The curtain will officially close on the 2017/18 PSL season next Tuesday, when the league’s top performers will be recognised for their efforts across the campaign at the always-glamorous PSL Awards ceremony at the Sandton Convention Centre.
Over the next week, KickOff.com will analyse the nominees in each major category, giving an overview of their season and the merits for their nomination.
We continue our analysis with the Defender of the Season Award, which will this year be contested by Bevan Fransman, Innocent Maela and Siyanda Xulu.
At 34, Fransman may have been written off as past his prime entering his second season at Maritzburg United, yet proved many naysayers wrong following a fine season in KwaZulu-Natal. Marshalling a well-drilled defensive line, which changed between a back three and back four at various points in the season, the well-travelled centre-back put all his experience to good use in ensuring the Team of Choice never conceded more than two goals in any of the 27 games in which he started this season.
The Team of Choice conceded just 23 goals in their 30 league matches this campaign, the second-best in the league, which played a pivotal role in reaching their record fourth-place finish in the season-ending standings.
A leader from the back and in position to snuff out any danger, Fransman averaged almost 14 clearances and 1.3 blocks per game he played.
In his first season in the top-flight after captaining Thanda Royal Zulu to National First Division honours last season, the 25-year-old made the step up look easy in making the left wing-back position his own at Orlando Pirates.
Starting 24 league matches this campaign, Maela played a pivotal part in helping The Bucs bounce back from their disastrous campaign last season to finish second on the log this term, securing a long-awaited return to continental football next year.
Tsepo Masilela’s younger brother made an impact on both ends of the pitch for the Soweto giants in his wing-back role, making an average of 2.5 blocks and 6.8 clearances per game while averaging 4.6 open play crosses per game (the fifth highest of all players in the league), with a final third passing accuracy of 86.2%, the second highest of all players in the Absa Premiership. He also contributed four league assists, all of which came in games Pirates ended up winning.
Labelled a flop at Kaizer Chiefs after making just six league appearances over the two years he spent at Naturena, not much was expected from the former FC Rostov defender upon signing for Maritzburg at the start of the season. Yet despite his lack of game-time in previous years, Xulu showed his quality and proved his worth, playing a crucial role in the Team of Choice’s stubborn defence en route to their club-record fourth-place league finish.
A more-than-reliable partner to the experienced Bevan Fransman in a back three or four, the 26-year-old played in all but one league fixture this season, chipping in with two goals as well, including the winner against Ajax Cape Town in January.
Over the 29 games he played, Xulu averaged 9.2 clearances per game while making an average of 1.6 blocks per 90 minutes.
Who do you feel is most deserving of the 2017/18 PSL Defender of the Season award?