Mamelodi Sundowns left back Lyle Lakay is breaking the mould for Bafana Bafana selection, writes MOGAMAD ALLIE.
When Hugo Broos was installed as coach of Bafana Bafana last May, he made it clear that he would move on from the old guard of 30-somethings and focus on younger players to usher the team into a new era.
As it turned out, Bafana performed above expectations and if it hadn’t been for an extremely dodgy penalty awarded to Ghana by Senegalese referee Maguette Ndiaye in their last 2022 World Cup qualifier in November, Broos’ team may well have progressed to the playoff stage of the competition.
The 70-year-old Belgian has largely stuck to his promise of blooding young talent, ignoring in-form veterans like Mamelodi Sundowns midfield duo of Andile Jali and Themba Zwane, both aged 32.
‘The level in international football is higher, it’s not the same as here in the league. Modern football demands a lot, recovering the ball, power in the middle. Andile Jali is not my type of player. The same goes for Themba Zwane, he is also an older player. The next Afcon is 2023, he will be 33 next year when Afcon comes again,’ Broos told SAfm.
But such has been the consistently high level of performance delivered by Lyle Lakay that the Bafana coach could no longer ignore the Sundowns defender’s claims for inclusion. The left wing back has impressed with his high work rate and ability as a set-piece specialist.
So what is it about Lakay that persuaded Broos to call him up for the March’s friendlies against Guinea and France despite the defender turning 31 on 17 August? ‘You have to always try to improve your team. We made an evaluation after those six World Cup qualifiers and we were looking for other players.
‘I think Lakay and the other newcomers deserve a chance because they produced very good performances in the Caf Champions League and Confederation Cup. It’s up to them to take those with both hands. If they do it, I think there can be an improvement for us.’
Boebie Solomons, who was assistant to coach Clinton Larsen at Bloemfontein Celtic in the 2012-13 season when Lakay was playing as a winger for Phunya Sele Sele, believes the left-sided player’s work rate also played an important role in Broos’ decision to call him up.
‘Lyle covers lots of ground,’ Solomons told SoccerClub. ‘He works hard and his ability to go forward and deliver quality crosses, as he has shown consistently with Sundowns, must have forced Broos’s hand.’
Solomons is not surprised by Lakay’s smooth transition from an attacking role to the more defensive one that he was first introduced to by Pitso Mosimane when he joined Sundowns from Cape Town City in July 2018.
‘In the modern game players have to be versatile so even when Lyle was playing in an attacking role he had to track back and help with defensive duties.
Similarly, defenders have to offer attacking options so he has the advantage of having played as an attacker for most of his career,’ Solomons said.
Lakay, who has been Masandawana’s first-choice left back for the past two seasons, has been kept on his toes by the arrival of Divine Lunga from Golden Arrows and Sifiso Ngobeni from Bloemfontein Celtic last season. The former midfielder relishes the prospect of more competition for the left-back berth.
‘They are good players, that’s why Sundowns signed them. The competition is always healthy, it brings the best out of individuals,’’ he told The Sowetan. ‘What people don’t realise also is that the competition makes you a better player.
‘If you know there’s someone else competing against you, you don’t rest on your laurels. I’m not saying the competition wasn’t there in the previous seasons, but it’s tougher now and obviously it will require one to work harder than before.’
A Liverpool fan, Lakay is looking to emulate the roles played by Jurgen Klopp’s world-class wing backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. ‘I want to compare myself to them – we have to put in the work and effort to try and reach that level,’ he told Metro FM. ‘I’ve set myself a target to improve on last season’s goal contributions of 13 in all competitions to reach 20 this time around.’
Lakay, who made his senior international debut in Bafana’s Afcon qualifier against Sao Tome and Principe in Gqeberha in November 2020, will be aiming to carry his club form into the international arena. If he does that he could play a key role in the team’s qualifying campaign for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations which is expected to start in June.