JOHANNESBURG – Those who monitored his meteoric rise may reckon it’s been long overdue, but Kamohelo Mokotjo believes it was worth the wait.
Since leading the junior national team to success in the Danone Under-12 tournament in 2003 in France, Mokotjo had many tipping him to be a Bafana Bafana asset. But 14 years later Mokotjo was yet to star for the senior national team. In 2016 he retired from international football, bemoaning lack of game time whenever called up.
But back for the second phase of his international career in 2017 under coach Stuart Baxter, Mokotjo inspired Bafana to seal a spot in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Now the 28-year-old midfielder believes he’s reaping the fruits of his labour.
“This is where I’ve always wanted to be,” Mokotjo said after Bafana’s first training session at Steyn City School in Fourways yesterday.
“I know that I’ve gone through a lot of difficulties when it comes to international football but these are sacrifices and setbacks that you have to be willing to accept in order to make progress in your career. I know I’ve had a good development with SuperSport United (academy) and the (junior) national teams, but it all comes down to the player, if they are willing to sacrifice.”
The sacrifices Mokotjo made as an 11-year old, when he moved into SuperSport’s academy, took him through Dutch football.
In Holland, Mokotjo had blissful times at Feyenoord Rotterdam, SBV Excelsior (where he helped the team gain promotion to the Premier division and scooped the club’s Young Player of the Season award), PEC Zwolle (where he won his first major title and the club’s Player of the Season award) and FC Twente (where he earned the nickname “The General” for his leadership skills).
From there the Odendaalsrus-born footballer became an integral figure for English second-tier side Brentford FC, inspiring them to an 11th place finish last season.
“I think I’ve been waiting for my opportunity. And I’ve not just been waiting and hoping that by luck I get a chance, I’ve been working hard to be in the place that I am right now. But every camp is different and every game is different and now it’s a major tournament,” Mokotjo said.
“The goal is just to get myself in the team and to help the country to go as far as possible in the tournament. I believe that we can (go far), but we all need each other as players and staff.”
Baxter is scheduled to announce his final 23-man squad on Sunday. In Egypt, SA will be in Group D with Morocco, Ivory Coast (who they meet in the opener on June 24), and Namibia.@Mihlalibaleka