Monnapule Saleng.BackpagePix

Monnapule Saleng: Orlando Pirates forward joins special category that seemed unthinkable early this season

Monnapule Saleng became just the second Orlando Pirates player in three years to reach double figures for goals in a single season, showing how important he has become for Bucs.

The winger’s hat-trick, his first for Pirates, took his tally for the season to 12 in 18 matches and eight in the league. He is now just one shy of the PSL’s leading scorers Bradley Grobler of SuperSport United and Mamelodi Sundowns’ Peter Shalulile.

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Gabadinho Mhango had been the last Pirates player to score double-digit goals in a single season when he bagged 17 across all competitions in the 2019-20 campaign, and on current form, it is hard to argue against the 24-year-old reaching 20.

Barren August & September

The 2020-21 NFD Golden Boot winner’s start to the season, however, did not indicate a player who could later be touted as a potential Player of the Season contender, as he had to wait until October 1 to start his first match of the season after enduring bit-part roles in the first two months of the campaign.

Monnapule Saleng tackled by Tlakusani Mthethwa of Swallows FC.BackpagePix

He would score his first goal of the season 18 days later when his brace helped Pirates to a 2-0 win over Golden Arrows followed by another double four days later, when Bucs hammered Mamelodi Sundowns 3-0 in the MTN8 semi-final second leg.

Those goals thrust him into the limelight and also made him undroppable, and he rewarded coach Jose Riveiro with one more goal before the season went on a World Cup break.

Too hot to handle in 2023

At the turn of the year, his true qualities have been seen, netting seven goals in eight games in all competitions. He is good at scoring and creating, as he has five assists to his name, meaning he has played a hand in 17 goals for his side this season.

Saleng is also the player with the most Man of the Match awards, having bagged nine this term, including in the semi-final and final of the MTN8 which Pirates clinched in November.

Monnapule Saleng, Orlando Pirates, October 2022Backpagepix

The player’s overall work rate is a joy for any coach as he runs his opponents ragged, and even though he is a forward, he is never selfish with the ball whenever a teammate is better placed.

The left-footed winger has taken his game to another level since returning to the club following a loan stint at Swallows FC last season, when he managed just two goals and as many assists in 29 matches.

Extra work paying off

While coach Riveiro has been rightly lauded for turning around his game, especially his positioning and finishing, Saleng recently credited senior players at the club for improving him while also revealing the extra shift he has had to put in during training to perfect his craft.

“The experienced players are constantly advising me, making me very happy. So, my form starts from training,” he said last month. “The way I train is how I play matches, and I don’t have any rest. I’m always doing extra training even when I’m at home. I want to constantly be at the top every game.”

Terrence Dzukamanja & Monnapule SalengBackpage

For Pirates fans, this is music to their ears and as the Buccaneers stay on course for another domestic title [Nedbank Cup] while chasing Caf Champions League qualification, they will be hoping that their talisman stays hungry, motivated and injury free.