The young SuperSport United starlet opens up about his future dreams and objectives
Teboho Mokoena has already become a household name in the PSL despite being in only the second professional season of his young career, and he is looking to establish himself as a prominent force in South African football. Chatting to KICK OFF’s Chad Klate, the bright young prospect opens up about his journey thus far and points out his dreams and future ambitions.
Born and raised in the township of Bohlokong in Bethlehem, Free State, Mokoena started out in humble beginnings before working his way up the football pyramid from amateur teams, through the Free State Stars and Harmony Sports academies, before joining SuperSport United in 2015. “What made me want to play football is my father, because he played back in the day and I’d like to achieve more than he did,” reasons Mokoena, as we sit alongside each other at the club’s training base in Woodmead, which overlooks Midrand. “When he passed away, that’s when I realised I have to step up and continue his legacy.” Mokoena’s dad was none other than former Qwa-Qwa Stars (now Free State Stars) and Hellenic midfielder Alexis ‘Didi’ Motaung, who passed away in August 2010, while Teboho was just 13-years-old. The reason for their contrasting last names is due to his parents’ seperation prior to his birth, with ‘Mokoena’ being the family name of his mother. “We [my dad and I] were not that close … my mum introduced me to him while I was still growing up. In fact, I never got to even watch him play because I was scared [to get to know him],” Mokoena reminisces. “We never had a good relationship, sometimes we met but sometimes I was afraid to meet with him because I was still young.” As an only child, ‘ Tebza’ is now the bread winner in his family and hopes to use football to provide for his unemployed mother, who is his biggest source of advice and motivation. “Losing a parent, even if you’re not close, is not easy,” he admits. “I had to live with it and start making a living out of my football, because I knew I needed to provide for my mum. It’s always been my goal to see my mum and myself living a happy life.” Mokoena discovered his passion for football at a young age, starting out as a striker and then a defender, before opting to follow in his late Dad’s footsteps by becoming the pivot of the team. “I started playing for Juventus FC – I think I was nine years old – for a number of years in the junior leagues. The club was then sold and I had to move to Free State Stars’ development, where I stayed for one season, before I moved to Harmony Sports Academy at the age of 16. I joined the SuperSport United academy thereafter and got my professional contract after the Bayhill [Premier Cup] tournament in 2016,” explains the former Amajita captain, who envisions going on to achieve more than his father by securing a move abroad one day. “I’d like to see myself going overseas
“My goal is to go abroad and never coMe back to south africa.”
– that’s my ambition because he [dad] didn’t get a chance to play overseas, or even Bafana Bafana. He played in the PSL, but my goal is to go abroad and never come back to South Africa – that’s what I want,” he says boldly.
Dream come true
Matsatsantsa are viewed as having one of the best youth structures in the country, having nurtured the likes of Kamohelo Mokotjo and Kermit Erasmus. The duo went on to further develop their qualities at renowned Dutch clubs Feyenoord and Excelsior Rotterdam in the Netherlands, before working their ways to England and France respectively. Should Mokoena remain humble and disciplined, his ability could quite easily take him to similar heights, and possibly even further. “It was a big achievement for me to join the SuperSport academy, because I always wanted to play here while I was still growing up, but I didn’t think it was possible because there was a belief that Gauteng was not for people from Free State – usually Free State people never make it in Gauteng. The dream was impossible, but I kept going, and when they came to knock at the door at Harmony Sports Academy saying they wanted to sign me, it was a dream come true,” says Mokoena. Not only did the Bohlokong-born star reach his dream of joining the Tshwanebased club’s esteemed academy, but just over a year later he found himself making his professional debut. Stuart Baxter threw him on in an Absa Premiership clash at home to Highlands Park in the first round of the 2016/17 season – a moment Mokoena will reassure forever, and remembers in great detail. “I think it was October 16, we were playing against Highlands Park and leading 4-1, when I came on in the 82nd minute. It was very special. I would have gotten my debut in the first game of the season against Platinum Stars, but they scored against us so I was told to go back to the bench,” he reveals, sadly. “But I was very happy to eventually make my debut and credit must be given to coach Stuart for believing in me. He never doubted my ability and he’s a coach I’ll always say, ‘opened doors for me. For the first time in my life I was open with a coach, and it was with coach Stuart. Him and I were close, and he’s the only coach I’ve ever gone to for advice – he would tell me where I could improve and what I needed to do.” A few months later, Mokoena rose onto the international scene after being called up by coach Thabo Senong to the national Under-20 squad for the U-20 Africa Cup of Nations in Zambia, where he went on to help his country to a place at the 2017 U-20 Fifa World Cup. “I was very happy to be there [at
the U-20 Afcon]. It was an honour and priviledge to represent 55 million people. Knowing that so many people are behind you… eish, I never thought something like that would happen,” he says as he reflects on the magnitude of his achievement. “My father never managed to make it onto the international scene – at youth level or senior team – so it was very emotional, especially in the first game [3-1 win against Cameroon] when I was captain … I never thought one day I would be leading my country. And then there was qualifying for the World Cup – that was very special.” Following his exploits in Zambia, Mokoena became a regular feature in Baxter’s team and was almost denied the chance to join Amajita at the World Cup in South Korea, which started at the tail end of May – the climax of the PSL season. However, after some deliberation, an agreement was eventually reached between SuperSport and Safa, with the 20-year-old managing to join his teammates in Suwon for the final two group games: a 2-0 loss against Italy and a 0-0 draw against Uruguay.
‘The worst feeling’
“It was the worst feeling when the team wouldn’t allow me to go to the World Cup, but I think I was professional because from that time I started getting man of the match awards,” he says. “I started being more serious because I thought perhaps if I played well then the club would allow me to go. That’s what my mum and late grandfather told me I should do – they were very supportive.” Having gained valuable experience on the world stage, and just when things were looking up, Mokoena returned to the news that Baxter was leaving United to take charge of Bafana Bafana. “The day I found out he was leaving, I cried in my room,” he admits with some embarrasment. “I was alone in my room, and I thought, ‘Baxter made me who I am today and now he’s leaving, what’s going to happen next season?’. I was nervous and didn’t know what would happen to me, because he was the one who introduced me [to professional football] and he believed in me. I thought there wouldn’t be someone else who believed in me the way he did – bringing me up from the academy and playing me in the first team. It was very emotional to see him go. “When I went to the national team for the Chan qualifier [against Botswana], I was very happy to see him again because I didn’t get a chance to thank him for everything he did for me. I had to look for him at the airport even though I was rushed to get home, but I found him in the bus and I got to thank him for everything he did for me. We had a little chat there too.” Now in his second season in the PSL, Mokoena has already gained the belief from new coach Eric Tinkler, and is ready to prove his worth as he aims to put pressure on veteran midfielder Reneilwe Letsholonyane for a place in the team. “It’s inspring to be playing with the likes of ‘Yeye’, because I’ve been watching him since I was a kid. Now I’m competing against him, and it’s kind of motivating as well,” he says. “When we go onto the pitch I want to prove that I can do more than he can. It’s part of being young and motivated, and wanting to achieve more in life. I need to push hard so that, even if he does play, he must know, ‘Mokoena is outside there and waiting for me, and if I mess up he will come in and do the work’.”
“THE DAY I FOUND OUT [BAXTER] WAS LEAVING, I CRIED IN MY ROOM.”
Mokoena entertaining the fans during a Nedbank Cup semi-final match against Chippa United at Sisa Dukashe Stadium in May.