JOHANNESBURG - In the heart of midfield at SuperSport United, Teboho Mokoena hardly makes darting runs chasing after the ball.
But it, the soccer ball, always finds him. It is in the quality of Mokoena’s movements and the ability to free himself from his marker, that makes it easier for the ball to find itself in the embrace of either of his feet, before it is launched forward with a well-weighted pass to the next player.
Bradley Grobler was the recipient of such a pass from Mokoena’s right foot in their 2-1 win over Kaizer Chiefs a week ago. The Under-20 international destroyed Amakhosi’s rearguard with his defence-splitting pass which saw time stand still and Grobler appearing out of thin air to beat Brilliant Khuzwayo between the sticks.
Awe and wonder struck the pitch and the spectators who came to watch that match.
Great game we had⚽️⚽️⚽️ pic.twitter.com/k4UaqpKU9I
However, for Mokoena - who is gradually clawing his way into Matsatsantsa a Pitori’s starting line-up - the outcome of that pass was a result of three qualities which he says every midfielder needs to embody if they are to be of any effect for their respective clubs.
“For me, playing in central midfield is all about: vision, quality runs, and a good passing game,” Mokoena says. “These three qualities complement one another. One cannot exist without the other. It took a while for me to implement these three following my promotion into the first team. And that’s because I was still getting used to how the rest of my teammates play.
"I was still learning their movements and how they initiate their runs, and that’s why it took a bit of time to showcase this other side of my game. I’m hoping to make a whole lot of those (surging passes) now though, as the season progresses.”
But first, Mokoena has to make sure that he is a consistent feature in Eric Tinkler’s plans for every match in all competitions. The 20-year-old central holding midfielder from Bethlehem, Free State, says it is what drives him not to drop his head and cave in each time he shows up for training.
In Matsatsantsa’s camp, Mokoena competes with the likes Dean Furman and a player he grew up watching and admiring - Reneilwe "Yeye" Letsholonyane - for a place in the starting line-up.
He jokingly adds that he’s the reason the pair are always in fine form in their respective roles, because they know there’s a lad who‘s eager to jump in as a suitable replacement, prowling on the sidelines.
“When I first got promoted into the first team, I was a bit impatient because I wanted to start playing right away,” Mokoena says. “It was my mother who calmed me down through that process though.
"She told me I needed to be patient and continue to put in the work in training. That helped me a lot. I grew up watching players like Teko Modise, Yeye, Shabba (Siphiwe Tshabalala) and bra Hlompho Kekana, (and now he’s playing with and against them in the elite league).”
“Me and bra Hlompho always talk whenever we meet at events or after a Tshwane derby for example,” Mokoena adds. “He’s just quality. Following our 2-0 defeat against them in a league clash a few weeks ago, he walked up to me and told me that I was getting there. He said my style of play was improving. That meant a lot to me.”
His current coach as well, Tinkler, a former defensive midfielder of note himself, said he liked the fire young Mokoena had in his play, adding he had the right amount of aggression whenever he pressed for balls.
But besides his impeccable ability to help out and protect his defence, while being equally efficient for his side up in the final third, Mokoena says there is another side of him he is yet to introduce to the public.
SuperSport will lock horns with Maritzburg United in an MTN8 second-leg away clash in the coming week, and Mokoena said it was quite crucial they upped their game from the past Sunday’s performance, if they are going to increase their chances of going through to this year’s MTN8 final.
“Most people don’t know that I’ve got a long drive and can shoot from a long way out, possibly from the halfway line,” Mokoena says. “Yes, I can. Hopefully one day I’ll get to show that (in one of their live matches).”