Ten years of top scorers: Does SA have a goals problem?

Although the 2021/22 Premier Soccer League (PSL) season had been on a hiatus for most of January and the first week of February because of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), the league has already passed its halfway mark with teams having played more than 15 of their 30 matches. 

With the second half of the season having officially resumed, local football lovers look forward to the next player who will reach or exceed the 20-goal mark.

Last 10 PSL golden boot award winners

Retired footballer and current AmaZulu assistant coach Siyabonga Nomvethe, the league’s highest all-time goal scorer with 123 goals in total, was the last player to score 20 league goals in a single season. That was 10 years ago in 2011/12. 

Since then, the goals from the PSL’s leading goal scorers have been well below that in each season, with four players sharing second place with 16 goals.

Several football coaches, both local and foreign, have lamented that a lack of goal-scoring ability is one of the challenges facing South African football, which possibly translates at national level as well.

As football is fundamentally about scoring goals, the inconsistencies of South African and South Africa-based players upfront have meant that the country often falls short when benchmarked against its counterparts globally. 

Only two PSL teams – Orlando Pirates in 1995 and Mamelodi Sundowns in 2016 – have won the CAF Champions League, an annual continental club football competition, which is run by the Confederation of African Football. This is despite the PSL being considered one of the best leagues in Africa. Much of this can be attributed to a lack of goal scoring prowess. 

Ever since Nomvethe’s 20-goal feat while playing for Moroka Swallows, only four players have surpassed the 15-goal mark. 

Moroka Swallows also happens to be the club with the most top goal-scorer award winners (also known as the Lesley Manyathela Golden Boot) in the past 10 years, with two: Nomvethe and Katlego Mashego in 2012/13. 

The lowest-scoring season was 2013/14 with Kaizer Chiefs forward Bernard Parker scooping the Lesley Manyathela Golden Boot with just 10 goals. 

Since then, Black Leopards’ Mwape Musonda (2018/19), Orlando Pirates’ Gabadinho Mhango, Highlands Park’s Peter Shalulie (2019/20) and Supersport United’s Bradley Grobler (2020/21) have done better – scoring 16 goals each.

Views from the professionals 

While it seems like the challenge mainly lies with the strikers, former Bafana Bafana striker and retired footballer Daniel Mudau, told Goal in 2018 that there aren’t many out-and-out strikers in the league, as a lot of midfielders have been converted to be strikers.

During his career, Mudau netted 110 goals for Mamelodi Sundowns, while his overall tally sits at 170 goals.

However, former Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Willard Katsande told KickOff in 2017 that while he believes that strikers in the PSL are doing their best, credit should also be given to defenders and goalkeepers, who have also upped their game.

"As much as we want to blame the strikers, we also need to give compliments to the defenders because, even in international football, games are decided by small margins," said Katsande.

"If you pay attention to your defence, the more you keep clean sheets and the higher your chances are of getting such [goalless] draws,” he said at the time. 

How does this compare with the Egyptian Premier League?

The Egyptian Premier League (also known as the WE EPL), in which Africa’s most successful football club Al Ahly plays, has done slightly better than the PSL in terms of the number of goals by their top scorers since the 2011/12 season. 

The Egyptian clubs play four more matches per season than the South African ones, nevertheless, after a three-year period in from 2011/12 to 2013/14, when the top goal scorers logged less than 15 goals, Egypt’s leading goal scorers have kicked the ball into the back of the net at least 17 times in a season.

El-Dakhleya’s Hossam Salama and Al Ahly’s Mohamed Sherif are the top scorers in the past 10 years,  each with 20 goals. 

Meanwhile, Al Ahly and Ismaily are the clubs with the most leading goal scorers (two each) during this period.

Elsewhere in the world – in Italy’s Serie A for example – where member clubs each play a total of 38 matches, the league’s top goal scorers have scored well over twenty goals in a single season since 2011/12. 

Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuaín and Lazio’s Ciro Immobile are the leading top goal scorers during this period, having scored 36 goals each in the 2015/16 and 2019/20 seasons respectively. 

SA’s all-time top scorers

Outside of club football, when zooming into the South African national football team (Bafana Bafana), AmaZulu coach Benni McCarthy remains Bafana Bafana’s leading goal scorer with 31 goals, followed by Cape Town Spurs coach Shaun Bartlett with 28 goals, and retired footballer Katlego Mphela as well as Parker, both with 23 goals each at national team level.

Parker is the only active footballer among the aforementioned footballers, but he will most likely never feature for Bafana Bafana again in future. 

The current crop of players in the national team under the tutelage of Afcon-winning coach Hugo Broos have a long way to go before breaking the current record which is held by McCarthy. Al Ahly forward Percy Tau is the only active national team player featuring in Bafana Bafana’s top 10 goal scorers list, having scored 13 goals in 32 appearances so far. 

Since gaining readmission into international sports following the country’s new dispensation in 1994, there have been five instances (in 1994, 2010, 2012, 2017 and 2021) where the South African National team has failed to qualify for the Afcon, and five instances (in 1994, 2006, 2014, 2018 and 2022) where the team has failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. 

Meanwhile, since South Africa gained readmission into international sports, Egypt has won the Afcon four times, in 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010 – and it is the African country with the most Afcon titles (seven) since the inception of the competition in 1957. 

Namibian-international Shalulile – this season’s current top goal scorer – will be the one to watch in the second half of this season, as the Mamelodi Sundowns striker’s momentum from the first half of the season, saw him score 13 league goals in 19 appearances. 

This is just three goals behind the top goal scorers for the last three seasons, and seven goals short of reaching 20 league goals in a single season. With 10 league matches left to play, the question is: will he be the one to finally match or surpass Nomvethe, after a full decade?

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