Analysis: PSL’s woeful goal drought the worst in years

Two top leagues on two different continents concluded this weekend. South Africa’s PSL and England’s Premier League. While both leagues have their merits, entertainment value based on goals is lacking severely in one.

In a season where Mohamed Salah netted a record-breaking 32 goals in a season in the English Premier League, South Africa’s top-scorers chart looks grim. Just two players – Percy Tau and Rodney Ramagalela – managed more than ten goals in the competition across the season. In fact, the Premier League's top two scorers combined – Salah and Harry Kane – found the back of the net more than the whole of the title-winning Mamelodi Sundowns team. Goals aren’t the ultimate yardstick for a good competition. There is a case to be made for the contribution of defenders, but anyone who has watched even five minutes of a PSL match will know that scoring skills are sorely lacking. And with so many claims that the PSL is the “best league in Africa”, it should be a concern, not just for fans, but for the administrators tasked with developing talent for the national team. The definition of what it means to be the “best in Africa” is rarely dissected, although, Sundowns' coach Pitso Mosimane tried recently. “It’s improved to the extent that I think we are No 1 in Africa. Probably financially too. Coverage‚ media‚ TV,” Mosimane was quoted as saying by the Sowetan. “The coaches are doing very well. Before the fitness levels weren’t so good. Sundowns had an edge three years back‚ even on big teams. “But still it has become so difficult. Everybody trains the same way. Everybody’s got analysts. If there’s any other league in Africa you say is better‚ tell me the name and we can talk about it.” Mosimane might have a point, but being the best of a bad bunch isn’t exactly an earth-shattering achievement. Statistically speaking, the PSL is one of the worst leagues in the world and there is very little indication that it’s improving. Goals as a benchmark comes with myriad caveats but from an entertainment value perspective, it is one of the best ways to measure the performance of a competition. And since entertainment is what attracts fans and ultimately sponsorships who get their ROI from these eyeballs, it’s important. The 2017-18 season was, statistically speaking, the worst for average goals per goal for almost a decade and a half. Defenders and goalkeepers who played blinders in individual matches deserve some credit here, but the issue becomes more apparent when compared to other top leagues around the world. The PSL averaged just over two goals per game this season. Serie A averaged 2.7, Bundesliga and the Premier League 2.8, Major Soccer League over three, and La Liga, yet to be concluded, also 2.7. If the PSL wants to bill itself as one of the best in the world, it needs to deliver as the other leagues do. The goal drought would not be such an issue if this trend was a once off, but it’s not. Last season, the league had one of the worst percentages of 0-0 draws all around the world. A total of 11.67% of matches ended goalless. This season was worse. A total of 35 matches, or almost 16%, were goalless. The issues has been noted on a number of occasions and in December last year, Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Willard Katsande shed some light on the phenomenon. “As much as we want to blame the strikers, we also need to give compliments to the defenders because, even in international football, games are decided by small margins," said Katsande. "If you pay attention to your defence, the more you keep clean sheets and the higher your chances are of getting such [goalless] draws," he was quoted as saying by "Football has become a business whereby everyone doesn't want to lose, everyone doesn't want to be relegated and everyone wants to win something. "So the strikers are doing their jobs but the defenders and the goalkeepers also need to get credit." He did admit that the strikers should be putting in "more hard work" . Considering no player has scored more than 14 goals in a season for the last five years, he has a point. If, as Mosimane says, teams have so many analysts looking at all this data, maybe the wrong things are being analysed. Many ex-pros have said that they would be happy to offer their services to assist coaches. Some believe the issue is down to a combination of players being complacent and not wanting to improve their skills - often "going socialising" instead of putting in the extra time after training. Others think it’s down to the coaches. Whatever the reason, the issue isn’t new. Limnfeatures a fascinating statistical analysis from Sbusiso Mkhondwane looking back at matches from 2002. It doesn’t include the latest season’s data yet, but it shows that the 0-0 draw is the third most common result since 2002. Aside from one anomaly between 2009 and 2010 – where the league went from a record low to a record high, goals scored has remained relatively stagnant. There is no doubt that the PSL has grown in stature since it was started. But in a world increasingly competing for interest with various other leagues and sport, it needs a quality injection from somewhere and fast. DM