A few months after securing a mega deal to join Egyptian giants Al Ahly, reports suggest that Bafana Bafana international Phakamani Mahlambi could be on his way back to the PSL, but much like his move to the land of the Pharaohs – it would prove to be a step in the wrong direction, writes MARSHALL GOUTS.
At the time when the story broke – I must be honest – I was perplexed at the reports linking the second-most decorated club in the world with Mahlambi.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t because I thought he wasn’t good enough to make it in Egypt, but it was because he is so highly-rated that I had imagined him going straight to Europe after his heroics in the PSL.
Who can forget his first 90 minutes for Bidvest Wits against Orlando Pirates, where he terrorised Ayanda Gcaba, Thabo Matlaba and Siyabonga Sangweni prompting coach Gavin Hunt to infamously claim that the then 17-year-old was better than Bafana Bafana all-time scorer Benni McCarthy!
Based on Hunt’s words and having bared witness to Mahlambi’s talent at the School of Excellence, Wits and for the U23 national team – I had big aspirations for the PSL Young Player of the Year and was adamant that his career trajectory would follow in a similar path to that of McCarthy.
So you can believe my dismay when the rumours were put to bed and Mahlambi joined The Red Devils – not in England but rather at the top of Africa – on a five-year-deal believed to be worth over R20-million.
The PSL is the best league on the continent, so in that regard it could be considered a step back in the player’s career. Al Ahly, are, however one of the most successful teams in the world and the chance to secure silverware with them was something that the 20-year-old could not ignore.
‘As a person, you always have to look at some new challenges, and I thought that if I could move out of my comfort zone and start a new life somewhere then maybe it would be great for me,’ he told reporters.
‘Al Ahly is a big team. So, it was easy for me to go there, and I know that I will become a better player, and win titles. So, that’s what I want,’ he said a month after signing for the team.
It must be noted that prior to completing his move, Mahlambi attended trials with Portuguese outfit Vitoria Guimaraes but was deemed not ready after three weeks.
In addition, there were reports of a number of international teams vying for his signature as were former CAF Champions League winners Mamelodi Sundowns, but Wits were not keen on losing their most-prized asset to local rivals. Basically, Mahlambi was not short of options at the time and still he chose to become the first South African to ply his trade in Egypt.
Fast forward a few months later – Mahlambi is reportedly set for a loan move in search of regular game-time, which comes after he was excluded from Al Ahly’s 23-man CAF Champions League squad which is no doubt a severe blow to a youngster wanting to win silverware.
Mahlambi has been used sparingly in his first six months with the club, having featured only twice in the starting line-up, while coming off the bench on five occasions.
Media speculation has suggested that the Bafana international could be on his way back to the Absa Premiership, with Orlando Pirates and Wits keen on securing his services.
Although his agent has assured that the player remains in Al-Ahly’s long-term plans, one feels that the whole confusion and disappointment surrounding his immediate future could have been avoided had his sights been set higher.
Hindsight is 20-20 but its clear now that Mahlambi should have left South Africa for a move to Europe like Benni did when he swapped Ajax Cape Town for its parent club in Amsterdam. In terms of career growth, Europe trumps Africa, and the rest of the world for that matter, when it comes to player development.
The money spent on resources in Europe to improve footballers dwarf those of other continents and that’s just one reason to conclude that Mahlambi would have been better off in Europe.
Teams within the top five leagues in Europe often have feeder clubs across the globe, ever-present scouts and technology that one can only dream of in a bid to improve their players.
If you have aspirations of making it big as a footballer, envisioning yourself plying your trade in Europe should be part of the journey. What may be considered a backward move in one of Europe’s top leagues is a step in the right direction for any budding footballer.
Mahlambi is blessed with pace and skill in spades and could crack it in any of the top five leagues in Europe and at 20, I feel that a move there would’ve taken his career to the next level in all aspects.
Not to say that it can’t still be done, but it’s a lot like trying to get rid of bad habits – the earlier, the better!