JOHANNESBURG - Teboho Mokoena, 20, has been told he has to remain in South Africa this month to help SuperSport United consolidate their top eight position in the Absa Premiership, as well as reach the Nedbank Cup final, instead of representing his country at the youth World Cup in South Korea.
On Friday, at the same time as Under-20 coach Thabo Senong was announcing his 21-man squad to face Japan, Italy and Uruguay in Group D, club chief executive Stan Matthews was dropping a bombshell on Mokoena.
“He simply can’t go, and he accepts that,” Matthews said. “The club has a lot of injuries and Teboho has been massive in this time. We have Michael Morton injured again, Cole Alexander hasn’t been available for months, Bradley Grobler and Kingston Nkhatha are also injured. I am going to be losing Michael Boxall to the Fifa Confederations Cup in June, which means he will miss some of our CAF Confederation Cup group stages matches and the Nedbank Cup final if we reach it.”
The club-versus-country saga - even at junior national team level - has reared its ugly head again. Mokoena, tipped as the long-term successor to Reneilwe Letsholonyane, who turns 35 next month, stepped up when the SuperSport dressing room resembled a hospital ward and has made eight appearances in 2017, right around the time key players picked up serious knocks.
And the Under-20 vice captain has held his own among the big boys - twice against Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs, as well as current league leaders Bidvest Wits, a game in which he picked up the Man of the Match award.
“We know that young players would love to be at this World Cup stage wearing their national team colours, but we are asking for a compromise,” Matthews explained. “In the past we have given the national team six of our players, and we will release all the others they have selected for this World Cup (goalkeeper Mondli Mpoto and midfielder Sipho Mbule), but not Teboho. We have told him the club believes he will progress much quicker playing for us than going to the World Cup, and he understands that.”
Amajita coach Senong will miss Mokoena, especially after the young talent from Bethlehem proved to be a critical part of the Under-20 team in the youth Africa Cup of Nations held in Zambia in February and March.
It is likely that Mokoena’s case might be the first of a few more to come, with the Wits duo of Reeve Frosler and Phakamani Mahlambi, as well as Ajax Cape Town’s Grant Margeman also included in the Amajita squad that is scheduled to depart for South Korea on Wednesday. Wits are three points clear at the top of the League and Frosler, in particular, has recently become a regular due to first-choice rightback Nazeer Allie being ruled out for the rest of the season after he broke his toe in training.
SA under-20 World Cup fixtures:
Japan, May 21 (10am SA time)
Italy, May 24 (1pm)
Uruguay, May 27 (1pm)