Position: Right Back/Right Midfield
Current Club: Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)
DOB: 6 August 1993
Birthplace: Randfontein, South Africa
Height: 170 cm (5’7)
Weight: 62 kg (136 lbs)
|Bloemfontein Celtic (2013-2016)
|South African Premier Divison
|Mamelodi Sundowns (2016-)
|South African Premier Divison
|South Africa (2019-)
Thapelo Morena is a diminutive right sided midfielder and attacking fullback whose defining attribute is his excellent speed. Whether he plays in midfield or defense, Morena prefers to attack and be direct by taking on defenders and curling in crosses from the endline. Versatility, high work rate, and remarkable pace gives managers many options in how to utilize him. The main concerns around Morena are his light build and whether he is a capable enough defender to play full back at a higher level.
General Pros and Cons
+ Elite pace and acceleration. Gets up to top speed and closes gaps very quickly. Has a solid claim to being the fastest player in South African football.
+ Versatile. Willing to play as a wide midfielder or full back on the right, and has even spent time at striker.
+ Plays at his best in the opponent’s third. Is unpredictable in 1v1 situations, curls in a very good cross, and is a capable finisher in the box.
– Lightweight. Get knocked off balance easily which limits his impact in tighter spaces.
– Not a natural defender. Average when defending 1v1, can be a little flat-footed against players dribbling at him. Gets caught straying too far forward at times when playing at right back.
+ Excellent pace and acceleration. Achieves his top speed very quickly.
+ High work rate makes him a real pest when high pressing defenders who are on the ball.
– Very small and slight. Gets muscled off easily and is a heavy underdog on aerial duels.
– High action style has led to a couple of major injuries that have held him back from moving to a higher level.
+ Reliable crosser from the endline or on early balls. Crosses well when at a full sprint and is adequate at putting curl on the ball. Capable at crossing with his weaker left foot.
+ Decent dribbler. Has a couple of tricks and uses pace well to get around defenders with speed moves or quick one-twos.
– Tackling is average at best. Can be caught flat-footed when defending 1v1. Struggles to come out with the ball cleanly in defending duels.
♦ Capable finisher when he gets into the box, but not a regular goalscorer. Goes for power on hopeful long range efforts but isn’t a threat to score from outside the box.
+ Has an unpredictable style and way of moving that requires opposing defenders to always be on guard.
+ Maintains high work rate and is reliable for 90 minutes when healthy. Notable lack of yellow cards throughout career.
– Limited vision and ambition on passes. Usually keeps it simple and short when not looking to cross.
+ Does well to neutralize attacking players on his side when playing in the midfield. Keeps full backs honest due to the threat he poses to get in behind.
+ Eager to press high and close down players on the ball. Does best when applying pressure rather than defending under it.
– Will get caught forward on occasion due to attacking nature and confidence in his recovery speed. Clinical attacks can make him pay.
Morena is hard to evaluate statistically because he evenly splits his time between playing fullback and in the midfield. Therefore he was compared to all players who spent time at either right-back or right-midfield. The attacking numbers indicate that despite his speed, Morena doesn’t take on defenders or cross as often as dedicated wingers. However, cracking the top ten in expected goals shows his knack for getting into dangerous positions:
Last season (2018-19) was evaluated as well to dig deeper into the numbers. Morena continued to split time between positions, but his crossing accuracy was in the top five when compared to the top right sided defenders and midfielders:
|Cross Accuracy (%)
As expected, Morena rates as one of the worst in the league in aerial duels, and is below average when engaging in defensive duels. Overall, the defensive numbers indicate that Morena is not as comfortable at defending as dedicated right backs. Oppositely, he moves to the top when his attacking numbers are compared with the same right backs.
There is no doubt that Thapelo Morena is a bit of a “tweener”, and a prospective new coach might fear that Morena will fail to excel at either right back or right midfield. However, in the modern game, Morena provides the potential to succeed in a pressing role while being effective enough in the final third due to his knack for getting into dangerous positions.
Evaluation: If healthy, good enough for a Moderate European League or MLS
Thapelo Morena has all the ability to be a versatile contributor at a higher level abroad. The time has passed for any top 4 European league aspirations, but a move to the level of a top 10 European league or Major League Soccer is within his level. Any coach would value Morena’s speed, versatility, and ability to keep the opposition on its toes.
The main issues with the South African are his lack of physicality and concerning injury history. Morena is an average defender at best and might be exposed at higher levels when playing at full back. However, if playing in a system that maximizes his attacking strengths, Thapelo Morena could be quite a find for a good club.