Lebo Mothiba: Stuart Baxter likens Strasbourg striker to Premier League star Teemu Pukki


Stuart Baxter, who handed Teemu Pukki his international debut, reveals the South African striker he believes can enjoy a similar career trajectory to the Premier League star.

Pukki, 29, has enjoyed a dramtic rise to the English top-flight with Norwich and has been one of the standout performers this season, with six goals in seven starts.

And Baxter, who discovered the forward in the Sevilla reserve team during his time as Finland head coach believes his success is something that should excite South Africans.

"When I was the coach of South Africa in my first stint, we were looking for strikers and then suddenly, we heard there's one playing for Strasbourg. I go across there, I do my homework and suddenly - Katlego [Mphela] is there," Baxter tells snl24.com/kickoff. 
"And I'm thinking, wow, he's South African. So I look at him, I chase him a little bit and I bring him in for the COSAFA Cup and he explodes and he goes on to be this striker [for Bafana Bafana].
"And then now for the second time, it's Lebo Mothiba, totally the same thing. He left South Africa early, I've gone across there, I've sat with him, we've spoken and I'm sure he's going to be a regular striker for South Africa for a long time and there's a lot to come.
"With Pukki it's exactly the same, he's left Finland as a kid, at a very early age and he goes to Sevilla. And it wasn't the first-team, so I go across [to Spain] to visit Sevilla and sit down with his coach, who informed me that he would be given a chance of the bench this week against Real Madrid.
"I thought 'wow', so I stayed longer to watch the game and he came on with 15 minutes to play and he didn't look out of place - and I though wow this could be a player!
The Premier League Player of the Month for August had appeared to have failed to live up to the potential Baxter saw in him after stints at Schalke and Celtic but four seasons in the Danish Superliga transformed the 76-time capped Finn.
"He sort of stagnated after that, he didn't break into the team, he ended up back in Finland," Baxter explained. "I gave him his debut against Japan if I recall and we all thought at the FA that he'd go onto become the player to replace Mikael Forsell but he sort of went into the darkness you know.
"We tried to give him the game-time, play him for 30 minutes but his not match fit, he's not scoring, it was bad time for him. Suddenly I left and I remember getting a call last year saying Teemu is doing really well, back in the national team and he's going to Norwich where he's all of a sudden exploded and fulfilling the potential that I saw in him.
"The comparison with Mphela and Mothiba for me is striking because they all left early, they all struggled a little bit after they made their initial impact and I think this is what's going to happen now to Lebo before becoming South Africa's main striker for a long time to come."