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Who The Hell Is… Aaron Mokoena?

Portsmouth defender Aaron Mokoena has been linked with a move to a number of Premier League clubs in recent weeks – notably West Ham, Bolton and Wolves. He’s suggested his heart remains at Pompey, but seemingly craves top-flight football. Aaron, something’s gotta give.

So, with him potentially scooping up his squashy organ from the dusty Fratton Park floor prior to a prospective transfer, let’s ask… who the hell Aaron Mokoena?

Well, he’s certainly a decent utility man, a sturdy defender or defensive midfielder; no need to get overly enthusiastic or sycophantic, he is simply a versatile and reasonable Premiership player.

That’s what he has become, but back in the early 80s he was just a nipper. Born in Johannesburg (on 25th November 1980) he grew up in apartheid South Africa. Indeed, his childhood experience was particularly tough. In 1992, Mokoena’s township of Boipatong was the site of an infamous massacre. During the night of 17th June, Inkatha party members ruthlessly killed 46 people and injured many more, including women and children. Mokoena was only 11-years-old at the time. In the aftermath, amongst rumours that young males were being targeted in a systematic attempt to purge the township of its future generation of men, his mother dressed him as a girl in an effort to protect her son. Hence, Aaron and his family experienced apartheid acutely. In addition to the many lives lost, the Biopatong massacre was also destructive in halting negotiations to end the racial segregation.

Clearly this is not the archetypal story of a young footballer, and puts ‘the game’ into sharp perspective, but Mokoena has successfully used football as a positive and powerful force. His first real break came with local side Jomo Cosmos. Attracting early attention, and touted as player of substantial potential (also being compared to Leeds legend Lucas Radebe), he moved to Bayer Leverkusen for a short spell – without featuring in the first-team – and then to Ajax in 1999. He was actually ‘on the books’ at the Amsterdam giants for four years, but made only seven appearances. Much of this time was spent on loan at Germinal Beerschot in the Belgium Pro League. Indeed, this was his first real taste of regular first-team action and persuaded Genk to take a chance on ‘The Axe’ (one of his muscular-based nicknames, apparently). Mokoena duly remained in Belgium, this time on a permanent deal.

Blackburn came knocking in 2005, in search of a versatile, defensive option to strengthen the squad in January. He effectively filled-in as a first-team regular for the remainder of the season, primarily deployed as a protecting midfielder. Nonetheless, formation changes and competition for places meant his first-team opportunities were sporadic; though he was reliably called upon whenever needed, or as a shielding option from the bench. Hence, his versatility and relative reliability meant he clocked-up just over 100 appearances for Rovers.

In 2009 he joined Portsmouth on a free transfer and made 23 league appearances. Playing in defence, and part of the FA Cup venture, he has clearly felt at home with Pompey and exalted the Fratton Park faithful for their passionate support in the face of off-field difficulties. Elsewhere, his international career has been particularly notable. Making his debut in 1999, he remains the youngest player to have represented South Africa. Moreover, he currently captains ‘Bafana Bafana’ and is, impressively, also their most-capped player ever.

Now it seems this tough tackling journeyman could be on the move again. As mentioned, the 29-year-old has spoken of his admiration for Pompey but with Premier League clubs apparently displaying interest, his future remains very much in the ‘undecided’ bracket. It is thought Avram Grant is keen on being reunited with his sturdy comrade, and West Ham appear to be favourites to sign him should he leave Portsmouth. However, he has explicitly indicated that a number of clubs are circling and Wolves and Bolton are understood to be amongst them; wage demands seem to be an issue.

Mokoena stated: “I can confirm that there are a number of offers from several big clubs – three in the English Premiership, two in Qatar and one in Turkey.

“There are a number of things I am still assessing, though, and I will decide sometime next week.”

Humming to the irritating tune of Bucks Fizz, it’s soon to be ‘making your mind up’ time for Aaron; but is he a worthwhile signing?

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