So many times we bemoan the lack of our players moving abroad to the stronger and tougher leagues of Europe. Those that do go there, come back in no time it seems. Just the other day Siyanda Xulu signed for Kaizer Chiefs. A quality player. Which means a good signing for them. But at 23, Xulu should not be coming back home.
This has sadly been the trend for many of the players that we thought would make Europe their home for a good number of years. Of course there have been some who have had off the field issues out there like the talented duo of Mbulelo Mabizela and Jabu Pule, but others like Siboniso Gaxa, Tshepo Masilela, Bernard Parker, Benedict Vilakazi, Kermit Erasmus, Katlego Mphela, and most recently Bongani Khumalo are all examples of players who left the country with huge promises and our hopes sky high, but came back home prematurely if you ask me. All of them mind you, are former internationals, which means they were at some point the best we had to offer. Why is this happening? Why can’t they make it there? Should SA players just stay at home because Europe is not for them? The answer to this is an emphatic NO.
The reason I say this is because one man has proved that it can be done. Aaron Mokoena is not considered by many to be the most talented of players. Many feel he’s the luckiest man to ever play football. I say he’s probably the most under-celebrated player we have ever had. This is why I just can’t believe ‘Mbazo’ never had a testimonial match in his honour. He was just a teenager when he felt the country to play in the Dutch league for Ajax Amsterdam.
He went on to play in Germany, Belgium, and for two clubs in the Englishn Premier League. Not many players from this country get to play in England. He stayed on that continent for over a decade, and not once said: ‘It’s cold I’m going home’, ‘I’m not getting game time I’m going home’ or ‘There’s too much racism I’m going home.’
We know that he faced all these things, but he toughened up and stood the test of time. When all of this was happening, Mokoena was also playing for his country and I dare anyone to challenge me when I say he always put Bafana Bafana before anything else. He got his first international cap at the tender age of 18, a record he held for 15 years until it was broken by 17-year old Rivaldo Coetzee last year.
While players like Benni McCarthy and Quinton Fortune practically had to be begged at some point to come play for Bafana, he got onto the first plane to Johannesburg to report for camp every single time he was selected. That humble approach to serve his country made him the most capped Bafana player of all time with 107 games to his name. Only Siphiwe Tshabalala comes close, and I use the term loosely because he is a distant second with 90 caps.
Whatever feelings you might have towards Aaron, numbers don’t lie, and for me these numbers add up to only one word, legend! I have a problem with how a man who served his country with such aplomb, and represented it at the highest level possible in football, has been tossed aside like a used tissue. I’m not saying he should get a job at SAFA or anything, I’m merely saying he could have had a better goodbye than to just disappear.
He should have had a game played in his honour by now to show some sort of appreciation for what he has done in days gone by. Every young footballer in South Africa should aspire to have a CV like his. The fans have had their reservations about him, and coming to mind is that first 2010 World Cup game we played against Mexico. While everyone seemed to have agreed on holding the line and playing the off-side trap, Mbazo was left behind and played all the Mexicans on-side, which subsequently led to the equaliser after Shabba’s opening stunner.
Players make mistakes and it’s just unfortunate that he made his on the occasion of the most important match for South Africa. But the heart with which he played every single one of his 107 matches, and the leadership skills as the captain for so many years cannot be paralleled. The players who came before Aaron did well for the country by winning the AFCON. But I get the feeling that according to the masses, and seemingly the Association, only they have a reservation in the legends’ league.
This is to a point where others are called legends simply because they played in that era, and didn’t really do anything special. For me the term “legend” is used very cheaply in this country. To a degree I feel that being a good player does not necessarily secure you legendary status. Yes, Mbazo was not a player who necessarily set the scene alight, but he did all the right things and ticked the right boxes. He played by the book. We should develop a culture of celebrating those who do well and achieve relative success since we do not have too many stories to tell about our players in Europe.
At the risk of being accused of being politically incorrect, when it comes to black players, and I mean black players not coloured players, Aaron is the only player we can say went to Europe and made something of himself. There are so many negative things to say about our guys who left the country that we even forgot to commend the one success story we had. A story that we can point the young kids playing football in this country to.
Let’s stop being hypocrites and give credit where it’s due. Salute Mbazo.