We've all got our favourite wonderkids from editions of Football Manager gone by. Those players that we signed at the start of every save and built our whole side around. Today I'm bringing the ultimate throwback! We're going all the way back to the inaugural game in the series, Football Manager 2005, and taking a look at South African, Lebohang Mokoena.
Way back when the series was in it's infancy, the attributes given to lesser known players were a bit more, shall we say, erratic? This is shown well with Lebohang Mokoena, who starts the game at South African giants Orlando Pirates. His attributes include outstanding finishing (18), heading (16), Determination (20), and excellent physicals across the board; however, some other key attacking attributes such as his dribbling (10), first touch (9) and passing (10) pale in comparison to areas of his game of less importance, like his marking (14) and positioning (13). If the boy could tackle, he could have made it as a centre-back!
In the present day, Lebohang is much more of a traditional playmaker than the lethal finisher he was in his youth. His attributes are far more balanced, with his long throws; marking; and positioning; amongst others, all taking huge hits to allow improvement in more important areas - mainly his dribbling, first touch, technique, and creativity (now vision).
His physicals have also taken a big hit, as to be expected at the age of 33, but he still has a good level of natural fitness, so could have a couple of decent years in him yet.
Real World Career
Lebohang Mokoena started his career in the youth sides of Orlando Pirates, one of South Africa's most famous sides. He was promoted into the first team squad at the age of 16, but even before then had attracted the attention of sides in Europe, with Spanish side Deportivo La Coruña keen on his signature from as early as 2003.
As well as Deportivo, Lebohang attracted interest from the likes of Al Ahly, Auxerre, Strasbourg, and most notably Portuguese giants Benfica, who wanted to sign him after seeing him play for South Africa in the 2005 Gold Cup. Mokoena went on to make 7 appearances for his country*, also appearing at the 2006 African Cup of Nations, his last competitive action for Bafana Bafana.
*https://www.transfermarkt.co.uk/ says 7 caps, Football Manager only says 6, if anyone knows the cause of the discrepancy I'd love to know!
Despite all the early foreign interest in Mokoena, he has spent his entire career in his native country. He spent six years at Orlando Pirates, making 98 appearances and scoring 13 goals, before joining divisional rivals Mamelodi Sundowns in 2009. In his seven years with Sundowns he was a slightly less regular starter, making 80 appearances and scoring 10 goals, but did win the South African league title twice in that time - the only silverware of his career. He also continued to receive sporadic call-ups for South Africa; he played in two friendlies, one in 2010 and the other in 2012, but remained an unused substitute when called up for competitive games.
Since leaving Mamelodi Sundowns in 2016, Mokoena's career has become a bit more nomadic, with three clubs in three years. First was a very unsuccessful year at Ajax CT where he only played 6 games. Next he joined Maccabi FC and played 25 games but only scored three goals. He finally seems settled again at Moroka Swallows, where he has been since 2019, although he has only played 15 times for the club at the time of writing.
What went wrong?
Although Lebohang Mokoena's attributes way back in 2005 may have had issues in their weighting, there's no doubt he had the potential to match his in-game talent. Deportivo reached the Champions League semi-final around the time they wanted to sign him, so they clearly knew a player. If he had secured one of the moves to Europe he was linked with I think we could have seen a different beast; the extra level of coaching and higher level game experience may have seem him develop into a truly quality young player. As it is, his career stayed exclusively in South Africa. Not many people outside of his nation know his name... well, apart from us Football Manager fanatics of course!
Was Lebohang Mokoena your first experience with a Football Manager wonderkid? If not, who did you find before him? Let me know over on Twitter, and feel free to let me know who your favourite ever wonderkid is, maybe they'll get featured in the series!
If you'd like to see more of my work, I'd love for you to come out and check out my blog at onthebreak.net - Between the whole team there are saves in Uruguay, Holland, Germany and National saves with Ivory Coast and England; not to mention tactical pieces and real world football articles too!