But you simply cannot deny that the Amakhosi captain has been trying.
He will be the man to watch this afternoon as he takes the field for his 26th Soweto Derby against bitter rivals Orlando Pirates at FNB Stadium.
“Shabba” has literally led from the front since being handed the captain’s armband following the acrimonious parting of ways between Itumeleng Khune and Chiefs prior to the start of the 2015/16 Premier Soccer League campaign, before the goalkeeper went grovelling and begging to get his job back.
He had burnt his bridges and there was simply no way the club were going to just hand him the captaincy like nothing ever happened.
And it was only fitting that a man who has made more than 200 appearances for the Glamour Boys be asked to lead.
“It’s a humbling milestone to have grown up wishing I could play for Chiefs and now captaining them in yet another derby,” the midfielder said ahead of this afternoon’s Absa Premiership encounter.
“What is important on the day is to lead by example and work very hard. Hopefully my contribution will help the team win the game.”
He has been unlucky to see his contribution yield little positive result with Amakhosi huffing and puffing and almost surrendering their Premiership title without a fight.
Seven draws, six wins and two defeats at the halfway stay of the campaign and all eyes have been on coach Steve Komphela’s first year with the club, which the supporters deem is too big a job for him.
Few have credited Tshabalala for having found his mojo again.
Maybe comments from Pirates coach Eric Tinkler on Thursday might have gone some way in highlighting just what an important role the Chiefs captain has played, especially in the matches they have won, even though that has become a rare occurrence.
“I think he is back to the Shabba we know.
“He is a threat and a player we should pay special attention to. He is an astute leader as well.”
Tshabalala agrees the captaincy has forced him to step up a notch.
“There’s pressure at a big club and sometimes that is good because it takes you out of your comfort zone. It makes you work even harder.
“It’s the same as criticism. One must thrive on criticism,” he said.
“I would say that for the past six months we did well by reaching two cup finals.
“We have lost four games (in all competitions) including those cup finals and we can improve from that.
“Obviously to say we have been good is not enough as we have set high standards and we need to live up to that by winning games.
“The only challenge we have is consistency.”
There are two types of Orlando Pirates captains. The first are inspirational leaders who probably have the skull and crossbones tattooed on their hearts, whether it’s Lucky Lekgwathi, Thabo Mngomeni, Benedict Vilakazi or John Moeti.
The second are those given the armband as a way to persuade them not to leave the club, whether it’s Steve Lekoelea or Oupa Manyisa.
Thabo Matlaba isn’t in either of the two groups, starting his reign reluctantly.
He and Siyabonga Sangweni refused the armband when Issa Sarr gave it to them after Happy Jele was substituted in the 2-0 loss to Golden Arrows in October last year.
It’s a scene that further highlighted the troubles in the Sea Robbers ship that is sailing in shaky waters.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” Matlaba said.
“It was a long time ago. I don’t want to talk about it.”
The speedy fullback must have been given a stern talking to by the club as he took over the captaincy after that sorry episode and even adopted the political-correctness that comes with such a responsibility.
“It’s a privilege and an honour to be the captain of Orlando Pirates,” Matlaba said. “But it comes with pressure, especially when the team is losing.
“People are saying the captain must talk to his players. ‘What’s going on?’, they ask.
“We had a meeting after losing to Jomo Cosmos. We spoke about the problems.
“I think we have the solution as to how to turn things around. We will show it when we play Kaizer Chiefs. The fans must be patient.”
The outfit will look to turn things around by getting the better of their arch-rivals at FNB Stadium in the Absa Premiership.
Both teams go into this encounter desperate for a positive result.
The two coaches, Eric Tinkler and Steve Komphela, have been backed by their chairmen, which makes things even more difficult for them as they must repay that faith with a good display, especially against the old enemy.
Matlaba will lead the Buccaneers for the second time in a Soweto Derby, a role that had been performed by Manyisa and Jele before both were injured.
Now the responsibility to lead is added to the defender’s workload which includes making his darting runs up the flank before unleashing his thunderbolts.
“I don’t know what he eats, he is always buzzing and has a strong lung capacity to run all over the pitch,” Komphela, who coached Matlaba at Free State Stars, said about the defender.
There is no doubting his quality as a player but he is yet to show his worth as a captain.
He is unlike Jele, who is an inspiration leader, vocal and a model professional. He is also unlike Manyisa, who doesn’t speak much but leads from the front.
Matlaba’s maturity isn’t at the level of his role, especially in his handling of the media, though.
Original source: Soweto derby - the captains