Mamelodi Sundowns head coach Rulani Mokwena has defended Themba Zwane, saying the attacking midfielder has been unfairly criticised in recent weeks.
Zwane, 34, has only scored once in 18 appearances this season but he’s had to step up and play out of position in attack, following injuries to the likes of Peter Shalulile and Lucas Ribeiro.
With Zwane appearing as somewhat of a target man under Mokwena this season, he has admitted that he’s had to adapt to the change, but insisted the team comes first.
“It’s been difficult but I respect the coach’s decisions, I need to respect it and try to help the team, that is my duty, and yeah with the help of the guys, I try to push myself and the guys always support me, for me it’s all about the team,” Zwane said about his new role this season.
Meanwhile, Mokwena has explained the role switch and why he believes Zwane has contributed immensely to the team’s success this campaign.
“I think Themba Zwane has come under a lot of undue criticism for his performances – I think he’s been fantastic – I’m asking a 34-year-old to play in a different orientation. Imagine playing as a 10 for 10-15 years,” he stated.
“His orientation on the pitch is this way towards goal and now all of a sudden the coach says he needs to play as a 9 with his back towards goal and for a player of his magnitude and stature, a leader – to humbly accept playing a different position and to be asked to do different things.
“It shows his humility and character, now you understand why over the last 12, 13, maybe 14 years he’s been one of the best players of South African football, because of his human quality and I think he’s been amazing [this season] – he’s run his legs off.
“He’s helped with certain defensive organisation schemes we set up, he’s helped with certain movement to try and create space and situations where we can develop chances – he’s not specialist in that position but he’s intelligent enough navigate it.
Mokwena also insisted that Zwane’s importance to the team goes far beyond his contributions on the pitch.
“I have nothing but respect for Mshishi, he shows you have to be a top human being to be a top footballer and that you don’t need to be loud and aggressive to be a leader,” he added.
“He does it by practically demonstrating, performance, and effort, and by being a positive influence on not only your age group but even with the younger ones, you must see how interacts with Mabena, Maseko and his influence on Cassius.
“A lot of people though helped Cassius improve, Mshishi helped him improve more tban I did, Mshishi has helped Peter improve more than I did – I can tell you that 100% – amazing human being and criticism is unfair, but that’s football, everyone is entitled to their opinion.”