What has happened to Emmanuel Mayuka?
Harare ‑ As St Mary’s rose in the rain on Saturday night to salute its Southampton heroes, after one of the greatest nights in the English club’s 128-year-old history, it was easy to forget, in that wave of delirium, that this is the home of Zambian forward Emmanuel Mayuka.
Those who were being feted on the night, after a sensational 3-1 victory over a revived Liverpool brightened the Saints chances of staying in the Premiership for another season, were Mogan Schneiderlin, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez, the goal-scorers on the day.
Mayuka, the 22-year-old Zambian forward signed on August 29 last year on a five-year deal from Young Boys of Switzerland, was not even on the bench on the night as Southampton moved seven points clear of bottom club Queens Park Rangers and six points clear of the drop zone.
“We are an attack-minded team,” Southampton coach, Mauricio Pocheltino, told SkySports.
On the evidence of his side’s performance on Saturday night, against a Liverpool team that has been on a revival path of late, the Argentine coach is right but, if you are a Mayuka fan, his philosophy, and the way the striker has been frozen out of the team, leaves more questions than answers.
Has the career of one of the standout players of the 2012 Nations Cup finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, whose move from Switzerland to England was expected to boost his profile and showcase his natural talents to a bigger global audience, stalled?
Is Mayuka finding the going tough in the English Premiership and has his graduation proved a hurdle too steep for a man who was dubbed the next Godfrey “Ucar” Chitalu?
Has the stocky forward found the transition from the comfort zone of Swiss football into the pressure cooker of the English Premiership too much for him to handle and, in the process, has he lost the Midas Touch that made him such a big star in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea?
“It’s never easy to make such a transition, especially for strikers, given that every play you make is analysed and if you don’t hit the goal-scoring form from day one, the pressure begins to build and people start to doubt you and it brings in all the psychological issues,” said George Deda, a Zimbabwean football agent who spent six years living in England before returning to settle at home.
“For Emmanuel, I think the challenge is that he came with a reputation as a goal-scorer, which he built at the 2012 AFCON, and there is no doubt that Southampton believed in him, both for the short-term and long-term, and that is why they nailed him for a five-year deal.
“He is 22 and in the world today, it’s an age when a number of strikers are firing from all cylinders and while I never expected him to score goals in the first couple of matches, I think the more that time passes on, without a goal, the more the concern deepens.
“It’s always a challenge and I remember Benjani came to England when I was there, in a big money deal, and he was on the same south coast, playing for Portsmouth, and went for more than a dozen games without getting a goal and it created a lot of media interest.
“I would have loved to see Mayuka being kept within the team, I mean as a substitute, because that helps in his learning process but I’m worried now because he has drifted far away from the team and that is always a very, very big concern.
“I saw him at the last AFCON in South Africa and he looked a different player, he was short on confidence and was not even the first choice for Harve Renard anymore and he departed without scoring even one goal, and maybe he is still suffering from the effects of the transition.”
Deda also feels the managerial changes at St Mary’s haven’t helped Mayuka.
“He was signed by another manager who was fired just four months after he arrived and a new man was put in charge and he brings in his different ideas and trusts different players and it’s always a big issue,” said Deda.
“But he has time on his side because he has a long-term contract but it will be important for Southampton to survive and, if you are a foreign player or a big signing, you want to be involved in such big matches and not watching from the stands.”
Mayuka has only made seven league appearances, six of them where he has come in as a substitute, for the Saints, making his debut in a big game against Manchester United, which they lost 2-3 at home, and he has yet to score a goal for the English club.
He has also played one League Cup and was not on the scoresheet either as the Saints crashed to a 0-3 defeat at the hands of lower league side Leeds United.
The Zambian didn’t feature in the FA Cup. In total, he has played 166 minutes in English football, has had five shots, with three on target, suffered four fouls, committed five fouls, made three crosses and strayed offside just once.
He played 15 minutes, in his first game, against Manchester United and hit on free-kick and was fouled once, 16 minutes against Aston Villa in his second game and had two shots, with one on target, nine minutes against Everton in his third game and had just one cross to show for his efforts.
Mayuka played 25 minutes against West ham and had one shot on goal, from a free-kick, in a demoralising 1-4 defeat for the Saints.
His time on the field improved, in the next game, as he played 32 minutes against Tottenham and had one shot on goal in a 1-2 home defeat.
The shift was cut back to 14 minutes against West Bromwich Albion, in a 0-2 defeat for the Saints in the Black Country, and his only start came against Sunderland, where he played 55 minutes, had one shot on target, fired from two free-kicks, strayed offside once and had a cross.
Sunderland won 1-0.
Incredibly, the Saints lost six of the seven league matches that Mayuka played in, conceding 15 goals in the process, and scoring 10.
Their only win came in the 4-1 humiliation of Aston Villa at St Mary’s where Mayuka played 16 minutes after coming in as a substitute.
“The statistics don’t make good reading, really, but then he is playing at the highest level of the game and he just needs to keep working hard,” said Deda.
“We have seen something similar to that happening to Knowledge Musona whose arrival in the Bundesliga has not provided the sparks that we all expected.
“It takes a bit of time but then you also need to be a very strong character because it’s never easy out there and you earn every penny that you get.”