by MTHULISI SIBANDA
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – BY his own admission, Augustine Mahlonoko has not lived up to the lofty expectations since making history as Orlando Pirates’ youngest ever debutante.
Then, he was ranked among the top 60 rising stars in world football.
Now that he is getting some game time at Baroka FC after joining in the preseason, the now 19-year-old insists all is not lost as he is eager to make up for time lost on the sidelines, showcase his talent and fulfill his dream of playing abroad.
The midfielder’s career has somewhat nosedived since Pirates, under coach Milutin Sredojević, unleashed him at the age of 16 years and 11 months in a one-all draw against the now-defunct Highlands Park on August 4, 2018.
“Honestly, I would say no,” Mahlonoko said when asked if he had lived up to expectations.
He made the sentiments in an emotional interview with CAJ News.
“I still have a lot of time to prove that it (high rating) wasn’t a mistake,” the Sebokeng-born player said.
“This is a journey and I’m only starting. It’s a long journey and I’m taking it one day at the time. I don’t want to pressurise myself. One day at a time. I will get where I’m going.”
He is working his way back to full fitness after having played his last topflight match in August 2018, prior to joining Baroka in three-year deal during the recent off-season.
Mahlonoko has featured in three of Baroka’s ten matches this campaign.
These include one against Pirates last November, which ended 1-1 at Orlando Stadium. He only played an equal number of games for the Buccaneers.
“I have settled well,” he said.
“Football wise, slowly but surely things are coming together. I have been getting some game time and working hard to be in the starting 11. With time, I will get more minutes and help the team improve.”
The move might have come as a shock to Bucs faithful considering the player’s high rating but Mahlonoko insists, “No, it didn’t come as a surprise.”
“I sat with the chairman (Dr Irvin Khoza) and discussed game time. Unfortunately, we didn’t reach an agreement.”
While the trend is that players feel pressure upon moving from the so-called smaller teams to the bigger clubs, Mahlonoko said his case was vice-versa.
“Personally, there’s a lot of pressure for me because coming from a big team like Pirates, everyone expects me to help the team improve,” he said.
“Pirates is a big team in terms of its history. Baroka is a quality team too. Everyone at the team is a fighter. The chairman (Khurishi Mphahlele) and the coaches believe in us.”
This publication has it in good authority that a trial at current Spanish log leaders, Athletico Madrid, is still in the pipeline for the player, pending a recession in the COVID-19 pandemic.
He attracted international attention when he was included in The Guardian’s ‘Next Generation 2018’, featuring 60 of the best young talents in the world.
Mahlonoko is keen to utilize the chance given by Baroka to justify such grand ratings.
“I wish to thank the Baroka chairman for giving me a chance at his club. I just have to work hard and repay him with goals and good football,” he said.
“Lastly I thank God for giving me the talent and my agents (Beyond Sport) for working hard and taking care of me,” Mahlonoko concluded.
– CAJ News