Bafana star Lebo Mothiba speaks on his emotional return to Lille

Strasbourg's South African forward Lebo Mothiba (L) vies with Angers' French defender Vincent Manceau (R) during the French Ligue1 match between Angers(SCO) and Strabourg (RCSA), on October 6, 2018, at Raymond-Kopa Stadium, in Angers, northwestern France.
Strasbourg's South African forward Lebo Mothiba (L) vies with Angers' French defender Vincent Manceau (R) during the French Ligue1 match between Angers(SCO) and Strabourg (RCSA), on October 6, 2018, at Raymond-Kopa Stadium, in Angers, northwestern France.
Image: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP

Bafana Bafana striker Lebo Mothiba is set for an emotional return to French Ligue 1 side Lille on Friday when he travels to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy with new team Strasbourg.

Mothiba was taken to France by Lille as an 18-year-old from the Diambars Academy in Johannesburg and set on the path to what many believe will be a stellar career in Europe.

The 22-year-old Mothiba answered Lille’s SOS in the second half of last season when he returned from loan at Valenciennes to help the side avoid relegation‚ his goals key in getting the points the club needed to stay up.

But the cash-strapped side then decided to sell one of their prized assets to Strasbourg‚ where Mothiba has excelled and now has seven Ligue 1 goals in just 12 games this season.

Mothiba admits‚ though‚ that Lille remain in his heart and he left reluctantly. It will now be the first time he comes up against his former employers.

“My agent kept on telling me Strasbourg were interested‚ but my focus was still on Lille‚ playing and training‚ listening to the coaches and doing my best to score goals‚” Mothiba told TimesLIVE in Strasbourg.

“Lille were struggling with financial problems‚ so my agent said‚ ‘OK‚ Strasbourg really want you’. And I spoke to Lille and sat down with the sports director [Franck Béria] and he explained to me the situation that was going on at the club.

“There were new players coming in‚ players with experience of having played this game for a long time. For me‚ I am still young and need to learn and prove myself.

“If I had stayed I was going to play‚ but not every game – 15 to 20 minutes here and there. For me the most important thing is to play because that is how you learn and get better.

“I understood the situation and so I said‚ ‘OK‚ I’ll move to Strasbourg’ because I know that here I will play. Everyone‚ the coach [Thierry Laurey]‚ the owners of the club‚ the players‚ everybody wants me to be here.

“But Lille is still very much in my heart‚ and always will be. They gave me the chance to play in France and I will always be grateful to them for that.”

Victory for Strasbourg would see them move up to fifth in the table.

The good news for Bafana coach Stuart Baxter is that the game will be played on Friday‚ which should mean Mothiba is in camp for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against Nigeria by Sunday night.

For the last camp ahead of the games against Seychelles‚ players trickled in as they made flight connections from Europe and Asia‚ with some only arriving a few days in.

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