Te­boho Mokoena

Kick Off - - INSIDE -

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.

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