Mokotjo Confident His Long Road To Brentford Will Pay Dividends
With Brentford recently signing highly rated Kamo Mokotjo from the Dutch Eridivise, Billy Grant from Beesotted caught up with Joe Crann (@YesWeCran) – writer for South Africa’s biggest soccer publication Soccer Laduma (@soccerladuma) – and asked him to give us us a lowdown on the defensive midfielder with an eye for a pass, a nose for a tackle and an aversion to yellow cards.
England has always been the Holy Grail for Kamohelo Mokotjo. And now thanks to his hard work, some faith from a small but forward-thinking team from West London and a little help from his relatively newly acquired Dutch passport, he has finally got his hands – or his feet rather – on it, signing for Championship club Brentford FC.
Mokotjo has built up a reputation as one of the best passers in the Dutch Eredivisie in recent years with his reputation growing massively over the past few years. However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the midfield maestro as he takes one step closer to this long term ambition – reaching the promised land of the English Premier League.
‘Kamo’ has come a long way since impressing Zinedine Zidane as an 11-year-old at the Danone Nations Cup in 2003 – fighting his way up the ranks at Feyenoord, PEC Zwolle and FC Twente before landing up in London last week.
His skills were honed by SuperSport United – a South African club with a good track record for developing young players – where he came through their youth system. However, he played only one first team game for United (nicknamed Matsatsantsa) as a teenager before being snapped up by Feyenoord in 2009.
Despite his qualities as a defensive midfielder, Mokotjo was forced to play out of position at Feyenoord on several occasions. The young South African was played at right-back and centre-back by manager Ronald Koeman during the 2011/12 and 2012/13 campaigns as he battled to tie down a regular spot in Rotterdam.
After playing just 38 games for Feyenoord between 2009 and 2013, Mokotjo was transferred to PEC Zwolle. Manager Ron Jans was a big fan of the South African’s playing style, seeing what he could bring to the centre of the field, and signed him to the rival Eridivise side – giving him the opportunity to shine in his natural playing position.
With PEC, he started to really make a name for himself in Holland, helping the club to their first ever major trophy in 2014 – grabbing an assist in their 5-1 demolition of Ajax Amsterdam on the way.
A few months later he was provider again as Zwolle beat Ajax in the Johan Cruijff Schaal – the Dutch Super Cup – with a 1-0 win.
Jans has previously said that he rated Mokotjo higher than Luis Suarez (who he coached at FC Groningen), describing him as a ‘genius’. He said,
“In a game of chess, he may just win because he is five, six or seven moves ahead in his thinking” (He may be the perfect folly for Romaine Sawyers who’s gameplay is normally two or three moves ahead of the pack – Ed)
Just as Mokotjo lifted Zwolle’s hearts in 2013/14, he broke them at the end of that same season when FC Twente came knocking and reportedly paid a club record fee to prise him away. He left the club with two trophies, six assists and two goals in 34 games, picking up just one yellow card despite his position as a Defensive Midfielder.
At Twente he went on to become a centurion – playing over 100 games in three seasons with 15 assists from the centre of the field. He was nicknamed ‘The General’ due to his role as one of Zwolle’s most vital players.
Over the last four seasons, the South African international has made 7625 passes with an 88% pass completion rate (that comes in at an impressive 6710 passes) in the Eredivisie, and also supplied 132 key passes to his teammates in their hunt for goals.
Meanwhile, defensively he’s also no slouch, making 233 tackles and 304 interceptions whilst picking up eight yellow cards in 124 league games.
Last season alone, he completed more passes (1864) than any other midfielder in the Eridivise –the Dutch equivalent of the Premier League. His 78 interceptions saw him ranked as the best midfielder in that category. Only defenders had more.
He also completed 73.4% of all his tackles over the season.
He’s 26 years old with four years playing competitively in the Eredivisie. So why has he only played a handful of games for South Africa, I hear you ask?
Well that’s part of the reason he was able to sign for Brentford.
Mokotjo retired from international football saying that ‘current circumstances are not conducive for me to break into the Bafana line up’ under then coach, Shakes Mashaba. He went on to say that he wouldn’t honour call-ups ‘until circumstances change’.
The fall out began in 2014 when Mashaba refused to call Mokotjo up to the Bafana Bafana squad because he felt that he looked ‘heavy and sluggish’.
Fast-forward a few years and Mokotjo is out of retirement under new coach, Stuart Baxter. But prior to his return, he forfeited his South African citizenship in order to get an Dutch EU passport to circumnavigate the strict English rules when it comes to foreigners. He has since got dual-citizenship.
As Brentford know having failed to sign him before, it was going to be tough for Mokotjo to get a UK work permit with a South African passport and a handful of international caps. A Dutch one, however, enabled him to sign as an EU citizen which works very nicely – well for now anyway.
In Mokotjo, Brentford have signed an intelligent footballer with an eye for a pass and an incredible ability to read and break down the game. His aim has always been – and well always be – to make the Premier League. If he can’t get there with Brentford – which is not out of the question – then he will be hoping that he can follow in the footsteps of recent Griffin Park graduate Andre Gray who is currently being touted with a move from Premier League Burnley to Everton.
That driving ambition can only benefit the Bees as they continue to build a team that can challenge for promotion within the next few seasons.