PRAIA, Cape Verde - Kamohelo Mokotjo says moving to Brentford in the second tier of English football after eight years in the Dutch league was a choice he didn’t make lightly.
Of course no-one thought he rolled out of bed one morning and opted to leave FC Twente, where he was arguably the side’s best player, because of the rigorous steps he took to actually open that avenue. He nearly gave up his South African citizenship to avail himself for a club in England.
In fact the midfielder had denounced his nationality after applying for a European passport - until then Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba stepped in to approve dual citizenship.
“Everybody knows the story about me and trying to get my work permit,” the 26-year-old said from Cape Verde, where he is part of the Bafana Bafana squad scheduled to face Cape Verde (8.30pm SA time on Friday) in a crucial qualifier for next year’s World Cup in Russia.
Mokotjo made the switch to the aggressive English Championship from the more technical and tactical Eredivisie in June for a fee believed to be in the region of R15-million.
“I am adapting day by day,” the player said. “It is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my football career. I feel I need more time. It is very intensive, the players there are very athletic and professional.
"A lot of things have to change when it comes to my personality on and off the pitch. But it is a good environment to grow as a person and a footballer.”
Mokotjo simply wanted a challenge, even if it meant he might never play for Bafana again, although he was hardly in the picture at the time he took the drastic step because he was being sidelined by coach Shakes Mashaba, who has since been succeeded by Stuart Baxter.
“It has been one of my dreams to make that move, but it had to be the right club. I feel Brentford was the right club. They had an interest in me for the longest time,” he said.
His preferred club in the end came as a bit of a surprise given that the general consensus is that Mokotjo is good enough to play in the top tier of English football.
“I always do things very thoughtfully,” he explains. “I had several discussions with teams, and I knew who wanted me the most and has been scouting me for the longest time and who feels I was the missing piece of the puzzle.
"It wasn’t about game time because you are never really guaranteed even if you are a new player. You work your way in. It was a professional decision to move to a club that tried to sign me two years ago, but couldn’t do it because of the work permit.”
Mokotjo has made an impression at his new club, starting four of their five matches so far this season, although Brentford are yet to win any of them. His focus for now, however, is to try and work his way into Baxter’s first 11.
“You always have to work for your place as a footballer,” he said. “But I have to keep to my qualities and show the coach what type of player he has. Will I play? That is for him to decide," he added.
"I saw a very well structured team against Nigeria (two months ago in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations opening qualifier, which Mokotjo missed due to an operation on his thumb), which he played with the result in mind. The goal now is to qualify for the World Cup.”