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All eyes on 'Roadblock'

Kaizer Chiefs pin their hopes on Njabulo Ngcobo after an excruciating two-year transfer ban imposed by FIFA
Thu, Jul 22, 2021

Njabulo Ngcobo (F) and Motebang Sera of Lesotho (B) during the COSAFA Cup South Africa 2021 match between South Africa and Lesotho in July 2021. PHOTO: Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images

Soon after Njabulo Ngcobo was crowned the Defender of the Season, my first instinct was to ask a Premier Soccer League topflight coach why South Africa has become the specialists at producing late bloomers?

"At least they are blooming," was the coach's response, accompanied by mixed emotions at the fact that the country unearthed a gem, albeit when he’s already turned 27.

Kaizer Chiefs fans will share these sentiments when Ngcobo finally dons the gold and black next season as definitely the highlight of their shopping spree – more than a year after FIFA slapped them with a transfer ban.

He is under immediate pressure to deliver as he joins a club that not only had to make do without refreshing the squad, but also has gone without a trophy for six years.

Ngcobo will be compared to Chiefs defenders who chipped in with goals from set pieces when the Glamour Boys were in their winning element in coach Stuart Baxter's first spell at the club between 2012 and 2015.

Then, Amakhosi had leader and captain fantastic Tefu Mashamaite, Morgan Gould, who took no nonsense, and a young Erick Mathoho – all at their peak and with a fair amount of experience at this level when you consider their previous clubs.

Mashamaite came from now-defunct Bidvest Wits, Gould from SuperSport United, where he'd already won two league titles, while Mathoho was christened the next Lucas Radebe after three solid years at Bloemfontein Celtic.

Those are big shoes to fill, but Mathoho remains the only one of the trio still at Naturena and should guide him, even though Ngcobo will be his direct competition.

Ngcobo is a ball-playing defender with an exquisite passing range and bears a distinct comparison to Mbulelo 'OJ' Mabizela. He reads the game well and is an excellent man-marker – a lot of the traits Mathoho hasn't done well in over the last couple of seasons, especially during Chiefs' trophy drought.

Baxter will have a tough time deciding whether to pair them together or sacrifice the veteran for the rookie. The latter will give Amakhosi a fresh new look at rear-guard.

Ngcobo needs to make the most of his big step up in the sense that he has a lot more eyes on him now ready to pick him apart if he puts a foot wrong. He was comfortable at Swallows and their best player by a long shot, but the jury will be out at Naturena despite him being voted the best defender last season.

He obviously started kicking a soccer ball earlier than what the records of his professional career suggest – with his first real club being AmaZulu at 22.

But for three years, Ngcobo crisscrossed between Usuthu and Richards Bay at the time both the KwaZulu-Natal teams were campaigning in the dog-eat-dog world that is the second tier of SA football – there's hardly any room for development in that division.

It's understandable why few to none in the Premiership noticed this jewel until his transfer to Swallows from Uthongathi, who signed him after AmaZulu and Richards Bay perhaps felt he would flourish elsewhere, just not under their watch.

The Dube Birds, in fact, were themselves not so sure about 'Roadblock', the nickname given to Ngcobo in the trenches of the lower leagues.

He was offered a one-year contract with the option to have it renewed for two more seasons if he proved effective in the DStv Premiership, where Swallows, after five years in obscurity, were headed following their long-awaited promotion.

And he did, but they've now had to sell him.

Ngcobo missed two matches all season, earned praise from several pundits and coaches and was briefly the centre of a tug of war between Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns before the Dube Birds gave in to advances from their Soweto rivals instead.

His accolade and recent Bafana Bafana call-up are well deserved, and the die-hard football lover who also happens to be a staunch Amakhosi supporter knows what they are getting.

The rest want to see consistency!