­cli­ma­tise be­cause of the way we play. He un­der­stands all the move­ments we do and all that but you must also un­der­stand that the three at­tack­ers we have up­front goes into the break quicker. It is not the way he was used to play­ing for nine years. He is play­ing on the side on the line and we don’t play on the line‚ you have to come in­side like Themba Zwane.”

Per­for­mances so far

So far, Lebese has been of al­most no use to Sun­downs. He has played in just 16 of 66 games since he signed for the club, start­ing just six times. He has scored twice, once a penalty against Polok­wane City and then an­other against the same op­po­si­tion in a game he asked to be taken off in, due to feel­ing tired af­ter just 45 min­utes on the pitch. LEBESE’S STATS AT SUN­DOWNS (ALL COM­PE­TI­TIONS): Matches Played (all comps).................... 16 Matches Started ........................................ 6 Min­utes Played ...................................... 583 Min­utes Per Ap­pear­ance...................... 36.4 Goals.......................................................... 2 As­sists + Pens. Won ................................. 0 Per­cent­age of Mins Played ................. 9.7%

It says every­thing about Lebese that he had to be put on a fit­ness pro­gram when he joined the club, then promised to re­turn for the sec­ond half of last sea­son in top shape, but he had to ask to be taken off in his first game back at half-time. He has since put on sig­nif­i­cant amounts of weight, even if he also lost some weight again. Sun­downs moved for Aubrey Ngoma six months af­ter get­ting Lebese, which shows that he was noth­ing but a stop­gap. He has played only 9.7% of the avail­able min­utes since his ar­rival.

Fu­ture prospects

Al­most zero. When Sun­downs faced Cape Town City in the MTN8 semi-fi­nal first leg ear­lier this sea­son, Mosi­mane de­cided to rest his en­tire first choice side to keep them fresh for a big CAF Cham­pi­ons League game against Horoya. Lebese did not even make the 18-man match day squad. His Masan­dawana ca­reer al­ready looks to be over, and the player prob­a­bly knows that, hence he has al­lowed him­self to put on weight and has dropped his pro­fes­sion­al­ism com­pletely. Lebese’s in­ter­me­di­ary‚ Steve Kapeluschnik, has spo­ken to Sun­downs about his client leav­ing the club and Lebese said, “It is what it is. We have to move on and look for greener pas­tures.”

Speak­ing af­ter Downs beat Al Ahly Beng­hazi 4-0 in the CAF Cham­pi­ons League to­wards the end of last year, Mosi­mane said about Lebese, “Why are you only ask­ing me about George? It’s not only him. But okay, he is strug­gling to get into the team and it’s a fact. What I like about George is that he is not ca­sual, he works hard and has lost about 6kgs since he got here. But when you come on you have got to switch it on so we don’t for­get you. It’s a bit tough for George. I like him as a per­son out­side foot­ball, but you know some­times you get those who don’t crack it. It did not work out, so I un­der­stand that he wants to move. We don’t want to kill his ca­reer.”

It is very un­likely that Lebese would be loaned to a ti­tle ri­val, so that may rule out Bid­vest Wits, although they would suit him well. Su­perS­port United are an­other club who pay good salaries and could do with fresh op­tions in the wide ar­eas. Other pos­si­ble op­tions who could suit him are High­lands Park or Chippa United, who have shown to be happy to sign older, big-name play­ers. Cape Town City have been linked too, but they have Bradley Ralani and Gift Links on the left flank al­ready, and sev­eral op­tions for the right flank too.

Ver­dict: FLOP AUBREY NGOMA Trans­fer fee: R8m Why was he signed?

Ngoma was signed as a re­place­ment for Kea­gan Dolly. He was the ini­tial tar­get at the be­gin­ning of the 2017/18 sea­son, but a knee in­jury on Bafana Bafana duty meant that the trans­fer was de­layed un­til he had re­turned to fit­ness with Cape Town City and had played a few games for Benni McCarthy’s side. Sun­downs wanted him so badly be­cause of his in­cred­i­ble 2016/17 cam­paign un­der Eric Tin­kler, with eight goals and a gi­ant 17 as­sists in 36 ap­pear­ances. He had come back from in­jury and played just five games be­fore Sun­downs made their move, iron­i­cally on the back of Ngoma as­sist­ing a match-win­ning goal for Nana Akosah-Bem­pah at Lof­tus Sta­dium.

Per­for­mances so far

Af­ter join­ing Sun­downs on 1 Jan­uary 2018, Ngoma was ex­pected to give the side an added di­men­sion on the left flank in a mas­sive trans­fer win­dow that also in­cluded the ad­di­tions of Brockie and Gas­ton Sirino. NGOMA’S STATS AT SUN­DOWNS (ALL COM­PE­TI­TIONS, AS AT JAN­UARY 7): Matches Played (all comps)...................... 10 Matches Started .......................................... 3 Min­utes Played ........................................ 146 Min­utes Per Ap­pear­ance........................ 24.3 Goals............................................................ 0 As­sists + Pens. Won ................................... 1 Per­cent­age of Mins Played ...................... 4%

Since join­ing the club, Ngoma has played in only 10 matches, with just three starts – 58 min­utes played against Cape Town All Stars in the Ned­bank Cup, 62 min­utes against Free State Stars, and 55 min­utes against Baroka. Af­ter a full pre-sea­son, big things were ex­pected of him, but in­stead he strug­gled to reach peak phys­i­cal con­di­tion, seem­ingly car­ry­ing some ex­tra weight, whilst also find­ing him­self play­ing as a left back. Mosi­mane spoke dur­ing pre-sea­son ahead of this cam­paign about his progress:

“When Aubrey Ngoma came, re­mem­ber he was out for six months, so it takes time. Ngoma has started well with the pre-sea­son. We can’t say he is fully fit, but at least he has started with the pro­gramme. And we have also been play­ing him at left back. You can’t play one po­si­tion when you are at Sun­downs and in the mod­ern era. If you play one po­si­tion, then we have to carry more num­bers in the squad.”

Fu­ture prospects

Sadly for Ngoma, he was not reg­is­tered by Sun­downs for the CAF

pected to bring the form from their pre­vi­ous teams to the ta­ble at Chloorkop and give added ruth­less­ness and cre­ativ­ity to a Downs at­tack that had lost not only Tau and Bil­liat, but Cas­tro and Dolly in re­cent win­dows. Soc­cer Lad­uma looks at how these three play­ers have fared at the club so far and why things have not quite gone ac­cord­ing to plan so far. Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fi­ca­tion rounds, which points to him not be­ing viewed as an im­por­tant player go­ing for­ward. He has started two re­cent league games, but has not re­ally taken his chances. Should he be in the line-up af­ter the mid-sea­son break, he sim­ply has to take his chance.

Just 19 months ago, he was named the PSL Mid­fielder of the Sea­son and that player still ex­ists, but it looks a long and un­likely road for that to ever hap­pen at Chloorkop.

Ver­dict: FLOP FOR NOW The dearth of the spe­cial­ist

In mod­ern foot­ball, and cer­tainly at Sun­downs, there no longer ap­pears to be room for spe­cial­ist play­ers who are not multi-func­tional. Mosi­mane is reg­u­larly con­vert­ing play­ers into new po­si­tions, and has a team of fluid at­tack­ing mid­field­ers po­si­tion­ally, able to drop deep to get the ball, play in the half-spa­ces and eas­ily switch flanks. Up front, he moved away from a tar­get man like Leonardo Cas­tro to play a false nine in Percy Tau. This sea­son, Vi­lakazi and Toni Silva have played in false nine po­si­tions, and Mahlambi plays as more of a cen­tral winger, tak­ing play­ers on in nar­row po­si­tions, and mak­ing runs into the chan­nels where he can do things usu­ally seen from a winger, but with­out the ac­com­pa­ny­ing de­fen­sive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. For that rea­son, it makes it re­ally strange that Sun­downs brought in Ngoma and Lebese, both spe­cial­ist wingers, and Brockie, an out-and-out num­ber nine who can’t play in any other role, ei­ther deeper or wider.

In pre-sea­son be­fore this cam­paign, it was ex­pected that Ngoma, Lebese and Brockie would learn the side’s “game model” thanks to the ex­tra time on the train­ing ground and ad­di­tional min­utes in pre-sea­son friendlies to find form and build chem­istry. Pre-sea­son is ideal for this with no com­pet­i­tive matches to re­cover from, or pre­pare for, and in­stead more time to train. What hap­pened, though, is that Ngoma found him­self used as a left back in some of the friendly matches, whilst Lebese was used as a num­ber eight, on the left of a cen­tral mid­field trio. For two play­ers, both now push­ing 30 years of age, to change their po­si­tion com­pletely at this late stage of their ca­reer, is a tough ask and seem­ingly com­pletely be­yond their ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Who pro­vides width for Downs?

This is a cru­cial ques­tion to ask in re­la­tion to why two pure left­footed left wingers are not play­ing at all, and also why their R10 mil­lion striker has only scored four goals, and just one in the league. The fact is that Sun­downs have not con­sis­tently played with wingers for sev­eral years, prob­a­bly since the 2013/14 sea­son with Elias Pelembe and Khama Bil­liat in wide roles, but very of­ten, a nar­row player was used on one flank in the shape of a Dove Wome or Zwane. In re­cent sea­sons, Sun­downs have had Kea­gan Dolly as a gen­uine winger on one flank, but with Zwane nar­row on the op­po­site flank. Pure touch­line-hug­ging play­ers like Luy­olo No­man­dela and Lin­dokuhle Mbatha both failed at the club and never re­ceived sig­nif­i­cant game-time to stake their claim. Since last sea­son, the shape in mid­field ar­eas has be­come even nar­rower, with a 4-2-2-2 shape of­ten used, with num­ber 10s like Sirino, Le­bo­hang Maboe and Zwane se­lected ahead of pure wingers.

The width for the Brazil­ians is pro­vided by the full­backs. With no play­ers oc­cu­py­ing the wide chan­nels in for­ward ar­eas, Te­bogo Langer­man or Lyle Lakay are tasked with that role on the left flank, with Morena pro­vid­ing the width on the op­po­site flank. At times, a more de­fen­sive right back is se­lected in Anele Ng­con­gca, and only then would a wider op­tion be se­lected on the right flank, such as An­thony Laf­for. It is a very sim­ple fact that if your full­backs are play­ing high and wide, then us­ing wingers would block their space. We see this at Manch­ester City where Ben­jamin Mendy’s re­turn from in­jury at the start of this sea­son saw Leroy Sane out of favour. Since Mendy’s re­cent in­jury, Sane is back in the side. There is sim­ply not space for both an at­tack­ing full­back and a gen­uine old school winger on the same flank. The only way to ac­com­mo­date both play­ers is to have the full­backs un­der­lap – play in­side of the wingers, not go around the out­side – or to have the wingers play nar­row.

With no space at Downs for pure wingers, those play­ers have a sim­ple choice: prove them­selves ca­pa­ble of play­ing at full­back, or show they can play in cen­tral po­si­tions, ei­ther as a false nine or in­side for­ward. Some width is also pro­vided by the strik­ers in the side’s 4-2-2-2 but in very ad­vanced po­si­tions, usu­ally run­ning from in­side to out­side to drag op­po­si­tion de­fend­ers out of the mid­dle. A prime ex­am­ple of this is Silva. Hav­ing ar­rived as an in­verted right winger, he made his full de­but in the MTN8 against Cape Town City as a false nine and re­ally ex­celled. He quickly adapted to this more cen­tral role, prob­a­bly be­cause he is younger than ei­ther Ngoma or Lebese, and would likely have played var­i­ous roles in his de­vel­op­ment days with the Chelsea and Liver­pool acad­e­mies. An­other new winger brought in was Katlego Ot­ladisa. He is young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced, and so could still be moulded to play as a for­ward or num­ber 10 with lots of coach­ing from Mosi­mane and his sup­port staff.

Not only does Sun­downs’ strat­egy of the full­backs (and oc­ca­sion­ally the for­wards) pro­vid­ing the width sti­fle any chance of Ngoma or Lebese forc­ing their way into the side, but it also has a neg­a­tive ef­fect on a penalty box poacher like Brockie, who thrives off at­tack­ing crosses from the by-line, and who gets more space when the op­po­si­tion’s full­backs are dragged wide and he has greater space in a less con­gested penalty box. The prob­lem is that even if Lakay and Langer- man are ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing good crosses, it is usu­ally from a slightly deeper po­si­tion and the op­po­si­tion full­backs won’t have been drawn out, so the box is packed with a nar­row back four to de­fend these sit­u­a­tions. If Sun­downs de­cide to field Ngoma reg­u­larly now that he is fully fit, he would need Brockie in the side at the same time to con­vert his ser­vice, so the fates of these big sign­ings ap­pears to be in­ter­linked. The irony is that both play­ers made their Downs de­but on the same day, in a 3-0 win against Plat­inum Stars, and there ap­peared to be an im­me­di­ate chem­istry be­tween them as two Ngoma crosses found Brockie, first to hit a shot and then to nod back across goal.

New style of play

As men­tioned by Mosi­mane, Lebese spent nine sea­sons at Chiefs play­ing in a style very dif­fer­ent to that which Sun­downs play. Lebese pro­duced some of his best form un­der Stu­art Bax­ter, who favoured a tran­si­tional style of play. This means that his teams of­ten de­fend deep and draw the op­po­si­tion onto them, then win the ball quickly in mid­field and tran­si­tion to at­tack at pace. This would of­ten lead to Chiefs hav­ing at­tacks with only a few op­po­si­tion de­fend­ers be­tween them and the goal, and the chance to have space to run into be­hind the de­fence. Brockie’s su­perb scor­ing record at Su­perS­port came in the same style of play, also un­der Bax­ter. In the 2016/17 sea­son, Mat­sat­santsa a Pi­tori scored a league-high 16 goals from tran­si­tions where they won the ball in their own half. Un­der Eric Tin­kler at Cape Town City, Ngoma played in a fear­some counter-at­tack­ing side, of­ten hav­ing chances to run at full­backs in one-vs.-one sit­u­a­tions. At Sun­downs, all of these play­ers tend to play in a side who dom­i­nate games and of­ten come up against op­po­nents who park the bus, with a nar­row de­fen­sive line and dou­ble team­ing play­ers in for­ward ar­eas.

Sum­mary

When Sun­downs went out and spent mas­sive trans­fer fees to sign some of the Absa Pre­mier­ship’s best play­ers in Lebese, Ngoma and Brockie, most sup­port­ers ex­pected them to thrive at Masan­dawana. How­ever, all three have had a tough time, ei­ther strug­gling in their re­stricted min­utes on the pitch, or spend­ing months on end in the stands. With the club’s pol­icy of not play­ing with gen­uine wingers, and most of the width com­ing from their full­backs, it is a won­der they were will­ing to spend such big fees on play­ers of this ilk in the first place. Un­less there is sud­denly a ma­jor shift in Mosi­mane’s think­ing, this strat­egy is likely to con­tinue for a few years yet. For this rea­son, Lebese is ex­pected to de­part, whilst Ngoma is prob­a­bly go­ing to con­tinue as a squad player. It is more dif­fi­cult to see Brockie scor­ing goals at a pro­lific rate with­out wingers to feed off. This makes it likely that these three big play­ers could all end up as flops, but there is still time for Ngoma and Brockie to turn them­selves into suc­cess sto­ries. Time may have run out

for Lebese though.

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