South African striker Mothiba grateful to Valenciennes for Lille return

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Valenciennes, Lebo Mothiba
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The 22-year-old's impressive form at the Ligue 2 side forced Lille to push for his early return

South Africa international Lebo Mothiba has thanked Valenciennes for his immediate return to French Ligue 1 outfit LOSC Lille.

Mothiba was due to spend the entire campaign with French Ligue 2 side Valenciennes on loan from Lille.

However, his outstanding form, coupled with Lille’s struggles in the French top tier, saw the two clubs reach an agreement after negotiating a possible early return for the forward.

The Diambars Academy graduate had been in scintillating form for the Athenians, scoring eight times and assisting twice in 20 appearances in the first half of the season. 

His impressive form wasn't only noticed by the Les Dogues who have since recalled him, he was also handed his maiden call-up by South Africa head coach Stuart Baxter ahead of the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifier against Burkina Faso last October.

“I was meant to be on loan for the season at Valenciennes.” Mothiba told Goal.

“I did not expect it [to return so early from the loan], but I did well in the first half of the season with Valenciennes in Ligue 2. As soon as I knew Lille and Valenciennes were negotiating to cut my loan deal, my mind was made up and I knew that I wanted to come back to LOSC. 

“I spent one year at Valenciennes, a year I won't forget. The club has fantastic fans, nice stadium and I would like to thank my former teammates and the staff at Valenciennes," he continued.

“At my age, it was essential that I play. I got that opportunity in Valenciennes, in a tough and physical league. I am truly grateful," he added.

The 22-year-old is now expected to compete for a place in Lille’s starting line up alongside fellow African players Nicholas Pepe and Yassine Benzia.

Mothiba says he expects tough competition, but he is confident that through hard work, he will prevail.

“The competition for a place in the starting line-up will obviously be tougher and I will have to work hard to deserve my place in the team,” Mothiba explained,

"My goal is to work hard so that I can be part of the match day squad every weekend. I want to play a lot of games so I can score as many goals as I possibly can," he concluded.

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In Ligue 1, he becomes the fifth South African international as he joins - Bongani Zungu (Amiens), Keagan Dolly (Montpellier), Lebogang Phiri (Guingamp), and Kermit Erasmus (Rennes).

A feat Mothiba feels will benefit Bafana Bafana in the long run.

“It's good for our national team because here, we play with and against top-level players so it enables us to make progress."
“It also shows recruiters that there is talent in South Africa and we hope more South African talents will join us."