OPINION: The day when ‘The Axe’ got the chop

Former Bafana Bafana skipper Aaron Mokoena.
Former Bafana Bafana skipper Aaron Mokoena.

FORMER Bafana Bafana skipper Aaron “Mbazo” Mokoena had a love-hate relationship with fans.

But love him or hate him, Mokoena was a loyal servant to Bafana and always put his body on the line for his country.

He was underrated by a section of the Mzansi supporters but you don’t get to earn a record 107 caps for Bafana if you are not a top performer and play in the toughest league in the world – the English Premiership.

Mokoena was touted as the new Lucas Radebe when he burst onto the scene, having made his debut as the youngest Bafana player aged 18 years two months and 26 days in the 2-1 Cosafa Cup win over Botswana on 20 February 1999.

A week later, there was a lot of hype around the young Mokoena when he was selected to play alongside his idol Radebe in an African Cup of Nations Cup qualifier against Gabon at the Odi Stadium.

The teenager got his big break when Radebe’s regular centre back partner Pierre Issa was ruled out with an injury. Back then Mokoena was making waves and showed a fearless streak in tackles that earned him his nickname Mbazo – The Axe.

I had a chat with him prior to the 4-1 win over Gabon and this gutsy teenager caught my attention.

I asked him about marking and playing against physically tough strikers as a raw 18-year-old.

His reply was typical: “I am not afraid of physical strikers. I’m not overawed playing alongside players such as Lucas (Radebe) and Mark Fish, who I have always looked up to. All the Bafana senior players have helped me settle in.”

He went on to have a stellar career, starting with Ajax Amsterdam from 1999 to 2003 after which he played in Belgium until 2005 when he joined Blackburn Rovers and played under manager Mark Hughes, before ending his English Premier League career at Portsmouth in 2012.

But Mbazo was given the chop in 2006 by the late Ted Dumitru, who was in charge of what was rated as the “worst” Bafana side to play at an Africa Cup of Nations. Mokoena and Dumitru did not see eye to eye.

Dumitru stunned everyone when he decided to axe the Bafana captain from his squad for the 2006 Afcon finals in Egypt. The move backfired with leaderless Bafana failing to score or win a single point at that Afcon. Mokoena was reinstated by Dumitru’s successor Pitso Mosimane.

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