SA starlet aiming for Premier League

Players Abroad

Katlego Mashigo, 17, is a relatively unknown name to the South African football fraternity, but judging by his remarkable adaptability, work ethic and natural ability when he steps on to the pitch, he's destined to become a name that will ring around Mzansi in the near future.

After being developed by the club that's produced two current Ireland national team stars and Premier League legend Damien Duff, the fresh-faced midfielder took the difficult decision to leave his family behind to pursue his dream of following in the footsteps of his predecessors.

But how did it all start?

"I was born in Pretoria Shoshanguve, but my mom got a job opportunity in Ireland. After a while she got homesick, so my dad and I then decided to go over and support her when I was about five years old," Mashigo told KickOff.

"At first I didn't want to go over, it was a change, different country, but obviously I got used to it."

After being introduced to football at the age of six, when his mother took him down to the local club team, Mashigo recalls a hilarious early memory but little did he know it that it would turn out to be the start of a whirlwind journey that would see him within state of the art football facilities in England.

"I was about six years old when my mum took me down to Phoenix FC, I didn't know how to play then, you know, I just stood there with my hands in my pockets but I ended up staying there until U-13 and I captained the side for about two years.

"I'm generally a central midfielder, whether it's number six, number eight, number 10, I'm comfortable in all areas.

"I left Phoenix in U-13 and moved on to St Kevin's Boys, which is still probably one of the best schoolboy clubs in Ireland at the moment, who've produced Premier League players such as Robbie Brady, Damien Duff and Jeff Hendrick.

"I was then picked up by an agency called Quorum Sports in U-15, it's an agency based in England, they signed me up and they brought me out to Fleetwood.

"If I'm being totally honest I didn't know much about Fleetwood at the time but when I arrived for my trial, I was very surprised by the facilities. I heard the chairman has spent about 10 million pounds of the training ground."

Leaving his hometown of Dublin at the age of 16, he recalls that it was a bigger challenge than his step at five years old from South Africa, but Mashigo concedes sacrifices are essential when you aspire to reach the top.

"I had to move alone at 16, I had to leave school in Ireland, but they basically cover school here with the academy over here. So we go to school on Monday afternoon and Thursday all day, so I moved over here into a digs, which is a hotel, for all the players, everyone has there own room.

"At first it's hard because you're 16, moved away from your family, obviously just trying to live your dream.

"I've been with the U-18s since my arrival, but recently in pre-season, I made my U-23 debut at the age of 17. I scored in the game as well when I came on as number eight."  

Beyond this season:

"As a young kid, you always have aspirations of playing in the Premier League, playing at the highest level but in the next two or three years, I hope to break into the first team, hopefully pushing to become a regular and hopefully with the team in the Championship, pushing towards the Premier League."

With several former high-profile Premier League stars venturing into management, one that has particularly drawn interest in the UK is that of former Manchester City midfielder Joey Barton.

Throughout his career, he was often painted as an eccentric madman but from the moment he joined the club, Mashigo claims he's been the exact opposite to what the media often portrayed during his 16-year professional career.

"Joey Barton, he's very, very good, since he's come in during the summer, he's created this excellent environment at the club.

"It's kind of like a family club. He's created this set-up where the first-team and U-23 are together and some of the U-18s will train a level above.

"He's really good at managing his players and he really believes in youth and he's not afraid to give a young player a chance, he recently gave a 16-year-old his first team debut against Leicester City in the EFL Cup.

"And his mentality is, basically, if you're good enough you're old enough which has given every single player at the club that extra bit of belief and inspiration to go beyond their limits.

"I was very surprised, he was probably one of the nicest people I met, he's very approachable and even if you're a youth team player or whatever, he won't go past without saying hello.

"All I can say is, he really puts his trust in his players which gives everyone confidence and it rubs off on the entire club, not just the first team."