JOHANNESBURG – Describing the Nedbank Cup as the “Cup of Dreams” may sound tacky at times, but not so for young Teboho Mokoena, who will play in his first cup final tonight.
The 20-year-old SuperSport United midfielder was promoted to the first team at the start of the season by coach Stuart Baxter, who had intended blooding him in carefully to elite football seeing that he’d spent much of his time in the reserve league.
Baxter himself admits that Mokoena has surprised all and sundry with how he’s grabbed the opportunity.
“I’m still pinching myself,” Mokoena said this week ahead of tonight’s clash against Orlando Pirates at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban (8.15pm kickoff).
He revealed that he, too, had expected to be gradually introduced to the SuperSport senior team and didn’t think he would have managed 13 games in all competitions so soon after his graduation from the reserves.
“I honestly did not think I would be a regular. Yes, I set targets to be in the first team as a New Year’s resolution, but I really thought a proper chance to play week-in week-out would only come next season,” explained the Bethlehem-born player.
“I sat on the bench quite a lot in the first half of this season, and even watched the Telkom Knockout final (which SuperSport narrowly lost 2-1 to Cape Town City in December) from the stands. So getting this much game time in the second round was the furthest thing from my mind.”
Mokoena’s rise was accelerated by serious injuries to Michael Morton and Cole Alexander, two players who were way ahead of him in the midfield perking order.
SuperSport were even involved in a nasty club versus country tug-of-war when they attempted to stand their ground on their refusal to allow Mokoena to represent the SA Under-20 side at the youth World Cup in South Korea late last month, until sanity prevailed – such was his impact when he grabbed his opportunity in the PSL.
Raised by a single mother and with a sound upbringing, Mokoena had his talent unearthed by Charles Molefe, a schoolteacher doubling up a soccer coach at Bodikela Junior Secondary School, before moving to the Harmony Sports Academy and later signing a contract with SuperSport.
He’s remained a regular even after Morton and Alexander recovered.
“My mom is extremely proud,” said Mokoena. “And I think that goes for everyone back home because it is rare that you have someone from Bethlehem playing for the top teams in Gauteng.
“In the past there has been Patrick ‘Ace’ Mbuthu at Kaizer Chiefs, a player I heard a lot about when I was growing up. I never got to see him play, but I was inspired that there was someone from my neighbourhood playing at such a high level.”
He’s hoping to emulate one of his idols by also winning trophies. “It would be an incredible amount for me to lift a cup in such a short space of time at SuperSport. It is hard sometimes to grasp that I am playing at this level.
“I ask myself time and time again how is it that I got this far, but I think I worked hard for it, and to get a trophy at the end of what has been an interesting six months for me would be a massive achievement not just for me, but my family as well.”
Mokoena is prepared to fight for his place in the new season when incoming coach Eric Tinkler will take over from Baxter. “It’s a new challenge,” he said.
“It means I must work just as hard, or even more, like I did when coach Stuart was here. I want to gain coach Eric Tinkler’s trust because I want to retain my position in the team. At the end of the day, it is about how much I want this.”