Awakening the sleeping giant

Awakening the sleeping giant

Teyateyaneng – Econet Premier League giants Lioli endured an unexpectedly tumultuous first half of the 2017/18 season.
It all started in October when ‘Tse Nala’ crumbled in the Independence Cup and then-coach Halemakale Mahlaha jumped ship immediately afterwards.

Following Mahlaha’s departure, the club tasked his assistant Motebang Makhetha with steering the ship while it searched for a new head coach.
Knowing the importance of the hire in their chase of Bantu, the Teya-teyaneng giants cast their net far and wide and eventually identified South African born Morena Ramorebodi as the man to rejuvenate ‘Tse Nala’.

A CAF A-Licence holder, Ramorebodi is well-known in South African football having mentored several National First Division (NFD) teams and been an assistant coach at popular Premier Soccer League side Bloemfontein Celtic.
His most famous moment came in the 2013 Nedbank Cup when he masterminded Maluti FET College’s 4-1 humiliation of giants Orlando Pirates in the first round of the tournament.

Ramorebodi eventually led the second division minnows to the competition’s last 16 stage as he announced himself as one of South Africa’s upcoming coaching minds during the fairytale run.
So, when Ramorebodi was announced as Lioli’s new coach at the beginning of January, there was unsurprisingly a fair amount of interest and intrigue in Teyateyaneng.

With Lioli preparing to begin a second round they hope will be better than the first, thepost visited Ramorebodi.
Ramorebodi is the second South African coach to head a team in Lesotho after James Madidilane who took charge of Bantu in June 2016.
During a wide-ranging chat, the Lioli coach outlined why he made the move to Lesotho and his plans for ‘Tse Nala’.

What made you accept Lioli’s job offer? What attracted you to the club?

I am sure you can hear that I have a Lesotho accent, so I am not away from home when I am in Lesotho; there are a lot of Ramorebodi’s in Lesotho.
The truth is Lioli have been talking to me for a very long time, but unfortunately every time when I tried to make a decision a South African team would come and want me to work with them.
But this time when the Lioli management called me I was doing analysis work on Lesedi FM. I talked to them and told them I don’t have a problem with coming.

When I was talking to them the main thing they showed me was their big picture which is to dominate Lesotho football.
The first mistake we make is to take a job because it is available yet you are not going to make an impact. What made me decide to come is because I want to make an impact.

In my understanding, there is a lot you can achieve as a coach. It is not only about winning trophies but having players you can point to who are playing at an international level or helping players reach their dreams.
The nearest border for Lesotho is South Africa and there are so many opportunities in South Africa for soccer players.
I have to come up with ways to help Lesotho players reach the same level as South African players. There is not much of a difference; the only issue is that a lot of people (in South Africa) doubt Lesotho.

Maybe it is because Lesotho is in inside South Africa and they feel nothing special can come out of Lesotho.
But I have had an opportunity to work with some (Lesotho) players, the likes of Thapelo Mokhehle of Bantu, Mohau Kuenane, Tšepo Lekhooana, and Bushy (Moletsane) once came to our trials at (NFD outfit) African Warriors. I also worked with Lebajoa Mphongoa.

One thing that caught my eye was the discipline, the way Basotho do things. My understanding is that because of Basotho’s respect and discipline, I should come and contribute the knowledge I have so that I can help the nation to go forward.

How long is your contract with Lioli and do you intend to stay beyond the end of the contract?

We agreed on a six-month deal but, to be honest, before you can think of long-term, you have to stabilise the team first. If we look at the past two seasons you could say Bantu has been dominating, but was it dominating because of good players? Good coaching? Good administration?
Let’s assume those four elements including supporters were involved in making Bantu successful, then you firstly need a short-term plan to stabilise. When you stabilise it means you try and wake up this sleeping lion and say, “Wake up and fight”.

I think Lioli has been doing well, unfortunately recently they have just dropped, so it is your responsibility as a coach to stabilise and that means you have to be competitive.

Whether you win trophies or the league will be complemented by what you bring. The first thing that you need to do now is to show the players the bigger picture.

The (club) management has a plan but they can’t achieve their plan without proper coaching and proper commitment from the players, and that’s your responsibility as a coach.

You have been with the team for a few weeks. What is your impression of the Lioli squad so far?

To be honest, if there is a team that has good players then it is Lioli.
Even amongst the players that have been released, there are players that can walk into any team and play.

I should be honest – and I always want to put it nicely so that when somebody reads this statement they understand I am not saying I am better than other coaches – but there are elements that I think maybe the (previous Lioli) coaches did not emphasise with the players and those elements contribute a lot to the team’s success.

Sometimes players become too big and end up forgetting that no matter how talented they are, there are (other) players.
Another one is that you don’t lose alone, you lose as a team. The first priority to me was to make sure that we unify the team because if you want to work with talented players you have to get them to work together and that is one element we are working on.

I think it will come right and the team will start getting the results they need or they deserve.

There was talk of dressing room unrest and player power last year at Lioli. What did you find upon arriving?

Sometimes it’s not about player power. Let’s just be honest, there must be a way you work with players, players are not slaves, players are tools you use to get success. If you don’t take care of your tools and you let them separate you will not be successful.
What is important is to bring the tools together; if you can do that then it is going to be easy.

About player power, I honestly don’t want talk about it that much because upon my arrival I did not see anything wrong. I saw determined people who want to work and until now I don’t have problems with the players.

What will be your focus heading into the second half of the season?

Every coach wants success and success is brought by winning trophies. But like I explained, the most important thing is to build a strong team that is going to stand for a very long time.
If you only look at winning trophies yet there are many wrong things you didn’t fix, you may win trophies but it is not going to last.

Right now I can’t say which position I will be comfortable with (at the end of the season). I arrived under a lot of pressure and I have to work hard.
I am not even going to say if finishing second (in the league) is fine because I don’t want to put pressure on my players while we are still building. What we will achieve will be because we worked hard.

How would you describe your coaching style?

First of all, football does not want lazy people and unfortunately I don’t work with lazy players. Second, football needs disciplined players; thirdly, football needs people who can think and your sessions as the coach must help the players to think. Fourth, what is the situation with the team?
I am not a coach that is going to arrive at the team and say I want us to pass the ball. We must be able to play well in different phases of the game. How are we defending after losing the ball? What are we doing when we attack after getting the ball?

Those are important things that tell you how your team is. But if you say, “When we have the ball let’s play it and if we don’t have let’s defend,” and yet you don’t have the correct way of doing it, you are going to end up with a team with no direction.
What is important is to play with the situation in a game, that is what is going to prepare you to go to the next game.

You played with three defenders against Matlama? Will you be introducing any changes tactically in terms of formation and the team’s playing style?

To be honest, I made an analysis on Matlama before we played them. They have a striker called (Motebang) Sera. He is quick and they play a lot of balls to him, so we had to do something to block their midfield and to make sure their fullbacks don’t attack.
The way we played against Matlama was informed by the way Matlama plays. Every game has its own way of planning.

How big of a loss will the departure of Motlalepula Mofolo be? Who will replace him?

When I arrived I asked for a list of players from the previous coach (Motebang Makhetha) who was in charge of the team. I looked at it and then we decided to balance the team.
When you balance the team the first thing you look at is (the players’) age. You look at how many players there are in that position, the statistics on how many games he has played and how much you need him. That will inform your decision.
Unfortunately, the position in which Motlalepula Mofolo plays there were about four players and we also needed (to bring in) three players (in other positions).

Because of (Mofolo’s) age you cannot keep him as a fourth option and then not use him. You are going to frustrate him. Most of the time what causes politics is because you are keeping big, old players and not using them, then they end up revolting.
We were trying to avoid the case where tomorrow (Mofolo) will not be happy and take out his frustrations in another way.

If you look at football right now, there is a lot of speed involved and if you can’t keep up you end being left behind.
It’s one of the reasons we ended up saying, “this player and that one cannot be part of the team going forward.” What we need to do is to let them go and open up a space here and there.

You play Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) on Sunday in Lioli’s first game of the second round. How much do you know about them and how will you approach the game?

We do research and analysis on all teams mainly because we want to be on the right path.
When we are going to play we should know what to expect. LDF is one of the teams that we know; (we know) how they work and their way of play.

Did you chat to Bantu head coach James Madidilane before taking the Lioli job? What did he say (about Lesotho football)?

People would not believe me but James and myself have a very close relationship. But it’s not only him, there are many other coaches in the country I talk to, the likes of Bob Mafoso, we are very close, Teele Ntšonyana is one of the coaches I talk a lot with.
Leslie Notši, we talk a lot, I also have a very strong relationship with the national team coach (Moses Maliehe) because I also love scouting for talent that comes from Lesotho that they may not be aware of in South Africa.

(The coaches) know we have done a lot of things together and I can say I surprised most of them because I never said anything about coming here. They just saw me when I was unveiled as Lioli coach. Some of them kept asking what is going on. One of them is Motolo (Makepe) of Liphakoe. I never said anything but they knew I had this special attachment to Lesotho. Even when I decided to come I knew I have a lot of people I can easily relate with should anything happen.

Bantu are the defending league champions and are on top of the standing again. They also won the Independence Cup. With the league still winnable and the Lesotho National Insurance Group (LNIG) Top 8 coming up, what is the main target now?

I don’t want to put the players under pressure. What is important is that they execute whatever I do with them without pressure because if you mix things, you are going to end up not sure what is working or not.
So, one thing at a time. If the Top 8 is available then we will compete, if the league is winnable then we will go for the league. But what is important now is to make sure we try by all means to establish a foundation that will last this team for a very long time.

How have you settled in Lesotho with your family? And how has the welcome from Lioli fans been?

One of the things that made me come to Lesotho is the love of football.
I love football too much. Even if I give you the keys to my room now, you are going to find football things scattered everywhere.
Every thirty minutes I have when I am free I have to at least think of something football related.

When it comes to the Lioli fans I saw people who love football a lot. People like that deserve to be happy and for them to be happy you have to build a strong team for them.
The fans want to be proud of their team and they need a coach that is going to make the players realise it is important to make them happy.
The Lioli fans love football a lot and so far they have been very supportive.

I think at our training sessions we usually have 30 people watching us train. In South Africa sometimes you go to a training session and it is just you and the players, and the driver maybe.

Luciah Phahla

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