Sport

FOOTBALL

The top five Absa Premiership players this season

The top five Absa Premiership players this season
From left, Samir Nurkovic of Kaizer Chiefs, Khuliso Mudau of Black Leopards, Peter Shalulile of Highlands Park. (Photos: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images | Samuel Shivambu / Gallo Images / BackpagePix | Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images)

These players were the heroes for their teams in this elongated Absa Premiership season, stepping up to steer their teams when needed the most.

The Absa Premiership concluded gloriously on Saturday, with Mamelodi Sundowns edging Kaizer Chiefs at the last second of the season. Throughout this riveting campaign, several players lit up our television screens, whether by finding the back of the net regularly, setting up teammates or playing the role of sentinel at the back.

There were also a couple of players who went into the season with high expectations placed on their shoulders, but did not live up to their promise.

Crème de la crème

Themba Zwane – Mamelodi Sundowns

Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images

“Mshishi”, as Zwane is affectionately known, was undoubtedly the Absa Premiership champion’s top performer this season. The influential midfielder was the pivot for Pitso Mosimane’s men as they made a successful charge for their third league title in a row.

The 31-year-old’s fancy footwork and deft touches saw him unlock stubborn defences and provide inspiration when Masandwana most needed it. His combinations and almost telepathic understanding with his teammates, in particular Gaston Sirino, lit up stadiums the whole season.

Zwane managed 11 goals and eight assists from 25 games this season.

Samir Nurkovic – Kaizer Chiefs

Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images

The Serbian striker, in what was his debut season in South African football, hit the ground running as he scored in only his third game in Amakhosi’s colours. That strike against Supersport United would be one of many crucial goals he would score to ensure Chiefs remained at the summit of the log for as long as they did.

All in all, the striker ended the campaign with 13 goals from 28 matches. This meant he became the first man to score that tally for the Naturena-based side since Knowledge Musona scored 15 goals in the 2010/11 season.

Not only was Nurkovic scoring goals though; he was also providing. The lanky forward laid on six assists for his teammates.

Peter Shalulile – Highlands Park

Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images

The former Highlands Park forward was instrumental in ensuring that his team steered well clear of the relegation zone, while they narrowly missed participating in next season’s MTN 8 after ending ninth in the league.

It was Shalulile’s 16 goals which provided this security for the Lions of the North and earned the 26-year-old Namibian the goal boot alongside Orlando Pirates’ Gabadinho Mhango. His exploits have since earned him a move to Sundowns for the upcoming season, where he will hope to maintain his keen eye for goal while earning some trophies along the way.

Gabadinho Mhango – Orlando Pirates

Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images

Orlando Pirates had three coaches in the 2019/20 season, including Milutin Sredojević, Rulani Mokwena and now Josef Zinnbauer. Other than turbulence in the dugout, they also had a topsy-turvy season on the field, with inconsistency costing them a genuine chance of challenging for the league. One thing that was a relative constant for the Buccaneers this season? Gabadinho Mhango and his goals.

The Malawian international finished the season as joint top goal scorer in the league, with a haul of 16 – including a hat-trick against Polokwane City earlier this year. This feat meant he became the first Pirates player since the late Lesley Manyathela to finish at the summit of the scoring charts in the league. In doing so, he helped his team qualify for the Caf Confederations Cup next season as they finished third on the table.

Eric Mathoho – Kaizer Chiefs

Eric Mathoho of Kaizer Chiefs during the Absa Premiership 2019/20 match between Kaizer Chiefs and Chippa United at the Bidvest Stadium, Johannesburg on the 05 September 2020 ©Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

“Tower” is known for his no-nonsense defending and impressive aerial ability. Having been a part of the team that embarrassingly finished ninth in the season preceding the recently concluded one, Mathoho came back a rejuvenated player in 2019/20.

Before Covid-19 temporarily halting the league, the centre back was part of a stingy Amakhosi backline which had let in a paltry 12 goals in 22 games. That they undid all that work in the “bio-bubble” by conceding 10 in just eight games is no direct fault of his own, as the whole team struggled to sort their feet out after resumption.

The 30-year-old also chipped in with some important goals (five) in the 27 league matches he played.

Underwhelming

Thembinkosi Lorch – Orlando Pirates

Photo: Sydney Mahlangu / Gallo Images / BackpagePix

Much was expected of the Pirates attacker after an impressive 2018/19 campaign that saw him named Absa Premiership Player of the Season. Instead, Lorch had a forgettable start to the season when he failed to register a single goal or assist in more than 10 games. When the league concluded, he only had one goal and three assists to his name.

To go with his woes on the field, the 27-year-old has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons. First, he had to undergo a disciplinary process after he and teammate Justin Shonga breached the club’s protocols in the “bio-bubble” after resumption. More recently, he was arrested and then released on R2,000 bail for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend.

Khama Billiat – Kaizer Chiefs

Photo: Muzi Ntombela / Gallo Images / BackpagePix

Billiat finished as Amakhosi’s top goalscorer in the 2018/19 season of the Absa Premiership, with five goals. This season he was looking to improve on that. However, for large parts of his team’s title charge, the Zimbabwean international was a pedestrian.

This may be due to the Chiefs largely employing a strategy of pinging the ball to their physically imposing forwards Nurkovic and Leonardo Castro, while Billiat enjoys playing with the ball at his feet.

His three league goals, two of which he netted in the final two games of the season, are crumbs when compared to the numbers he racked up while playing for Sundowns. With him being among the highest earners in the league, Amakhosi will be hoping that it won’t be more of the same from the 30-year-old come the new season. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.