Matlaba's chance to shine

2015-01-13 12:31
Thabo Matlaba (Supplied)
Thabo Matlaba (Supplied)
Cape Town - While it is difficult to say Bafana Bafana are spoilt for choice in any position under Shakes Mashaba, the left side of midfield has always been highlighted as the most problematic.

Finally, with the emergence of Thabo Matlaba, it seems that South Africa now have a player able to patrol that side, or one who is good enough in the center that he is forcing a change in formation to avoid having a left wing at all.

Matlaba is yet another in a long line of impressive youngsters to come off the conveyer belt at Orlando Pirates' esteemed academy, and he has arguably benefitted from a less sharp rise to prominence.

And what is so great about Matlaba is that he is a player who is genuinely exciting to watch. He is quick and possesses a directness that has opposing defenders on the back foot whenever he attacks, which he does with frequency.

And, in the 4-2-2-2 formation that Shakes Mashaba looks to be settling on and ready to use for at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, full-backs that work the flanks tirelessly are a necessity to provide the team's width.

The position of full-back has changed over the years, with the modern version being a lot more attack minded than in the past. Pacing up and down the wings, modern full-backs are chosen based on their skills in the attacking third and today, it is perhaps the only position that ideally requires the player to be as good in defence as in attack.

Matlaba is the latest to emerge and has since become a first-team regular at Pirates, where he has developed at a phenomenal rate. The modern footballer has to be versatile as the game has become a lot more dynamic in recent years, and Matlaba is the perfect example of a player with versatility.

Matlaba can play in several different positions, including left wing, but has truly established himself as a left-back. It has proved to be a fantastic decision to move him to that area as he has been able to show off his amazing athletic abilities which are definitely needed to succeed as a modern full-back.

He has great pace, acceleration and stamina, all perfect physical attributes to be a top full-back and able to run up and down the wing for 90 minutes. However, what may separate Matlaba from other left-backs is his ability and willingness to defend as well as attack.

With the emphasis of the modern full-back being switched to attacking, the art of defending has been forgotten by others who play that position. He doesn't dive into tackles and is not rash, which is a great asset to have and when called upon to make a tackle he almost always does.

Matlaba has all the qualities to become world class one day, his great physical attributes, technique and versatility sets him aside from almost all other young fullbacks in the world.

The fact he has been selected to represent Bafana regularly in such a fantastic team will no doubt only help him in his development. His versatility will only help him wherever he plays, the ability to use both feet and play in so many different positions is extremely rare in any footballer.

If he continues to develop at such a rapid rate, who knows what he can achieve, he has the potential to become the best left back in the whole of Africa.

If a team needs any left back, he should be the number-one target. Whether or not the player and club would want a transfer is a completely different matter, but one thing is for sure: Matlaba has a chance to shine for Bafana Bafana and make the left back position his own.


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Bafana Bafana have been drawn with Cameroon, Gambia and Mauritania in the qualification stages for the 2017 AFCON tournament. Where will Shakes Mashaba's men finish in their pool?

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