Sunday, 22 January 2017

DOLLY GOOD SHOW! Keagan finally jets off, let's hope it was worth the fuss

COULD the Keagan Dolly saga really be over? Can we stop talking about buy-out clauses and Dispute Resolution Chambers? Can we finally focus on these strange swap deals involving Chippa United?

It appears to be so. Nobody move. Anything could yet happen. But in the wee hours of Sunday morning, French Ligue 1 club Montpellier, a modest 13th out of 20 on the latest table, announced the 23-year-old South Africa would sign for 1.7m Euros on a four year deal. That’s about R24.8m. Not bad for a lad bought from R6m from Ajax Cape Town three years ago.

Tokelo Rantie moved from Malmo to Bournemouth for the same fee of around £1.5m in 2013, but no South African club was involved. Same applies to Benni McCarthy. It’s a South African record, though with transfer fees more secretive than the President’s underpants, who really knows?

Since Dolly’s move to Mamelodi Sundowns in 2014, after spending a season on loan at his old club, Dolly has won the PSL title, the Nedbank Cup, the Telkom KO and the MTN8 before, as we all know, helping Masandawana to the African Champions League triumph three months ago.

Dolly’s name appeared in the CAF Best of Africa XI at the GLO awards to put the cap on a fantastic season for club and player, even Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi could only make the bench. 

But the end of his Sundowns career was blighted by a life-or-death struggle with Dolly’s agency, Siyavuma. Their boss, the no-nonsense pint-sized Yorkshireman Paul Mitchell actually employs Dolly’s dad Ramon, who was wheeled out on national radio to fight the good fight.

He’s a tough negotiator Mitchell, and he can burn the ears off any football journalist in the country when he feels he has been wronged. Again and again he told me: “Keagan’s done it all in South Africa, it’s time for him to move.” Curiously Sundowns chairman Patrice Motsepe was saying roughly the same thing at the same time.

When Sundowns successfully went to the PSL’s DRC to restore Dolly’s buy-out clause from 733,000 Euros (on his current signed contract in 2015) to £1.5m (the amount on his original contract in 2014), Mitchell went bonkers.

With Sundowns allowed to double the original bids offered last year by Greek giants Olympiakos and Montpellier, Mitchell could see his golden goose being slowly cooked as Manchester City’s City Group appeared to be keen on moving Dolly to their sister club New York City in the American MLS.

Mitchell was having none of it. The warm-afterglow of Sundowns’ African conquest quickly cooled as Mitchell and Sundowns officials went to war; serious threats and organised media campaigns followed. Mitchell claims he was threatened with jail for perjury, Sundowns claimed dodgy dealings were at play.

But in truth, what was the point? Dolly cost £1.5m at a time when Chinese clubs are offering ridiculous amounts for players coming to the end of their careers. It would barely buy you Olivier Giroud’s beard or Joe Hart’s gloves.

The deal was always on, the buy-out clause was a mere detail. It’s a bargain in current terms. Dolly said farewell to his Sundowns team-mates this week amid photogenic smiles as they returned to training over the ridiculously long Christmas break.

But it’s hard to leave with a grin when your club somehow managed to alter a signed contract, when your agent and your dad are forced to issue apologies.

Mitchell issued a statement as the deal approached closure, saying: “For Keagan to follow his dream of playing in Europe and to fly the South African flag high will be a dream come true.”

Let’s hope that’s true. The agent’s dreams have certainly come true. And Sundowns have made a 400 percent profit in three seasons.

But Dolly’s dreams? Let’s hope he doesn’t get Lost in France. Kermit Erasmus, a man with far more experience in Europe and South Africa, has just been loaned out by Rennes to Lens. It’s tough out there.

Montpellier may have seen some great names come through their ranks, but they are not giants of the French game right now. They last won a trophy in 2012.

Let’s hope we finally see a young South African explode in to the English Premier League or La Liga, or even Series A. We don’t have any at the moment. Dolly has the talent, but Bongani Khumalo can tell him how hard it is to move 5,000 miles and train in the frost for various coaches who don’t really know you.

Still, Dolly’s Wikipedia entry now states quite clearly: “Keagan Larenzo Dolly is a South African football player who plays as a midfielder for Montpellier in the League 1.” I’d love to know who edited that before he’s even played a game.

On Friday, local football media said Dolly had already had a medical in France. Before he'd left OR Tambo. There could yet be a twist in this sorry tale.

All the best Keagan, may the force be with you. Best avoid any future Star Wars.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

NOT BAD KHAMA! Billiat shines at AFCON and surely Europe must be next

SUNDAY afternoon in Gabon was not just about Zimbabwe holding highly-rated Algeria to a pulsating 2-2 draw, it was also about Khama Billiat finally getting the recognition he deserves.

The 26-year-old from Harare stands just 1.7m tall, at 5ft 7in, barely two inches taller than Lionel Messi, who needed growth hormone therapy. But Billiat has long been a talent as impressive in Southern Africa as Leo was in Argentina at half his age.

A product of the local Aces Academy in Harare, Billiat left CAPS United before he even played a professional game, spotted by the Ajax scouting network in Cape Town. He played 83 games for the club, scoring 21 goals alongside another huge talent, Thulani Serero.

But while Serero went off to Amsterdam, Billiat tried out with Lokomotiv in Moscow before accepting a new post closer to home: he went to Mamelodi Sundowns in 2013 for a reported fee of R10m, still a PSL record.

And when Pitso Mosimane arrived to steady the Masandawana ship, Billiat began to thrive. He scored 8 goals in 2014-15 and 12 last season as Sundowns broke the Stuart Baxter/Kaizer Chiefs stranglehold on the championship twice in the last three seasons.

While a huge fuss is being made of team-mate Keagan Dolly - Sundowns were allowed to push his contracted buy-out from around R10m to over R20m by the PSL’s Dispute Resolution Chamber - there can be little question Billiat is the bigger deal.

After a fantastic start to AFCON 2017 against Algeria - he ran out of steam a little in the second half in Franceville - Billiat was the talk of the tournament.

Two fantastic runs saw him denied only by the goalkeeper, but it was a peach of a volley midway through the first half - which damn nearly broke the crossbar - that provided the perfect Billiat moment.

Sammy Kuffour, the sometimes comic SuperSport analyst, was shaken in to coherence. He said: “Billiat is the complete player. He has pace. He is small so you don’t know what to do with him. He should be in Europe already. I’d love to see him at a big club. He is a great African talent.”

Of course, Sundowns could probably get the DRC to block any potential admirers as the European clubs queue up after AFCON, where the scouts flock like flies.

But in truth, like Dolly, Billiat should have been gone ages ago. There is talk of disciplinary problems - he was late to arrive at the Zimbabwe pre-Afcon camp - and he certainly has a comfortable life in Tshwane.

But after winning the PSL twice and the African Champions League this season, any further dalliance would be pointless.

Sundowns did all they could do delay Bongani Zungu’s move to Portugal. They’re doing the same to Dolly. Compatriot Knowledge Musona has already advised Billiat to escape his Gauging comfort zone.

The player himself says: "I would love to go and play in Europe but I will see. If I don't go to Europe I am still happy at Sundowns.”

That’s not enough. Football is a short career. Sundowns fans won’t like it, but Khama, it’s time to make the leap of faith. Faith in your own ability.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

GOODBYE DOLLY! Why South Africa's shining talent must go to Europe, before it's too late

Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior was born on February 5, 1992. He has won 75 international caps for Brazil and scored 50 goals for his country.

Keagan Larenzo Dolly was born on January 22, 1993. He has played 4 times for South Africa and scored two memorable goals against Gambia last year.

Neymar Jnr, born in Mori Das Cruzes near Sao Paulo, played for Santos in his home nation until the age of 21 when he finally accepted Barcelona’s advances.

Dolly, born in Westbury near Johannesburg, played for Ajax Cape Town before moving to Mamelodi Sundowns. Nearly 24 (the same age as Neymar), he was transferred for a reported R6m, has had offers of R10m from Europe, and now finds himself unable to move overseas.

Like Neymar before he left Brazil, Dolly has won just about everything domestically. League, both cups and this season, the African Champions League.

The crowning glory came just last week when Keagan was named in the CAF Africa XI ahead of Arsenal’s uber talented Alex Iwobi, who was named as a substitute.

Curiously, though his €750,000 buy-out clause has been met by both French club Montpellier and Greek giants Olympiacos, Dolly remains in South Africa with his coach Pitso Mosimane - last week voted Africa’s Coach of the year - saying “Keagan could do with another season in the PSL.”

In the same breath, Mosimane admits: “If Dolly gets the chance to go overseas, then he must go.”

All very confusing for Dolly, who should have won at least 30 Bafana Bafana caps in his short career, not to mention a move to Europe three years ago, if South African football REALLY wanted local youngsters to thrive internationally.

But a combination of the now-defunct Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba’s bizarre national selection policies and the PSL’s Dispute Resolution Chamber are denying Dolly the chance to be South Africa’s Neymar.

After his debut against Sudan in 2014, Mashaba chose to leave Dolly behind until close to  the end of his disastrous AFCON 2017 qualification failure. The DRC? They chose to allow Sundowns to change the buy-out clause on the contract he signed in 2015 - and new deal the PSL insisted on as there were “registration problems” when Dolly went back to his old club Ajax Cape Town on loan.

The DRC chose to accept Sundowns claim that they had “made a mistake” with the buy-out clause in Dolly’s new contract, effectively rendering all future PSL contracts disputable. A lamentable decision.

Has any other business EVER been allowed to claim they “blundered” on a signed contract? What would Masanadawana’s Champions League rivals think if they thought Dolly’s contract was not worth the paper it was written on?

In fact, Sundowns altered the eight sentences of the buy-out clause NINE times before Dolly was brought in - without his representatives - to sign a new five-year deal in August 2015. Sundowns were aware of every word in the new contract, they demanded it. They got it.

The old contract demanded a £1.5m buy-out, which is now the fee which will have to be met by and new suitors following Dolly’s Africa XI selection.

Effectively his value - thanks to an incredible DRC decision - has risen from R10m to R22m which would be a modern South African record equal to the £1.5m record paid by Bournemouth for Malmo’s Tokelo Rantie three years ago. And we all know how that ended.

With South Africa languishing at 60 in the FIFA rankings, no English club would approach that figure - especially with Dolly failing to play anywhere near the required 80 percent of South Africa’s competitive fixtures over the past two years. A work permit is out of the question for any South African right now. At any price.

Many said Neymar’s move to Europe came a little late at 20. Dolly is nearly 24. And unless somebody looks long and hard at the PSL’s DRC - who also found against Siboniso Pa Gaxa when Kaizer Chiefs had actually tweeted about his "until 2018" contract - South Africa’s brightest star is unlikely to achieve is full potential.

What next? An appeal to SAFA and even the international Court of Arbitration for Sport. Expensive. Disruptive. Not recommended.

So here’s the verdict from one who is not frightened to speak out against corruption and injustice: the DRC are not a fair, objective body fit to judge on player contracts.

With the same people representing Kaizer Chiefs and Sundowns as well as the PSL against players, justice is currently unavailable. The DRC is, as we like to say in South Africa, “captured”. 

Dolly has won all he is likely to win at Sundowns. Even if he goes overseas, the new South African coach, if he’s sensible and not guided by sinister forces like Mashaba, will have no choice but to pick South Africa’s brightest “young” talent (some would consider 24 middle-aged in football terms).

Dolly has nothing to lose. He has already had to foot a mammoth R200,000 legal bill in an unsuccessful attempt to set himself free. Remarkable that, given it was Sundowns who admitted to making the contractual “error”.

With at least two fresh bids on the table following the DRC’s bizarre decision, my advice Keagan? Go to Greece, France or wherever the footballing road takes you. South Africa doesn’t have a single player (barring the veteran Steven Pienaar at Sunderland) in any of the big leagues.

That hasn’t happened for years. It’s time for Keagan Dolly to make the break. Before it’s too late.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

South Africa's quest for leadership: all eyes on Milton "Micho" Sredojevic after AFCON 2017

CRANES DRIVER: Milutin "Micho" Sredojevic
SOUTH AFRICANS are suffering a football-free void until February 7 but while we wait for the domestic game to restart... keep an eye on Uganda.

Milutin Sredojević, also known as MICHO, is the 47-year-old Serbian who could be on the verge of joining Bafana Bafana after AFCON 2017.

He’s the bloke who got Uganda’s Cranes to the AFCON in Gabon which starts on January 14. While our blessed Bafana under Ephraim Mashaba couldn’t even get close, Micho somehow got Uganda to the final stages for the first time since they finished second in 1978.

With South Africa’s PSL on extended vacation until next month, all eyes will be on the 2017 African Nations Cup, with our neighbours Zimbabwe also making the cut and Cote D’Ivoire attempting to defend the title they won in Equatorial Guinea two years ago.

With Uganda’s FA struggling for cash - they don’t even have a kit sponsor - there has been talk of their precious Serbian coach failing to get the cash he was promised for getting the nation to Gabon.

With Ghana (17 Jan), Egypt (21 Jan) and Mali (Jan 25) in their uncompromising group at Afcon, few expect Micho’s men to progress to the latter stages. In qualifying, their Group D saw Uganda finish with four wins, a draw and a defeat to emerge behind Burkina Faso but ahead of Botswana and the Comoros as one of two best runners-up.

With a friendly against Tunisia away lined up for January 4, Micho is currently trying to select his best 23 for Gabon, before a warm-up tournament against Ivory Coast and Slovakia in the UAE.

But it’s what happens AFTER their first AFCON in 38 years we South Africans should be concerned about.

Weeks ago, when Bafana Bafana drew their final AFCON 2017 qualifier with Mauritania to finish third in their group, I was told SAFA president Danny Jordaan, having lost the NMB mayoral race against the DA’s Athol Trollop, had finally realised the state of South Africa’s national team during his absence.

Two weeks later, talks with Micho had - allegedly - taken place. I was told Bafana Bafana incumbent Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba had too much political support to be summarily fired for an awful AFCON performance which featured players not good enough to play for their club sides..

Instead, Shaky was told he HAD to get four points from his first two World Cup 2018 qualifiers against Burkina Faso and Africa’s best side Senegal.

Incredibly, after an away draw which they deserved to win, South Africa beat Senegal at home - on the back of a dodgy penalty from Ghanaian referee Jonthan Lamptey, who was subsequently banned for three months - and Shaky appeared to be safe.

But no, Jordaan - who told BBC Africa a few weeks before that Mashaba “had to go, the outcry is too great” - then reacted to Mashaba’s understandable glee by firing our national head coach.

True, Mashaba wagged his finger at Jordaan and accused him of being “unsupportive” in front of several witnesses, but to fire Shaky after beating Senegal was distinctly dodgy. Suspension was followed by a kangaroo court and termination.

Why? Because Micho had been lined up by Jordaan, just as Carlos Queiroz had been told he had the job after Gordon Igesund but was rejected due to his required salary.

Just 24 hours before the guillotine fell on Mashaba’s neck, I’m told Dr Irvin Khoza - the PSL chairman who REALLY runs South African football - decided Micho would be a good replacement for caretaker coach Augusto Palacios at his own club, Orlando Pirates.

Which leaves us in an interesting position before Bafana resume their World Cup qualification process against Cape Verde Islands in August. 

I’m told Khoza, who put Micho in charge at Orlando with mixed fortunes in 2006, was the man who initially made contact with the Uganda coach two months ago. The compromise position: Mashaba (who has never proved himself at club level) could go to Pirates, who currently languish in an unacceptable TENTH in the PSL, allowing Micho to take the Bafana job.

The man himself insists he is focused on Uganda, he says: “Whatever you are hearing, I am loyal to Uganda. My contract expires in 2018 but  the bags of any coach are always half packed.

“I believe you have a top class team in South Africa. I admire good football and I believe you have a very, very good team. In life you never know.”

Whatever happens, Micho is contracted to Uganda until 2018. But if Uganda get hammered at AFCON, which is a distinct possibility, he’ll be sacked and available.

And Bafana, with a useful 4 points from their two World Cup qualifiers, may be too good to turn down.

When MICHO was last at Orlando Pirates, he complained about discipline problems HERE:

Sunday, 18 December 2016

AN UPLIFTING CHRISTMAS TALE: the Mahlambi brothers show giving has no limits

OUT FOR TEN MONTHS: Phakamani Mahlambi
IT'S Christmas. The time for giving. But what do you do when your little brother needs... a sparkling new hamstring?

Bidvest Wits teenager Phakamani exploded on our screens this time last season, scoring goals for fun and appearing to be, for all the hype, akin to our own Cristiano Ronaldo. Five goals and two assists in half a season. Incredible.

What was it Gavin Hunt said? “Phaks could beat you in a telephone box. He’s a real talent. He’s as good as Benni McCarthy at 18.”

But just when the Rio 2016 Olympics were beckoning, Mahlambi was struck down by a serious hamstring injury. No, not your everyday twang of the hammie, a serous rupture of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament against now-relegated AmaTuks on February 19.

The golden youngster slipped off our radar. For nearly ten months, all we heard was “needs surgery”, “long-term injury”, “extensive rehabilitation”… there was even talk of a career prematurely ended.

Though he still won the club’s Young Player of the Season award, it appeared another shooting star had fallen from the roof of the planetarium next to Wits University’s Milpark Stadium.

But no. On Saturday, against the luckless Free State Stars who are unlikely to feature in any pantheon of celestial objects soon, the star was reborn.

Coach Gavin Hunt, after seeing his side go second in the PSL with a 3-1 win, said: “I've seen Phakamani struggling with this injury every day for nearly ten months months. That’s a long time for a youngster to be out.

“The doctors said I shouldn’t play him. The physios said he wasn’t ready. But I thought bugger it, he must play tonight"

The rest is history. Phakamani, still just 19, marked his comeback with two goals. In one appearance he scored more than any Kaizer Chiefs striker this season.

The predictable Man of the Match award was claimed and the true Christmas Tale was finally revealed.

Phakamani confirmed what we first heard in June. He was back - with his brother’s hamstring replacing the one he tore. An incredible tale of sacrifice and family togetherness.

Mahlambi immediately summoned his brother and gave him the Man of the Match Trophy, saying: “They wanted to take something from a tendon to repair the hamstring.

“But that might have slowed my pace. Then my brother Mthobisi said 'No, take mine'. He is my hero, my everything.

"Today, both my parents are unemployed, half my salary goes to my family and I'm helping to build them a new home.”

The generous donor Mthobisi stepped up to the microphone with his brother’s silverware: “I’d like to thank my brother, the management, my family, everyone.

“We share blood, we share everything, it's such a great moment for me. I don't worry much about my hamstring. It's from my heart”

It’s been a long half-season. Banana Bafana failed to reach AFCON 2017 and Shakes Mashaba is suspended. Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates are struggling in mid-table. Mamelodi Sundowns were crowned champions of Africa but lost badly twice at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.

The Mahlambi brothers give us a  brief festive opportunity to celebrate the season of giving and forgiving. Forget the bitching about referees, knife-wielding thugs at Kaizer Chiefs games and falling attendances.

Soon, the PSL will break for Christmas. And they’ll stay away (barring late fixtures changes) until deep in to February.

Which should give us all a chance to reflect on the the elder Mahlambi, the brother who gave up a hamstring for the sake of his family. Happy Christmas!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

IT'S THE ENDO THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT: Sundowns dreams shot down in Japan

AT FAULT: Mamelodi Sundowns Ugandan
goalkeeper Denis Onyango
FOR a delirious 45 minutes on Saturday, KaboYellow fans had every right to believe they were headed to a glorious final against mighty Real Madrid at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. Then came 45 minutes of heartbreak, a second half exposing all that is wrong with South Africa football.

The first half at the Suita City stadium was a dream. Percy Tau was rampant, Khama Billiat had a couple of chances - one from all of four yards on the slide - and Pitso Mosimane looked secure in his Champions of Africa castle with the big back door.

Hitoshi Sogahata was the villain of the piece for Sundowns, who had NINE shots to Kashima’s NIL in those fantastic first 45 minutes. Bizarrely, FIFA had captioned the scoreline “ZSC” for Masandawana (obviously they thought Egyptians Zamalek had made it!) and didn’t correct in to “SUN” until the 2nd half… and by then, the fantasy was fading.

Sogahata, who has played all his life at the Antlers, is a mature 37, he’s played four times for Japan since 1998 but 462 times for his club. Three great saves kept Sundowns goalless, and then there was THAT miss from the usually lethal Zimbabwean Billiat, who put Tau’s excellent cross wide from inside the small box.

MISTAKE! Sundowns were dubbed "ZSC"
throughout the first half by FIFA
At half-time, optimism was sweeping the nation. With the game on SABC thanks to StarSat’s last-minute climb-down on exclusive coverage, the social networks were buzzing. Pitso was a genius. Tau was a lion, Dolly was more popular than Barbie. Onyango hadn't been tested in goal.

But from the first touch of the second half, the Antlers showed the value of a good team talk, and a touch of tactical acumen.

With their wing-backs tucking in, the midfield was reclaimed by the Japanese, Pitso might have seen it before me but he didn’t react. Not until THE ENDO OF THE WORLD, with Yasushi Endo picking up a Mu Kawasaki cross and beating Sundowns’ keeper Denis Onyango.

When I say it beat him, it wasn’t a pretty sight. The Uganda player of the year and PSL goalkeeper of the season made a hash of the close-range shot, it wriggled out from underneath his writhing body and was actually put in by his own hand/head reflex movement.

Shocking, particularly with Sogahata producing a near-perfect 90 minutes at the other end.

CORRECTED! But Sundowns went in to
 a serious decline in the second half
But there was worse to come. Pitso finally threw on Zwane, but it was already too late. Then came Liberian striker Antoine Laffour when Sundowns appeared to finally realise they had to score to survive.

But there was no great urgency. No radical change of shape. The Antlers had Sundowns by the horns. In a dramatic reverse of the first half, Sundowns barely mustered a threat on goal.

And when Kanazaki added a goal of his own with the Downs defense all over the place, the sinking feeling became titanic. All the shortcomings of South African football had been ruthlessly exposed. Poor finishing, late changes, lack of fitness, tired defending and we’ll have to say it again POOR FINISHING.

We got the usual afterwards from Pitso Mosimane, whose PSL and African champions are starting to develop a habit of inconsistency in recent weeks.  

Clearly unhappy, the post-match interview was mercifully short: “We played very well against a very good team. Obviously you could see our finishing was not very good in the first half. They took their chances and we didn’t.

“Disappointed? What do you mean? It’s football. We are professionals. For us it’s a very good learning curve. They passed very well.

“We are learning, we did well, we just couldn’t finish.”

And captain Hlompho Kekana, who simply disappeared in the second half, basically respected his coach: “If we’d taken one of the chances we’d created, the game would've changed. We must take lesson out of this game.”

Lessons? Learning curves? No. The FIFA Club World Cup doesn’t come along regularly for South African football. We needed clinical finishing, decisive substitutions, a solid goalkeeper.

But hey, at least they got to Japan. They play Korea's Jeonbuk on Wednesday morning in a 5th/6th play-off game that could earn the players plenty to add to their African Champions League bonus.

FIFA are offering  $1.5m for fifth and $1m for sixth. So the difference is $500,000. R7.5m. Nearly as much as Cape Town City FC won for their Telkom KO victory against SuperSport United on Saturday.

The Antlers go on to play Nacional from Colombia, with Real Madrid likely to be their final opponents. Sundowns didn’t even get close to Cristiano Ronaldo. It's enough to make a weepy nation howl.