Rolling back good times for LDF

Rolling back good times for LDF

MASERU – For those who may not remember, there was a time when the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) were unquestionably the best team in Lesotho. Armed with the country’s finest players, the army side dominated the league in the nineties, collecting trophies like a spoiled child collects shiny new toys.

LDF were feared and their dominance earned them the nickname ‘Sohle-Sohle’ as they swept all silverware before them.
In a ten-year period between 1994 and 2004, LDF became the undoubted gold standard for Lesotho football.
In all, they captured six league titles in that era, the most dominant ten-year run the league has seen, including three championships in a row in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

‘Sohle-Sohle’ remain the last team to achieve that incredible treble just as they remain the last local side to win a CAF Champions League tie, a feat they accomplished in 2001 when they beat Botswana’s Mogoditshane Fighters.
However, times change, and for LDF they changed for the worse.

Unbelievable as it seems now, their 2004 title is the last time ‘Sohle-Sohle’ won the league and no trophy has been seen at Ratjomose since 2008 when they held the now defunct Buddie Top 4 title.

Things spiralled to their lowest point at the end of the 2013/14 season when LDF dropped out of the league’s top four altogether for the first time
‘Sohle-Sohle’ spent the next four years in the doldrums ending fifth in 2014, fifth again in 2015, eighth in 2016 and sixth in 2017 before finally scraping into fourth place on the final day of last season.
Having breathed that huge sigh of relief of returning to the top four, the mission for LDF head coach Motheo Mohapi is to build on last season’s breakthrough.
As he enters his third campaign in charge, not only does Mohapi want LDF to stay inside the top four bracket, he wants the army side back in title contention.
A tenacious Lesotho international midfielder in his heyday, Mohapi was, of course, part of those successful LDF teams of the late nineties and early 2000s.

All this suffering is alien to him
“LDF is known for winning trophies and finishing among the top four teams, it is our culture,” Mohapi says.
“But it has been some time now without that success and my goal is to help LDF to get back to where it was before.”
It is an ambitious goal because many things have changed from how they were ‘before’.

For one, the competition has improved because the league has grown and cash now rules the day.
Champions Bantu and Lioli both have squads filled with international and foreign players; ‘A Matšo Matebele’ are coached by a former South African international.

The league as a whole is revelling in a record sponsorship deal worth M6 million over three years and the influx of money means LDF’s rivals can better pay the elite players ‘Sohle-Sohle’ once hoarded.
Secondly, LDF simply can’t poach the league’s stars as they once did after an institutional rule introduced in 2010 decreed that new players must have undergone full military training before they sign for the football club.

Both these new realities mean LDF no longer boast the best weapons and, indeed, only goalkeeper Likano Mphuthi and midfielder Tšepo Toloane have featured for Lesotho over the past year, a stark contrast to when the national team was filled with LDF players, from Mohapi, to Malefetsane Pheko, Tšeliso Thite, Masupha Majara, Eric Makara, Thabang Ramochalla and to Lire Phiri.
“Ever since we were no longer able to sign players from outside the institution our performances dropped but last season I was lucky to find a few players who added more value and balance,” Mohapi says.

“After I found players with understanding, they were coachable and they were able to keep my standard as their coach.”
One of those players was the aforementioned Toloane who turned out to be one of the league’s best signings last season.
The former Lesotho Under-20 captain underwent army training last year and joined from Liphakoe. He finished with an impressive haul of nine league goals and ended as the LDF’s top scorer.

Toloane’s form helped offset the loss of Mojela Letsie, the league’s top scorer from the 2016/17 campaign with 18 goals, who missed large chunks of last season after being involved in a car accident.
Toloane is part of LDF’s new strategy to groom a new generation of players and also develop from within the army.

The LDF’s recruitment strategy no longer looks for top stars outside the army and, rather than searching for new signings, ‘Sohle-Sohle’ begin this season hoping their new core can continue to grow.
“We do not have any new arrivals (of players this season), instead we have created a new sort of development structure for players with potential (within the army),” Mohapi explains.

“They undergo (coaching) programmes and those who perform well will be promoted to the team.”
The likes of Toloane and the other new faces such as Thabang Rabi, Thabo Mongali and Teboho Rapitso that helped the army side into the top four last season give Mohapi hope LDF’s depth will reach a level to enable the club to compete for silverware again.
Recently it is a lack of depth in quality that has hurt the team.

As older stalwarts such as Pheko and Molefe Lekoekoe aged and retired, LDF simply didn’t have the depth of the sides above them such as Bantu, Lioli, Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS), Matlama and even new challengers Kick4Life.
This fact was illustrated perfectly last season when Mohapi’s charges were routed 5-0 by rivals LCS in the quarterfinals of the LNIG Top 8.
“I am looking to create a pool of players to substitute whenever injuries or misfortunes happen,” Mohapi says.

“I want to make sure that our performances do not lapse like last season when LCS beat us 5-0 just because five of our regular players had injuries. In some other games our goalkeeper was not well and we didn’t have a good enough backup. It is not going to be easy to maintain the performance of last season but all my players are preparing well for the new season.”

The Econet Premier League campaign starts in a month’s time with LDF set to begin against Majantja on September 15.
For many LDF are an outside shot at winning trophies this season.
However, Mohapi – a legend from LDF’s glory days – is bullish about the chances of his new generation.
He remembers the days LDF were unquestionably the best team in Lesotho.

“As one of the former players of this team and now a coach, I want to bring LDF back to where it was,” Mohapi insists.
“We want to win the Independence Cup (in October) and the league as well, I am not shy to say that,” he adds.
“Now as we are preparing for the (2018/19) season we are instilling in our minds that we are preparing to be champions when the season ends.”

Nkheli Liphoto

Previous Matlama elections set for August 26
Next League fixtures released

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