FARPost caught up with 19-year-old Sebokeng-born Augustine Mahlonoko, the young attacking midfielder who recently joined the Ga-Mphahlele based side Baroka FC on a three-year deal.
Growing up in the dusty streets of the township football was Mahlonoko’s religion and had hopes of playing professionally.
Mahlonoko noted that he began playing football at the age of eight, and at the time he was only playing for fun until he realized that he can make a career out of it. The promising youngster joined the Augusto Palacios Apprentice Academy when he was 13 years old.
His development mentor Augusto Palacios describes him as a disciplined, skillful, hard-worker, and someone who is hungry for success. The teenager has played in SAFA leagues and in the Future Champion tournament back in 2016.
The career of the midfielder blossomed when he joined the Orlando Pirates U-17 Development Academy where he excelled well and got promoted to the MultiChoice Diski Challenge (MDC) side which he ended up captaining. In 2018, he secured the club’s Development Player of the Season accolade and was part of the U-21 side which traveled to Brazil for the Project X tournament.
“It was a nice experience to play football in a country where most of the football superstars come from, because I draw inspiration from the likes of Neymar, Ronaldo, Pele just to mention a few.
“Having played in a competitive tournament of this magnitude, I learned a lot and it has helped me to cement my skills and knowledge as a footballer,” Mahlonoko adds.
The former Orlando Pirates starlet’s performances in the Project X tournament solidified the belief of the Orlando Pirates technical team. Milutin Sredojević was the head coach of Orlando Pirates by then, he subsequently included him in the club’s pre-season tour of Zambia. His stellar display earned him a promotion into the first team ahead of the 2018/19 Premier Soccer League (PSL) campaign.
Mahlonoko made his PSL debut on the 4th of August 2018, coming on as a late substitute in a 1–1 draw with the now defunct Highlands Park. On that day, he broke the record set by Lyle Foster the season before for the youngest player to debut for Orlando Pirates, doing so at the age of 16 years and 352 days.
“I was scared and happy at the same time. Playing with your role models in the same field was a priceless moment because I grew up watching them on television. Honestly, my PSL debut is my proudest moment in my career thus far reason being that not everybody gets the chance to play for such a big team at such a young age” he recalled.
However, Mahlonoko struggled to get game time as he only managed to make three appearances for the Buccaneers in the 2018/19 season. All the three games he appeared in, he came in as a substitute. “To be honest, I felt like I did not put forth as much effort as one can muster and I was too relaxed. I cannot blame anyone, but myself for not giving my all to earn my place in the first team,” he says.
The following season, he was demoted to Pele Pele FC which is Bucs’ feeder team in the ABC Motsepe League before being released from his contract in July 2020.
As Bakgaga made new additions ahead of the 2020/21 PSL campaign, Mahlonoko is one of the players that joined the club. His rapid rise to prominence impressed Baroka FC chairman Khurishi Mphahlele, when their MDC side played against Orlando Pirates’ reserve team.
“The boy from Pirates is a gem of a player, we know him from the MDC. He gave us a run for our money. We like him and when we heard that he is free, we went straight to his home and negotiated with his agent to get him here,” Mphahlele told FARPost excitedly.
The former Buccaneers wonderkid is excited about his new journey with Bakgaga. “My teammates and the technical team welcomed me very well. It feels like I have been with the team for quite some time,” he said.
“My focus is now on Baroka. I want to help the team to reach its full potential and improve myself as an individual for the betterment of my footballing career,” Mahlonoko told FARPost.
Interestingly, the Baroka newly signed midfielder is determined to break the common perception or stereotype that Vaal produced players lack discipline.
His technical and dribbling ability allows him to venture a little bit higher up the pitch. This could make Mahlonoko one of the best young players in the upcoming season.
Moreover, the Baroka FC lad is ready to take his career to greater heights.
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By Mauwane Raophala