Mosimane 'no fan' of Mokoena

Mark Gleeson

Axing Aaron ‘Mbazo’ Mokoena gave the headline writers a field day last week. It is as pivotal a moment in the ever-turning story of Bafana Bafana as was the decision to drop Benni McCarthy last year, before the Soccer World Cup finals.

So it turns out that Pitso Mosimane is no fan of the centre back, who despite 107 caps for his country is just 30 years-old and still playing at a high level and presumably still international class.

But Mosimane has vacillated for months now over the future of the Portsmouth defender. He gave him a rest in November for the friendly against the United States, but at the same time as resting a few other regulars and so little was read into it.

Mokoena was called up for the last Bafana Bafana match against Kenya in February but sat unused on the substitute’s bench at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace.

When this was questioned afterwards, Mosimane told reporters they were making too much of it, insisting he was just experimenting with new combinations.

But now it is clear Mokoena was always headed for the chop, except Mosimane took his time in doing it, obviously still in two minds or perhaps seeking to cushion the blow.

It does not paint the coach in a good light because if he had made up his mind last year after Mokoena’s last appearance in the Nations Cup qualifiers against Sierra Leone game, he should have had the courage of his convictions and dropped the guillotine then.

After all his service for the country, Mokoena did not deserve to be called up to play against Kenya, travel all the way here and then be left on the sidelines.

It has been a checkered career for Mokoena, from the start when Jomo Sono picked him as an unknown 17-year-old for the 1998 African Nations Cup in Burkina Faso. Then, the selection by Sono had more to do with business and putting Mokoena in the shop window than it did with his playing potential.

In the end, Mokoena did not play a single game and it was only the following year that he made his debut on the Cosafa Castle Cup against Botswana - at 18 years, two months and 26 days-old the youngest ever South African international, a record he still holds.

Mokoena’s longevity has surprised many observers because of the litany of mistakes he has made in South African colours, many of them costly.

Like the free kick given away on the edge of the penalty area in the 2009 Confederation Cup semi-final against Brazil, which led to a last minute defeat for the hosts in Johannesburg, or missing a clearing header that allowed Mexico to equalise in the opening game of last year’s World Cup finals.

But Mokoena has also been appreciated for his speed and drive and ferocious tackling. He was also the author of a vital goal in the 2008 Nations Cup qualifiers when Mosimane was caretaker coach and Bafana Bafana won a famous victory away in Lusaka against Zambia.

It might be he gets to play for the national side again but it does seem as if a 12-year Bafana Bafana career is over.

Mokoena must be remembered as a player always committed to the national cause, he never shirked a game, and with 107 caps arguably our greatest international yet. He was a good ambassador although I will feel less jittery when Bafana Bafana are on the defence as I have, at times, over the last decade.

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.

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