Name: Cassius Mailula
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Height: 173 cm
Born: June 12, 2001
National Team: South Africa
Club: Mamelodi Sundowns
Transfer value: €250,000
From Keagan Dolly to Kwanda Mngonyama, Mamelodi Sundowns’ academy has produced several South Africa internationals in recent years, and the next prospect to make the next step up to Bafana Bafana is Cassius Mailula. Born in Ga-Molepo, Limpopo, South Africa, Mailula joined the club in 2016 and stood out in their DStv Diski Challenge team, before making his senior debut in a 1-0 win against Chippa United in September 2022.
He has enjoyed a stellar campaign for Mamelodi Sundowns with 9 goals and 3 assists in 16 league appearances (11 starts) in what has been his first season of top-flight football. He has also contributed 6 goals and 1 assist in 9 CAF Champions League appearances for Sundowns, who will face off against defending champions Wydad AC in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals on Saturday.
It has been an epic season for Rhulani Mokoena’s side, who sit 19 points above second-placed Orlando Pirates heading into the final match of the season against Maritzburg United. Mailula has been indispensable in their championship win with his efficient goal-scoring, racking up double figures in goals in all competitions. Similarly to Thomas Muller, he has a sixth sense of where to be and can sniff out where the ball is coming towards, knowing where to run and where to position himself in order to convert from close range.
He’s far from a penalty box poacher, however; the 21-year-old is a dangerous threat on the counter as he has the ability to hold onto the ball amid challenges and cut open defenses with a precise through ball. He utilizes his pace in transition, gliding past defenders and hitting the acceleration button to create separation from his man. Be it his quick feet or speed, he is capable of wreaking havoc in transition.
In this play, Mailula recognizes the opportunity and cuts between defenders to get to the cross first.
One thing that makes him such a dangerous attacking threat is his offside awareness; he rarely gets caught offside despite constantly making off-the-ball runs. Whilst he does need to broaden his skill set, improve his work rate out of possession and improve on set-pieces, and whilst his struggles in aerial duels and flaws in marking opponents and tracking back are evident, his ability to make incisive runs into the final third and hold his run in order to evade the offsides trap makes him a lethal asset in attack for Mamelodi Sundowns.
In this play, he manages to avoid the offsides trap and makes an early run in order to connect on the pass, but he fails to convert from close range
In his first season of top-flight football, Cassius Mailula has scored 15 goals and 4 assists for Mamelodi Sundowns, who have won a record 14th league title — no team has more since the South African Premier Division’s founding in 1996 — as well as a sixth straight title. Sundowns are looking to return to the CAF Champions League Final for the first time since 2016, when they beat Zamalek to claim a first-ever title, but first, they’ll need to get past Moroccan giants Wydad AC.
Mailula’s impressive form in Pretoria has earned the attention of national team manager Hugo Broos, making his international debut in March and coming off the bench in two AFCON qualifiers against Liberia. At 21 years of age, he still has plenty of room for improvement, particularly in the defensive area, but he has shown plenty of value in the goal-scoring and counter-attacking departments and will be vital for Mamelodi Sundowns as they look to close out the season with a historic double.
By: Methembe Thomas Tshuma / @MethembeThomas
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Phill Magakoe / AFP