Shabba’s Rankedby Daniel Friedman / 25.05.2010
Siphiwe Tshabalala might just be the hottest name in South African football right now. The Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana winger Siphiwe comes across as pretty confident. And why not? He’s got the inevitable swagger that comes from his recent good form just a few days shy of a starring role in the world’s biggest sporting event. Unlike some of his colleagues, he’s pretty comfortable under the spotlight. “It’s good to see people appreciating the work you’re doing. Some of us are shy, but there’s nothing you can do about it. We are role models and so can’t avoid public attention. Like entertainers, soccer players are public figures, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of publicity”.
Tshabala is getting plenty of it right now. While it’s only recently that he has become a household name, the 25-year-old has been part of the national squad for five years and he’s been capped 40 times, having been singled-out by Ted Dumitru as a 20-year-old, when he was still playing for Free State Stars.
Currently his fame is rising and he’s becoming acknowledged as one of the players most likely to make a difference in our upcoming World Cup campaign.
And recent goals against Paraguay and Thailand prove that he has the ability to function as more than a mere midfielder. Which is just as well, because finishing, or rather a lack thereof, has been one Bafana Bafana’s primary weakness in the past few years. “Of course people want to see us scoring goals. But I don’t feel pressurised by this, it inspires me to improve and pushes me to work harder. I hope to do my best. You have to see people’s expectations as a positive thing, as these expectations are what push you to do better. We’ll just do our best to make people proud, and hopefully the goals will come.”
Like his teammate, goalkeeper Ithumeleng Khune, he grew up as a Chiefs fan, making his current position in their team a dream come true. “I grew up supporting Kaizer Chiefs. In my youth I was a great admirer of Doctor Khumalo and Shoes Moshoeu. Of course later on when I started playing for Chiefs I had the opportunity to meet them, which was great for me.”
Tshabalala had plenty of international heroes as a youngster too, “the likes of Eric Cantona, Gianfranco Zola and Ian Wright”. The latter spent much of his career at Tshabalala’s favourite club, Arsenal. He admits that an offer from The Gunners would be pretty hard to pass up. If they were interested? “I’d pack my bags and head to the airport”, he says.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, there’s the small matter of the upcoming World Cup, just a few days away. Tshababala is optimistic about the team’s potential to perform above the supporters’ expectations while admitting that Bafana Bafana haven’t tasted nearly enough success.
I suggest that this lack of success had to do with factors unrelated to the amount of raw talent we have at our disposal, and Tshabalala agrees. “We have plenty of talent, our problem is in realising it and getting the best out of our players. At this level of play it’s not enough just to be talented and play your normal game. It becomes very tactical. It’s about strategy”. But hosting the Cup and having support from a home crowd won’t hurt. “Yes, I think the fans will inspire us to play a better game”, he says. I hope he’s right.