It seems that the only time Orlando Pirates winger Mark Mayambela is guaranteed a place in the starting XI is during the Black Label Cup final* against Kaizer Chiefs , when scores of fans get to force-sms the skilful maestro into the lineup.
On Saturday night Mayambela started on the wing (alternating flanks with Sifiso Myeni) ahead of Daine Klate and Tlou “Gautrain” Segolela – men who’ve won many a game for Pirates. However, since the Black Label Cup lets the fans decide, the eye-pleasing footwork of Mayambela got the nod over the efficiency of either Klate or Segolela.
As a total neutral (let me reveal my secret: I’m a Mthatha Bush Bucks fan so don’t ask again in the future) I observed that Mayambela looked tortured, chained at the ankles almost and trying ever so hard to be the player Pirates coaches will want to start. And here’s the interesting bit, the very same Pirates fans who guarantee Mayambela at least one start a year (albeit in a glorified exhibition match), smsed furiously for his removal at half time and he was replaced by Klate.
Now why was that so? I’m not a Pirates fan but I think I know the answer.
You see, Mayambela is a tortured soul, a creative genius, if you like, with skills so mad that you get the feeling that the ball enjoys being knocked between his left foot and his right in quick, yet poetic, rhythm. Even the way he walks, talks and dress style off the pitch suggests that he could dribble his way out of whatever life throws at him or dribble his way into any girl’s pants (cough, cough).
The 24-year-old is one of those players who always want the ball at their feet, although he doesn’t always know what to do with it once he has, but his sheer enthusiasm and lust for football transcends on the pitch and the fans sense that. Heck, we in the press box can also feel it.
He is the mould of sensational dribblers like Steve Lekoelea, Jabu Pule, Scara Ngobese, Junior Khanye and Shakes Ngwenya (there are too many to name). And what about his left foot? That limb jiggles around a football faster than you can say shibobo.
On Saturday night, though, he certainly looked tortured. He looked like a teenage boy trying to impress his father by putting on a suit and looking like an accountant when the whole family knows that all the kid wants to do is ballet dance and paint. He was trying to please coach Augusto Palacios.
Mayambela started a handful of games last season and often not featuring even in the 18-man match-day squad. The artist was put on the sidelines while the artisans were trusted with the task of defending the illustrious treble.
So to prove his worth to the team and mostly to the coach, Mayambela dumbed down his skills on Saturday and tried to play the role that Klate does consistently well – make runs, dart down the touchline and put a decent cross in for Big Benni to bury. But he failed and ended up looking like a plumber (no offence) whose inner painter was suffocating underneath the blue overalls. He did unleash a shot in anger, with that sweet left foot, which narrowly zipped past Itumeleng Khune’s crossbar.
But where were the skills? Where was the magic? Or the tsamaya that fans paid 80cents in sms money to see? Nowhere. All we saw was a desperate attempt by ballet dancer to hold down a 9am to 5pm job. Mayambela took the ball on Saturday evening, thought about dribbling but decided to pass Oupa Manyisa and being fouled before he could complete his thought process.
He botched a well-worked attacking move, with Chiefs 1-0 up, when he was put into space down the right side of the 18-yard area but got his cross totally wrong, sending the ball straight into touch, with three men waiting for a powerful low cross and thus wasting a great chance of an equaliser. His right foot, which seems more like a tea lady for his stronger left foot rather than an able assistant, had let him down.
The fans didn’t like that very much and promptly reached into their pockets, whipped out their mighty cell phones and went about dialling him out of the game. For players, it’s painful to be substituted at half time by the coach but being substituted by the fans means you’re really having a crappy game.
You see, for Mayambela, the game was more than getting another cup over their old foes Kaizer Chiefs. It was a chance to stick true to his word, to the promise he made to himself, to stay at Pirates and fight for a place in the team rather than take a loan move to PSL new-comers Chippa United.
Another dynamic, is that players of Mayambela’s outrageous skills don’t generally do well in professional football in this country. Sure they get signed by the so-called big clubs but they generally get overlooked if they don’t provide the consistency and dependency coaches admire more than skill.
Lekoelea did well for himself on the pitch and so did Jabu Pule; both could dribble the socks off the opposition but could also give their teams a much needed goal or two and pin-point cross. But for Ngobese, Khanye and others, the nifty footwork doesn’t do them much good if they don’t supplement their game with good technical ability (neat first touch, accurate cross, good cover defence, general non-wasteful nature with the ball).
Mayambela needs to do more than just dance over the ball, I know he tried (too) hard on Saturday night, and I’m sure Palacios will reward him with a place on the bench this season, at the very least.