THERE was once a player named Tony Ilodigwe. He was a burly ebony boy, well-chiselled, with a wonder left foot.

He played for Abaqulusi, the now defunct African Wanderers, the Durban outfit that gave South Africa Henry “Mthofi” Khumalo in the 1980s and the Three Musketeers — Phumlani “BMX” Mkhize, Siyabonga “Bhele” Nomvethe and Sibusiso “Rhee” Zuma —  in the 1990s.

Ilodigwe’s wonders with his sweet left foot caused him to be snatched by Kaizer Chiefs.

The Nigerian had bright moments with Amakhosi, though he didn’t hit the high notes with the same impunity as he did at Abaqulusi.

He was duly offloaded to Ria Stars, another team that’s vanished into oblivion.

To put it politely, his performances in Polokwane were pedestrian.

Ilodigwe’s star at Stars was so dim it prompted club boss Ria Ledwaba to proclaim: “Chiefs sold us a dud.”

Accusations flew to and fro between the two clubs. Chiefs accused Stars of paying them with a cheque that bounced and Stars insisted that Chiefs had dumped damaged goods in their lap.

Fast forward to 2014. I found myself asking Stuart Baxter: “Did Mamelodi Sundowns sell you a dud?”

Katlego Mphela has played a handful of games at Chiefs. He has a couple of goals to his name.

His contribution at Chiefs has been mostly cameo and largely negligible.

How can a man who not long ago was the go-to guy for goals transform from hero to zero in a flash?

Where is the guy whose 17 goals won him the Lesley Manyathela Golden Boot Award and caused him to be voted Players’ Player of the Season by his peers in 2010?

The 29-year-old, Bafana Bafana’s third highest all-time scorer, finds himself at the bottom of the pecking order at Chiefs, behind Kingston Nkhatha, Bernard Parker and Siphelele Mthembu.

How can a man who answers to the moniker Killer lose his lethal instinct in the blink of an eye?

There are mitigating factors. Mphela was out of sorts when he crossed from Chloorkop to Naturena on loan.

To say he was in shape as a professional footballer would make an amoeba envious.

So Mphela was always starting on the back foot at his new home. The 29-year-old, Bafana Bafana’s third highest all-time scorer, finds himself at the bottom of the pecking order at Chiefs, behind Kingston Nkhatha, Bernard Parker and Siphelele Mthembu.

With 23 goals apiece, Mphela and Parker are on par in terms of goals for their country.

But the former has the best goal-scoring ratio, considering that his came in 52 games, while Parker amassed his tally in 68 games.

The question remains: Did Chiefs buy a dud in Mphela?

Baxter believes that “if you’re superficial with the analysis of this then you could say it didn’t work out and just leave it alone. But if you scrape the surface just a little bit, you’ll see that Katlego has not had an easy run. He came to us not fit. By the time he’s fit the team is going well. My possibilities to play him into the team are limited.

“He doesn’t get enough games. Every time he’s going on it is 15, 20 minutes. And not finding the pace

“By the time he gets to the end of the season and he’s finding the pace and gets a goal, bang — he gets an injury.”

So what must player and coach do to help Mphela rediscover his scoring touch?

“The answer to where we want to go is that Katlego has got to find the mental strength and the power physically, to drive himself back to where we want him and where he wants to be.

“My side of the bargain is to motivate him and try and inspire him to find that strength and energy.

“If we can do that, Katlego Mphela can still be a very influential player and an asset for us. But if, for some reason, he can’t, then I’m afraid he’s not gonna be happy with being a bit-part player.” At 29, Mphela is running out of time and cannot afford to be a modern-day Ilodigwe at Chiefs.

See more articles