JOHANNESBURG - Aaron Mokoena doesn’t hesitate when asked whether he thinks Bafana Bafana will qualify for next year's World Cup in Russia.
The former Bafana Bafana skipper answers with a resounding “yes”, heaping praise on the current squad.
“The qualifiers are in progress, and we as South Africa have to take the matches one at a time and try to get maximum points from the remaining games,” Mokoena said this week from his hotel room in Cape Verde, where Bafana were preparing to take on the hosts.
“Russia is not impossible. The two games against Cape Verde are of utmost importance. Everybody in South Africa needs to stand behind our national team. Together we can certainly do 2018.”
Mokoena was recently invited by the South African Football Association (Safa) to assist Bafana Bafana’s management team for their back-to-back World Cup qualifiers with Cape Verde.
Mokoena, who earned a record 107 caps, has been tasked with working closely with team manager Barney Kujane. The 36-year-old former central defender is not the first ex-player to be invited to join Bafana’s management team.
Former Manchester United midfielder Quinton Fortune, as well as ex-Fulham goalkeeper André Arendse, have joined the technical team to assist manager Stuart Baxter with Bafana’s qualifiers.
Mokoena said he was delighted to have returned to the national set-up.
“It’s been very good so far. I’m learning a lot. It’s very different to work and to have a view of the team from a management perspective compared to when I was a player.
“There are a lot of aspects to take into consideration; all the team preparations off the field and on the field. As a player, I would just pitch up and train, follow the coach's instructions and that's it.
“I feel very grateful for this opportunity to learn and be part of an experienced team such as Baxter’s technical team. I’m excited (to) start the next chapter of my footballing career.”
Mokoena hopes his experience of playing overseas can help the national squad. “I think playing overseas from such a young age and playing competitive international football for so many years can definitely add value for Bafana Bafana.
“I've always been very disciplined, resilient and a hard-working player. That kind of commitment must come from within you, no one can give it to you.
“Today's players need to understand that this Bafana Bafana jersey is not owed to them. They need to work hard for it, show commitment and pride. I definitely think my experience and career as a footballer can assist and inspire the team to grow, both physically and mentally.”
Mokoena has faith in the current squad and its manager, Baxter.
“Obviously a new process is under way with the coming in of Stuart Baxter and his technical team. As South Africa, we want to go back to being a force in Africa.
“There are two ways to look at it. Firstly, we are starting a new process; secondly, we need to get the results to build everybody's confidence in the short term.
“I believe we have the requisite talent, skill and know-how to go far in the next few years. Baxter has vast experience in both national and international football. He is level-headed and brings calm and motivation to a squad that desperately needs it.
“I have full faith in him and have no doubt he will make an impact on this generation of Bafana Bafana."
Mokoena also praised Safa for involving former players in the campaign. “It's a very smart move on Safa’s part. We need former players involved because they understand and love football.
“Empowering players and involving them in local football (both Safa and PSL) is beneficial, not only from a technical and administrative perspective, but especially for the image and brand of South African football.
“We cannot let players who have committed their entire lives and careers to this sport (or to any other sport for that matter) go lost.
“The experience one has gained during their time as a professional athlete is precious and can be used to inspire and build the next generation of proud South African champions.”
Safa was thrilled to involve former players involved in the qualifiers campaign.
“This is part of Safa’s endeavour to empower our legends of the game,” said its chief executive, Dennis Mumble.
“We’ve resolved as the association to work closely with our legends on a number of initiatives, whether it is within the coaching education or assisting in coaching of national teams.
“It's not on a full-time basis, but wherever our legends can play a role, we will use them.”