JOHANNESBURG - The inspiration behind Jackson Mabokgwane finding himself as Orlando Pirates’ No. 1 is down to the challenge his goalkeeper coach, Vukusic Ivica, set for him upon his arrival.
The Serbian joined the Buccaneers last August with Mabokgwane low on confidence after a disastrous campaign that resulted in him being pushed down in the perking order, behind Wayne Sandilands. Despite that, Ivica still set the 30-year-old goalkeeper a mammoth challenge that motivated him to claim the No. 1 jersey and keep four clean sheets in 12 league matches.
“The team is doing well. When a club does well, people don’t talk about the defenders and goalkeepers,” Mabokgwane said yesterday at the club’s training base, the Rand Stadium. “When the team does badly, they look at goalkeepers and defenders first and say they are conceding goals. But you have to understand that it’s the whole team that’s conceding goals.”
Mabokgwane continued, “I’ve been on the bench and I worked hard to get the opportunity (to be No. 1). I grabbed it with both hands and of course I got the backing of the technical team. Their support has been immense. I also have to give a special mention to my goalkeeper coach. He pushed me from day one since he got here. He said it straight to my face that ‘I want to see you back in the national team’.
I said this man is, I don’t know, I am not even playing here and he wants me back in the national team. He has really pushed me hard and I am slowly getting to my best. I just need to keep the consistency. The backing from my teammates and technical team has helped a lot.”
Mabokgwane argued last season that there was no goalkeeper crisis at Pirates despite the club fielding four different ‘keepers with two of them beaten six times in a single match - Mabokgwane in the 6-0 loss to Mamelodi Sundowns and Brighton Mhlongo in the 6-1 thumping by SuperSport United.
The 30-year-old’s argument was that this wouldn’t have happened had the club chosen their No. 1 and backed him through thick and thin, instead of rotating goalkeepers at the slightest mistake. The current technical team looked to have settled on Sandilands as the first choice and backed him until he had a shocker against Sundowns. That opened room for Mabokgwane and he has ran away with the opportunity.
“This position needs strong figures. You need to be strong mentally. Personally, I know I am a very strong person. I don’t get easily affected by what’s happening around me or said about me,” Mabokgwane said. “You need to remain focused and be strong, know that certain situations are beyond your control. It happens everywhere that if someone isn’t doing well there is going to be rotation. You need to make a decision on who you go for and back them. I started the season as second choice and I worked hard to be the first choice. I have to repay the faith shown in me and produce the results.
When you get the backing, it helps you as a player. You perform better and there is less pressure on you. I got to the national team after playing consistently for a season and a half at Mpumalanga Black Aces, doing very well. You improve with games. I am hoping to get back to that level.”
Mabokgwane will play in his first Soweto Derby against Kaizer Chiefs on Saturday having previously watched from the bench as the last three ties ended in draws.
“Yes there have been draws, but the football hasn’t been bad because you also need to understand that there is tension and tactics. Sometimes you have to absorb the pressure and other moments you have to attack. But we don’t go out to play for a draw in the derby and say that at least we didn’t lose that game. I am a goalkeeper and I always play for a clean sheet. But if my team wins all the matches 4-2, we would win the league and I would be happy. I would rather my team wins than me getting a clean sheet. Hopefully it will be an exciting derby.”