Rhulani Mokwena: One day I would like to represent my country and serve my people

Orlando Pirates assistant coach, Rhulani Mokwena, took his time out to chat with Soccer Betting News’ Jesse Nagel ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, on why South Africa missed out on a place in the tournament, which African team country can go the furthest and whether or not the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane can prove their credentials against the best international footballers. Mokwena states that the lack of youth development is one of the main factors why Bafana Bafana are not going to Russia, while he also didn’t rule himself out of taking over the reins at the national team in the future.



Jesse Nagel: Firstly, coach, thank you for taking the time out to chat to us. So, the 2018 FIFA World Cup is just around the corner. Why do you think South Africa are not going to Russia?

Rhulani Mokwena: Difficult question, I think it's one that needs a bit more time than just a few seconds, I think the reality is that we haven't qualified for the World Cup in a while, apart from the one that we hosted in 2010. I think that in its own is a reflection of the amount of work that needs to be done from a footballing perspective. One of the key contributing factors that I could think of from the top of my head, I think there's quite a few, but probably the more mitigating one would be the lack of producing world class players, you know, we're not producing those type of players. You look at some of the top footballing nations, and even the top footballing nations from Africa, one of the key elements from them is their continuous production of world class players. Even the ones that have qualified now, you look at Egypt with Mo Salah, you can go to Senegal and then you've got Sadio Mane. You can keep going, you know. And this is not now, but it has always been a culture and a consistent production of world class players. I think another thing that comes back, apart from this, is the development structures and the work that we are doing in terms of youth level.

JN: I see, so would you feel that the players need more time? Or would you put some of the blame on coach Stuart Baxter? Perhaps it's something behind the scenes?

RM: You know, it goes deeper, hey. It's not about the head coach of Bafana, it goes deeper. It's what we are doing at youth level. We need to get our youth structures right. We need to put a bit more investment into youth development and into our academies. We need to align our philosophies in relation to the culture and what we would like to see being the South African style of play. I think those are all minor factors, but it ultimately contributes to one bigger problem, which is a lack of proper youth development in the country.

JN: I know you were supposed to join up with the national team earlier this year, could that be the next step in your coaching career?

RM: Look, I don't know, I think at the moment I am just focused on the project that we've started at Orlando Pirates. I think that is, for me, one of the most important elements. But one day of course I would like to represent my country and serve my people, but, at this time, my greater focus and my energy is all going towards really contributing to the success of Orlando Pirates.

JN: So, it's not just family ties keeping you at Orlando Pirates? Do you feel that you and coach Micho are working on something special together?

RM: It's the project, it's the club, it's not necessarily the family ties, but it's just being involved in an environment where you feel the warmth and the sense of appreciation and when you get that, you are then able to give the best that you can in terms of trying to make a small contribution towards a greater result, and that's the most important thing for me, it's not about individuals - myself and Micho - it's about the club and the project. It's about making sure that we give our best towards that, you know, and that's what we focus on. Each and every one of our lives are directed towards that.

JN: I see, back to the World Cup now, coach, who is your pick to win the tournament? And which African country do you think can go the furthest?

RM: Very difficult, I think the normal culprits will be in and around there and mainly because of the consistency with regards to the selection and the growth of their teams. Germany have prepared their team and they've been together for the last two World Cups, with this being their third, along with the technical team, so I think already that brings a bit of consistency, it brings a routine and familiarity. It also brings collective sense of togetherness in the struggle, you know. They fight for each other, they work for each other, and they're familiar with each other's strengths and weaknesses. Their team is very competitive. So you'd think a Germany, you'd think a Brazil, you'd think a Spain. They will all be more or less in and around there, because they also have individuals in those teams that can win matches and change the result. Again, we speak of these world class players that are able to, in a single moment, influence results. So, for me, I'd put those names up there. Of course, Belgium have a very good team as well, so they should also be within that space, and Argentina, of course, you could probably also put them there to be able to make it more challenging, seeing that it's Lionel Messi's last, if not his second to last, World Cup, and he would also like to make a bow out and win a major competition at international level. With African countries, like I said, when I watched Senegal in the qualifiers, they were pretty strong and they were able to collectively show a bit more tactical discipline, but also, keeping in mind that they've got a player that is world class, if they can keep him fit, Sadio Mane is a match-winner and he can turn a result. Morocco, under Herve Renard, were looking very strong during the qualifiers and were one of the first to qualify. I expect them to have a very good World Cup. I watched Nigeria play, they've also got a couple of players at the highest level, who could also change results. Egypt, of course, they know that space, they've been at the World Cup numerous times, possibly more than any other of the African countries - I stand to be corrected. I know for Nigeria, this will be their sixth World Cup. So the Egyptians always have a game module that is able to compete in that space, a lot of tactical organization, and they have a very good structure. Add that with players that are very competent and are able to compete, and then probably one of the best African players at the moment in Mohamed Salah. So they should be the one African country that we probably will look at, seeing whether or not they can go on the longest run in the World Cup.

JN: Would it be too much to ask who will be the player to watch in the 2018 FIFA World Cup?

RM: There's quite a few, and this is nice. Like I said, it will be interesting to see some of these youngsters that are coming through for Belgium. I'd like to see how they compete at a different level. Apart from your other big-name players, there's a few up and coming stars in the French team. But it would also be interesting to see how Salah does in that space, having done so well this season. Whether he is able to get to an even higher level and compete consistently in that space with top international football players. So, for me, I'd like to see that and a nice breed of players coming through. Of course, then you've got your Lionel Messi's, who is used to that mental stimulation to be able to drive himself there to a different level. Messi should be there, Neymar as well. So let's see, it should be an interesting World Cup.

JN: So we can expect Messi at Orlando Pirates next season, coach?

RM: Haha, yeah, maybe in FIFA 19 where you are able to have a budget that is strong enough to try and get players like Messi for Pirates.

JN: Haha, thanks so much for your time. I wish you all the best and hopefully we will see you coach the national team very soon.

RM: Thank you, my brother, anytime, Jesse.