Former Bafana Bafana midfielder Lebohang “Cheeseboy” Mokoena says it will take “a bit of time” for Orlando Pirates to produce a clutch of similarly talented young players like the ones it churned out in the early 2000s.
At the turn of the century, Pirates promoted academy graduates such as Mokoena‚ Benedict “Tso” Vilakazi‚ Gift “Continental” Leremi‚ Joseph “Duku-Duku” Makhanya and Kelebogile Mabe, who went on to become household names.
Mokoena played with other young players such as Mbulelo “OJ” Mabizela‚ Steve “Chippa” Lekoelea‚ Daniel “Sailor” Tshabalala‚ Lucas Thwala‚ Lesley “Slow Poison” Manyathela‚ Phumudzo “Bold and Beautiful” Manenzhe‚ Thabang Stemmer‚ Edward Malinga‚ Tonic Chabalala and Solly Mathe among many others.
“We played scintillating football because our team had a very good balance of youth and experience. I will always remember those days where we took football to another level and drove supporters crazy‚” said Mokoena.
Mokoena was promoted to the first team during the 2002/2003 season and won the league title under coach Roy Barreto with Mabizela as captain.
Some of the senior players Mokoena played with at Pirates included Lucky Lekgwathi‚ Jimmy Tau‚ Onyekachi Okonkwo‚ Edelbert Dinha‚ Perry Mutapa and Isaac Chansa.
“It’s going to take a bit of time for Pirates to produce quality youth players like they did with us. As much as we have good youngsters that come from the Pirates academy at the moment and some are playing in the [MultiChoice Diski Challenge]‚ they don’t spend years there. After a year or two a player is gone and playing somewhere else.
“There is no philosophy in terms of how the whole development is structured. It was easy for us because we looked up to players like Thabang Lebese‚ Joseph Ngake, John Moeti‚ Helman Mkhalele and Brandon Silent.
“When we went to the academy‚ we were prepared to replace them. Pirates had a culture of using wingers who could take on people and then you had a midfielder, John Moeti, who played box to box, and Tso [Vilakazi] was that type of player.
“We were taught like that and it made it easier when you were promoted … you fit in like a glove and you would not even see the difference [regardless of] who was playing.”
Mokoena said he played some of his best football under coaches Augusto Palacios and Kosta Papic.
“It was fun at Pirates in those days. Each session was exciting when Augusto Palacios and Kosta Papic were in charge‚” he said.
“We played an unbelievable brand of football‚ fans created that Happy People thing and Ellis Park was the slaughterhouse. I have a lot of good memories from those days.
“The system we played was largely driven by development players [and] most of us started from the age of 12.
“When we eventually got that opportunity to go to the first team‚ we were playing for the club that built us, and the football we played was beautiful.”
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