After every training session, when his teammates head off to the showers sharing banter on how the session had gone, SuperSport United midfielder, Teboho Mokoena, stays behind and spends a bit of time with the ball.
It is in these quiet sessions, when there’s little clamour and bellowed instructions from both his teammates and coaches, that Mokoena begins to whisper to the ball, teaching it his foot’s profile.
These whispers are not verbal, though. They come in every shooting attempt he takes from range in search of the back of the net with a dummy wall standing in front of him.
Mokoena, who recently earned a call-up into the Bafana Bafana squad that is to take on Sao Tome and Cameroon in the 2021 AFCON Qualifier home and away fixtures this month, does this to perfect his shooting technique from dead ball situations. This is one aspect of his game the midfielder says he has been working on consistently to help improve his game.
It is in these extra efforts that he puts into his craft that Mokoena hopes to reach his ultimate goal of being a consistent feature into the Bafana Bafana squad.
To date, Mokoena has now scored a total of three spectacular free kick goals in his professional career, following his first dead ball stunner in South Africa’s 1-0 victory against Ivory Coast in the 2019 U-23 AFCON Group B tie out in Egypt.
This is a tally the midfielder says he hopes to build on as he continues to learn from those he admires from different leagues across the globe.
“Playing style-wise, I look up to guys like Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos and Paul Pogba of Manchester United,” Mokoena says. “Those are the two midfielders that I do not mind taking a leaf out of their books to help improve my game at any given day.
“When it comes to free kicks,” Mokoena begins to chuckle with great admiration, almost struggling to bring himself to say the words. “There is no one like Lionel Messi bro. I have never seen anyone like him. He is just too good. He’s special. It is his technique which I practice and try to master each day after practice.”
Asked how he felt about his inclusion into the Bafana squad, Mokoena said: “It felt great to be honest with you. The Association (SAFA) had announced during the day that the Bafana squad that is to compete against Sao Tome and Cameroon in AFCON qualifiers, would be made later that night on Television,” Mokoena recalls.
“I just decided to stay up and see who had made the team. And when I heard my name being called, I just leaped for joy. I tried calling my mom, who is my strength, to tell her of the news but she was sound asleep by then.
“She called me in the morning so excited of the news as well.”
The reason why Mokoena called his mother when he got the into the Bafana AFCON Qualifier squad is because there were times where the lad from Bethlehem, Free State, felt despondent on whether he would break into the professional scene and excel there or not. Mokoena’s promotion into the professional football came in 2016 under coach Stuart Baxter, who had also signed Reneilwe Letsholonyane as addition to his central midfielders at the club. This meant that Mokwena would wait for either of Dean Furman or Letsholonyane to be deemed unfit to play, in order for him to get his chance.
That frustration spurred into 2017, where Baxter had difficulties in releasing the player building up to their Nedbank Cup semis, as Mokoena’ services were also needed in South Africa’s National Under-20 (Amajita) FIFA World Cup campaign in South Korea.
It was agreed between the club and country that Mokoena would only feature in Amajita’s two group matches, before he would get to be flown back to South Africa before SuperSport’s Nedbank final against Orlando Pirates. Mokoena, though, was an unused substitute in that Nedbank Cup final.
It is in these experiences that would lead any ambitious teenager on the verge of bursting out in frustration and make a silly decision that he would later regret, that Mokoena thanks the heavens for his mother. She has been the sanity throughout experiences Mokoena felt didn’t make any sense.
“My mother is the most patient person I know,” Mokoena says with great fondness as he recalls some of the great advices he had received from his mother. “There were times were I was frustrated with not getting regular game time at the club following my promotion into the first team. She was the one who always told me that things would eventually work out and that I just needed to continue working hard and putting the an extra effort in my craft.
“She called me the other day reminding me of how frustrated I used to get when I started out, also allowing me to reflect on how far I’ve come. I am truly grateful of the progress I’ve made so far; however, I still have other dreams I want to fulfil in my playing career,” Mokoena adds. “I want to want to be a regular feature in the Bafana Bafana squad and also make the SA national Under-23 team that will compete in next year’s Olympic games.
“It is going to require a lot of hard work; however, I’m willing to work for it.”
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By Mohau Ramashidja