Siphelele Mthembu is far from a traditional number nine, and is neither blessed with blistering pace or height, but his significance to the AmaZulu’s attacking proficiency is unrivalled, that’s according to his coach, a former striker Benni McCarthy.
The ‘Usuthu’ coach, McCarthy says Mthembu’s role is similar to that of Brazil international Roberto Firmino at Liverpool.
Described by Klopp as the ‘engine’ of the side, Firmino has revolutionised how a striker works off the ball. Chasing loose ends, committing cynical fouls, giving the defender not a minute of breathing space; Firmino’s selflessness is crucial to his success. The same goes for Mthembu, who is not your typical striker.
McCarthy has implied that scoring goals is not entirely Mthembu’s job – something that sounds bizarre even when writing it. Mthembu has a much more crucial role in AmaZulu’s team.
“Shaka [Mthemb] is one of the best team players you can find in the PSL and people don’t give them enough credit for the hard work that he does and the interlink football that he plays. I feel like Jurgen Klopp a little bit because Klopp has the same problem week in week out with Roberto Firmino,” said McCarthy when asked about the striker’s goal-scoring prowess.
According to the AmaZulu coach, the true extent of Mthembu’s importance is perhaps best seen during his absence from the team; the subtle runs are no longer there, opposition sides are not pulled out of their positions. He says his impact must be evaluated within the system he’s playing and how he unlocks not only his own potential but that of those around him.
“He gets criticised, but people don’t understand what he brings to the team, and if he doesn’t play you see a little bit of difference with the way they [Liverpool] play and with Shaka with, when he plays, he brings that calmness to the team,” added McCarthy.
“We are able to hit him and of course as a player, you want to be on the scoresheet, but he is just slotted into that hat role because he always takes the option of looking for a teammate that is in a better position than him, he is not the most selfish striker and sometimes he needs to be selfish.
“But if you see the ratio of assists every game Shaka has played for me, so I am happy with that, I don’t really care what the outside world thinks, for me as a coach, when he is on the pitch, I know what we are going to get and 99 percent of the time we come away with three points when Shaka plays.
“I am very happy with his contribution, but I am sure he would like to get on the scoresheet as well, but it is about the team, not an individual and Shaka is not one of those players who only plays to score for themselves, he plays to help his teammates, his team to win games and what’s why Shaka plays as much as he plays and people don’t understand,” concluded the Bafana Bafana legend.
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By Tokelo Martin Mokhesi
all pictures courtesy AmaZulu