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