Lerato Manzini is ready to play on the big stage after finishing as Chippa United’s top scorer for a second successive season, writes Mogamad Allie in SoccerClub magazine.
When he finished as Bloemfontein Celtic’s top scorer with eight goals in the 2012-13 season, his second campaign in the top flight, Lerato Manzini was tipped to secure a move to a bigger club.
The young striker played a key role in what turned out to be a great season as Phunya Sele Sele clinched the Telkom Knockout, while securing fifth place in the league – their highest position.
But then, in a cruel twist of fate, the Harmony Sports Academy graduate fractured a bone in his foot twice and the injuries, which sidelined him for lengthy periods, seriously hampered his progress.
A failed loan move to SuperSport United at the start of the 2014-15 season, in which he made only three appearances, saw an unhappy Manzini return to Bloemfontein during the January transfer window.
The 25-year-old, who had moved down the pecking order at Celtic, was given the chance to revive his career courtesy of a smart move to Chippa United, who offered him a two-year deal.
In his first season with the Chilli Boys, Manzini established himself as the club’s leading marksman. He netted seven goals, five of which were scored from the bench midway through the second half, to help Dan Malesela’s side secure a top-eight finish for the first time in the club’s brief history.
This season, despite the team’s relegation battle, Manzini again finished top of the club’s scoring charts as he found the net eight times across all competitions. His brace in a resounding 3-1 victory over Kaizer Chiefs last December impressed Amakhosi enough to try to lure him to Naturena.
Chiefs reportedly tabled an offer in an attempt to solve their goal-scoring problems, but were unable to meet Chippa’s asking price for their prize asset.
It’s clear Manzini is finally starting to fulfil his potential as a clinical finisher in a league where that stock is in short supply. ‘It all comes down to confidence,’ he told Kickoff. ‘If you believe in yourself and keep doing what you know works for you, things will happen. I have been down in my career, but my confidence is back and I feel like I can score in every game.
‘I’m fortunate in that I can score with either foot and can put power into my shots with both feet. I like to think I can show composure in the box; you should never panic as a striker.’
As someone who worked with Manzini when they were at Celtic, Golden Arrows coach Clinton Larsen agrees that the striker’s calmness in the danger zone is his outstanding quality.
‘The one thing that stood out for me was his composure in the box. He was never a striker to blast the ball when he got a scoring chance and that set him apart from most strikers in the PSL.’
Having established himself as the leading striker at Chippa United over the past two seasons, the time may be right for Manzini to move to a bigger club where he will benefit from the service provided by top-quality players.
However, he also needs to weigh up his options carefully to avoid the fate that has befallen so many strikers who performed well at smaller clubs in the PSL – only to be cast aside when moving to the likes of Orlando Pirates, Chiefs and Sundowns.
– This article first appeared in issue 82 of SoccerClub magazine
Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix