Aaron Mokoena spent eight years plying his trade in the English Premier League, with Blackburn Rovers and Portsmouth Football Club respectively. And even though it’s been several years since the former Bafana Bafana captain last kicked a ball in the English competition, he still keeps a very close eye on it since he left Portsmouth in 2012.
“With due respect, I love the PSL, but there’s a big difference with watching the PSL and the English Premier League. “It’s one of the toughest, most exciting leagues in the world. Once you have stepped into the playing field in the Premier League, you cannot hide.
“You know that regardless of whether you play a small or a big team, it is always a tough game, and the stadiums are always packed.” Football’s most-watched league in the world finally returned to TV screens last night as European Champions Liverpool took on Norwich City at Anfield.
Mokeona says he’s spent the last few weeks on the phone with his former teammates from Portsmouth and Blackburn discussing the upcoming season. “Once you make friends in this sport, it’s not easy to forget them,” says the former centre back.
“I have been chatting with some of my former teammates and some current players on Skype and on social media. Everybody is really excited. “The start of the league also gives us a reason to catch up and maintain that strong friendship that we shared in the dressing room once upon a time.”
While Mokoena is unable to cheer for either Blackburn Rovers or Portsmouth FC, as both teams were relegated a few years ago, the 38-year-old does admit to having a “soft spot” for one club – Manchester United. “I genuinely believe that they will be one of the contenders for the title this season.”
While many football pundits have predicted a two-horse race between champions Manchester City and runners-up Liverpool, Mokoena isn’t one of them.
“It’s a bit premature to predict who will win, but I don’t think that just the two teams will be involved.” “Man City and Liverpool will definitely be up there, but you also have to look at the likes of Man United, who have done extremely well in the transfer window, as well as Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, and Arsenal.
“I have been impressed with United’s transfer business. In Harry Maguire, United have brought in one of the League’s best centre backs. And I think that has been the signing of the season so far. “Also, the fact that United have held on to Paul Pogba is huge.
He is one of the best midfielders in the world. This year’s competition is there for the taking, and I think four or five teams will be involved in the race.
”Mokoena believes the best manager in the Premier League is currently Man City manager Pep Guardiola.
“Pep has shown what he can do as a manager in some of the toughest leagues in the world, and he is doing so again in England. I rubbed shoulders with him a few times and had a proper one-on-one chat with him a few years ago, and it blows my mind what a good manager he is.”
While Mokoena has high hopes for Manchester United this season, it seems that his former Bafana Bafana teammate Mark Fish doesn’t seem to think that the Red Devils will be competing for the title. Fish, who also played in England, with Charlton Athletic and Bolton Wanderers, believes United are not strong enough to compete for the league.
“Man City and Liverpool will again be fighting for the title, with Spurs also being in the frame.
I don’t think Man United is good enough, but you never (know).” Fish has been less than impressed with United’s business in the transfer window.
“United made a desperate buy when they signed Maguire. They bought him to seal up their leaky defence, but whether he is the man to do it is another story. It cost United a fortune, and I’m not convinced he’s he right man.
“Also, Pogba is still there. And I’m not sure he wants to be there. I think fans will be concerned that nothing has really changed.
They have made one or two signings, but it won’t enough for them to be challenging for the title.” Fish believes that the English Premier League is the most competitive league in the world. “I was fortunate to play for both Bolton and Charlton in England.
I also played in the Italian Serie A, and for me personally, the Italian league was the toughest.
But in terms of being the most competitive, it has to be the English Premier League. “By this I mean, that you are more likely to see a couple of shock results throughout the season. You don’t see much of that in Spain, Germany, and Italy.”
Mark Fish’s top four predictions: (in no particular order)