Mainland Premier League golden boot season and renewed complaints

15Feb 2020
Michael Eneza
The Guardian
Mainland Premier League golden boot season and renewed complaints

AS the season comes to its pre-climax weeks, where there is no longer much contest either about the champion or even the likely golden boot winner, plenty is coming up in sports media talk shows that sound rather familiar.

But there is a penchant to it that is always fresh and even new, that no one remembers what was said the previous year and thus the arguments look new, as reasoned opinions of sports observers, not a familiar digest of the sports lobby. And it is only just beginning as the sentiments will be modified as the league climax approaches.

Of late some pundits in sports talk shows have started wondering why foreign players or professionals as they are usually called monopolize the golden boot honors. There was a list sounded out of golden boots since nine or ten years ago of the premier league and only two local players had attained that rank so far – Simon Msuva and John Bocco. The more outstanding professionals from this side of the show, Mbwana Samatta and Thomas Ulimwengu, to an extent, didn’t feature in the top list, and indeed the four remain our best known international players so far.

What strikes any listener in the discussions is that they proceed from an unrealistic point of view, as the debate is why it is foreign players who take the golden boot and not local players, an illogical question. The point is that they take the golden boot because they were recruited from other countries to fill gaps in obtaining local players filling the coaches do’s and don’ts in tactics, etc . In that sense they take the golden boot as they are better than the locally recruited, or at least believed to be better than most players available locally- and not all foreign recruits make it.

A good number of foreign players have stayed for a single season despite having had two year contracts to start with, and mostly they failed to put up with the sort of expectations leading to their being recruited. At the same time most recruiting is evidently well thought out, so there is no regret in paying good salaries to players like Medi Kegere at present or Emmanuel Okwi in the past, or Kipre Tchetche more distantly. If there was a player that good, why wouldn’t Nkana Red Devils come for him, Moroka Swallows or the famed TP Mazembe? What is it at issue?

The notion of ‘local players’ is illogical and discriminatory as it fails to see that they are ‘local players’ who have so far not obtained buyers or seekers outside, and unavoidably most of them will never get such buyers. A former golden boot winner illustrates the point, namely John Bocco, who obtained a team and then he was compelled to return after a not so long spell outside. Less noticeably so is Thomas Ulimwengu, who has succeeded at TP Mazembe but could not muster the skills to keep a position in European non-premier league clubs, and is back there.

But not all ‘local players’ tend to fail or find it difficult to remain on top range if they are recruited outside, where the cases of Samatta and Msuva are particularly outstanding. Samatta has been an engine of success wherever he has been, and is lately trying to help Aston Villa FC from relegation, and will remain with his strike partner Jack Grealish up to the end of the season, before the latter shifts to his idol club, Manchester United. Msuva was picked from Difaa al Jadida in Morocco to Benfica in Portugal, more or less like Samatta’s shift to Belgium, but was on loan to Panathinaikos in Greece as he could not muster a position at the Portuguese giants. But still he is good, such that the Greek steam rollers obtained him on loan.

In that sense pundits should stop this populist street labeling of local versus foreign players as it doesn’t make sense, now that all good local players find teams outside, and those who are even better are recruited in premier leagues sides in Europe. Those who ‘remain behind’ are definitely not as good as those who move out, and those whom local clubs recruit from outside concomitantly tend to be much better than most local players, as otherwise clubs wouldn’t use small those small fortunes to register professionals if they did not need them. In what manner then do pundits expect that the not-so-good local players will play to the same standards at the foreign recruits? And clearly, it isn’t all foreign recruits that shine.

So there is nothing surprising that foreign professional recruits tend to play better football than their supposed local counterparts, as they don’t have counterparts to be explicit but team mates. The counterpart of Medie Kegere in Simba SC is say Thomas Ulimwengu at TP Mazembe, who shined enough to get other teams but his skills are best appreciated at the Lumbumbashi outfit, not in Austria or elsewhere. And at the same time the most successful professional player in the local league, Okwi is admittedly not yet an equivalent of Samatta. How about that for a change?