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‘The game has deteriorated’

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MASERU-When comparing the football of today and yesteryear, Lesotho legend Teele Ntšonyana says the country’s standards have deteriorated.
Ntšonyana, a former Likuena striker who plied his trade at the highest level in South Africa, says the quality of players in Lesotho keeps declining because of a lack of succession strategies in local football.

Ntšonyana, a coach and instructor who has worked for several Vodacom Premier League teams, says much-needed support from the government and funders has plummeted dramatically as well.
“In our days, football was bolstered in many different ways,” the Lijabatho head coach says.

“Teams had sound development structures which were meant to nurture young talent,” he adds.
“Even schools had such structures; there was (an) A team, B team and C team which was always inspiring players to perform to the best of their abilities in any category (team).”

Ntšonyana says schools were enthusiastic about football and top-flight teams were affiliated to schools in their immediate environment.
He made an example with Lioli which had players from schools in Teya-Teyaneng such as ’Mamathe High School.

In Leribe, Linare had players from Hlotse High School and in Ntšonyana’s home village, Mazenod, Swallows had players from Masianokeng High School.
Many other clubs had similar relationships with school, he said.

“The competition level at schools rubbed off on the premier league,” he says.
In the past, according to Ntšonyana, physical strength and mental fortitude were central and instrumental to the selection of players and it yielded a crescendo of entertaining football at the highest level.
Ntšonyana complains that today’s football is dominated by players with small frames which results in an un-lively spectacle.

Ntšonyana is critical of the body size of the majority of players in the country because he says it has had a bearing on the poor performance of domestic teams on the international stage.
The former striker acknowledges there have been exceptional players with short or small body frames who have defied the odds such as Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona.
However, Ntšonyana says those players can be fielded owing to their special talent and the vast majority of the team must be made up of players with well-built bodies.

“We used to play with extremely talented and well-developed players who had a footballing brain coupled with a footballing body,” Ntšonyana explains.
He says FIFA has not been wrong by modelling the ideal football player by using a representation of France legend Zinedine Zidane, who himself had a tall and imposing physique. The FIFA model pays particular attention to a player’s height, muscle mass as well as thinking capacity.

These features, Ntšonyana says, are embedded together to make a complete player.
“The body size of the players actually matters,” he explains.

“Most of the players who are presently playing football (in the Vodacom Premier League) wouldn’t have played in the past due to their small body size.”
Due to the nature of our players, Ntšonyana feels the brand of football Lesotho should emulate as a country is that of Japan and South Korea which play a pressing game that is based on group cohesion and not individuality.
He says Lesotho as a country should be a team that is also collectively aggressive to make-up for our small bodies.

“Our first opponents are our fellow African teams. Their players tower at around two metres,” he says.
“They are very athletic and muscular. Even before we think about the world, we have to think of being a match for them and give them a run for their money.”
Ntšonyana says Lesotho does not have a football identity because there is no National Playing Philosophy (NPP).

“The NPP has to be in line itself with the nature of the players we have. This has to be manifested from the development level,” he says.
Ntšonyana’s own philosophy believes in smart players who play hard, are entertaining and quick, and score goals.
“This is an identity which I suppose could be suitable for our players,” he says.

Ntšonyana believes there is a need for players to play entertaining football as it is the only way to improve the game’s standard and draw more supporters to the stadium.
To his point, one would reminisce back to the Swallows team of 2003 and how they filled the north-western part of Setsoto Stadium during the inaugural year of the then-lucrative Buddie Challenge in 2003.
As an underdog team, Swallows went on to win the trophy from the hands of favourites Matlama.

“The standard of soccer has fallen drastically because the football played does not give spectators their money’s worth,” Ntšonyana says, adding: “In our days and even in the time before us, the players were very robust and played engaging and entertaining football.”

The reason why our stadiums remain empty, Ntšonyana says, “is the type of boring football we play.”
In the past players like Frisco Khomari, Mochini Matete, Thulo Leboela were worthy of being watched and you have to be entertaining in order to attract people to come to the stadiums, Ntšonyana says.
He says a football match is a ‘show’ meant to entertain the crowd.“It’s a spectacle!” Ntšonyana exclaims.
Entertainment would give reason for people to flock to the stadiums like it used to be in the past, he insists.

Back then supporters would follow their teams even during training sessions and would go on to watch the execution of the sessions during match-day on weekends.
“We have to play entertaining football and our players need to be faster and score goals because that’s what people pay for,” the former Likuena star says.
For Ntšonyana, what is underpinning the lack of progress in local football is a lack of long-term player development structures in order to export players.
He is concerned that there has not been a breakthrough in Lesotho football.

“I don’t see drastic measures taken to turn tables around and improve on the standard of football in the country,” he says.
“Unfortunately, I don’t see any change going to happen any time in the near future as there are no structures in place to remedy the status quo. The only way to go is development.”
Ntšonyana says he wishes local football could have the kind of administration which truly has the interests of growing football by taking a leap that catches up with other countries.

He believes that when football was evolving and being industrialised, Lesotho lagged behind and interest in the sport lapsed among Basotho which caused parents to discourage their children from partaking in it.
“We failed by not professionalising football at an early stage,” he says.

Ntšonyana is often found at loggerheads with many in the football fraternity as he tries to propose feasible solutions to grow the sport using his experience in the game.
He started playing for the national team, Likuena, in 1992 and spent 12 years in the senior set-up.

Calvin Motekase

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Lifofane in dreamland

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Lifofane are enjoying their best top-flight season since winning promotion in 2019.

The Butha-Buthe side are seventh in the Vodacom Premier League after a four-match unbeaten run and a win over relegation-threatened Manonyane on Sunday could see them catapult into the top six and within touching distance of an improbable top four finish.

The roots of Lifofane’s success can partly be traced back to 2020 when they shocked the country by capturing the Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) Top 4 tournament.

The Buthe-Buthe outfit bagged M195 000 for winning the knockout competition in Matšonyane and that money has helped the upstart club progress.

Lifofane were able to buy training equipment and gear to improve their on-field product and, off the field, some money was saved to cover the team’s food and transport costs on away days.

Five years later and Lifofane are reaping the benefits of their prudent management.

Their management choices include the hiring of Katiso Mojakhomo as coach in March last year and his arrival has been a home run – Lifofane have developed into a disciplined, well-oiled machine this season.

Mojakhomo is one of Lesotho’s most successful coaches having won back-to-back league titles in 2007 and 2008 with the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) and his experience has allowed Lifofane to punch above their weight which was perfectly epitomised in their last two matches, a pair of 1-1 draws with Matlama and defending champions Bantu.

Both opponents were traditional giants desperately chasing the league title but Lifofane matched them blow for blow.

Mojakhomo said he is delighted with the improvement he has seen in his charges but there is still room to grow.

“It is our expectation to see the team at the top by the end of this Premier League season and we are going to work as hard as we can to make this happen,” he said.

Lifofane, of course, are not the league’s first surprise package.

Many clubs have had a good season or two before fading away.

Sundawana and Sky Battalion are just two teams over the past decade that have taken the elite league by storm for one campaign only to vanish from memory.

Mojakhomo said Lifofane’s vision extends beyond just doing well this season.

He said the club are determined not to allow their smaller stature to hinder their ambitions of establishing a long-term status in the premiership and competing with the big boys for seasons to come.

“There are many challenges that the team faces but we try to overcome them in as many ways as possible,” Mojakhomo said.

“The team’s management work together to come up with solutions.”

Moipone Makhoalinyane

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Seema wins top award

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Lesotho football legend Lehlohonolo Seema has praised his Sekhukhune United players after he was named Coach of The Month for February and March in South Africa’s DSTV Premiership.

It is the first time Seema has won the prestigious award in his coaching career and it rewards the impressive job he has done at Sekhukhune since joining the club in November from Polokwane City.

Sekhukhune United, or “Babina Noko”, are unbeaten over the last two months.

In the process, they have scored 11 goals and conceded just three times to shoot all the way up to fourth place in South Africa’s elite league.

Their unbeaten 2024 includes a five-match winning streak in which they beat Richards Bay 3-1 and Golden Arrows 1-0 in February and then dispatched Royal AM 1-0, Swallows 4-1 and Soweto giants Orlando Pirates 2-1 in March.

Seema told thepost he is delighted to receive the recognition, especially because it is his first time winning the award.

He also praised his players for their role in the team’s success.

His captain, Linda Mntambo, was named the DSTV Premiership player of the month and it is the first time a player and a coach from Sekhukhune United win the award.

“This recognition is the first-ever recognition in my life and for ‘Babina Noko’,” Seema said.

“I honour my players a great deal because, without them, I would not have been recognised. Their effort and passion has brought us this far.”

Seema said it is not easy coaching in the pressure cooker that is South Africa’s top-flight but his side have managed to navigate through the challenges they have encountered.

“The pressure in the DSTV Premiership is real. Every team is fighting but what helps me and the team is taking it one game at a time,” Seema said.

The highlight of Sekhukhune’s run over the past two months was their stunning 2-1 win on March 30 over Orlando Pirates, a side Seema captained during his playing days, which must have made that particular victory all the more sweeter.

The former Likuena captain said beating big teams like Orlando Pirates is not an easy assignment and Sekhukhune United’s victory showed him that the team was growing.

Now, Seema is gunning for nothing less than a top four finish at the end of the season.

A first-ever CAF Champions League spot for Sekhukhune United is also possible.

Finishing in the DSTV Premiership’s top two spots earns a coveted ticket to Africa’s premier club competition and Seema’s side are four points behind second-placed Stellenbosch with eight games to go.

Sekhukhune United’s next opponents?

Stellenbosch, at home, next Wednesday.

“Now we have to prepare well, more than before,” Seema said.

“Our schedule for the next games is very tight. If we will be playing against Stellenbosch on the 17th (of April) and on the 20th we are playing again against Cape Town Spurs, two days will not be enough – we have to start now to prepare for both games,’ he said.

Seema said his appreciation also goes to Sekhukhune United’s supporters.

“Their presence lifts us to win.”

Relebohile Tšepe

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Linare players set for windfall

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Linare players are dreaming of walking away with M330 000 at the end of the season by snatching second place in the Vodacom Premier League.
‘Tse Tala’ have won five of their last six matches and are the hottest team in the top-flight right now.

Linare are unbeaten in the league since February 10 and no team has collected more points than the 16 the Hlotse side have amassed in that period.

Their fine form continued on Sunday with a 2-0 win over Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) and now Linare’s players want second place, at least.

Linare are fourth in the Vodacom Premier League with 43 points from 24 games, 11 points behind second-placed Matlama with six games to go.

It is a longshot to crack the top two, but ‘Tse Tala’ believe they can do it and midfielders Tšepang Sefali and Tšepo Makhanya said they have not given up hope of even stealing the league title.

“We would be so grateful if we can reach second place but if (league leaders) Lioli lose three or four games, we will have the opportunity to be the champions,” Sefali said.

Linare’s confidence is soaring high because they don’t know what a loss feels like since Bob Mafoso took over in early February.

Their only defeat came last month in the People’s Cup semi-finals against Matlama and that was on penalties.

Mafoso took over after Leslie Notši’s departure in January and Sefali and Makhanya said they have felt the difference.

Linare finished second in the Vodacom Premiership last season under Notši, an impressive feat, but they had dropped to seventh place by the time he departed.

With a top four finish slipping away, Linare found a new spring in their step when Mafoso arrived and Sefali said they hit the ground running because they knew what their new coach demanded and expected of his players.

“Almost all the players in the team have met and faced (Mafoso) before (when he was coaching other teams) and they all understand his strategies and techniques,” Sefali said.

“Our players already knew what he wants from the players, so we do not want to waste any time but do exactly (what Mafoso wants),” he said.

“Yes, coach Leslie Notši did a good job and we appreciated his effort but now we are seeing what we expected in the league because of the presence of (Mafoso),” Makhanya said.

Sefali said the competition for places has skyrocketed over the past two months and that is pushing every player to work hard and fight to play every match.

“There is too much competition; everyone wants to prove his talent to coach. Everyone wants to play every game but I am happy that our coach gives every player a chance to play which makes the team improve,” Sefali said.

“Even though we have not had much time with (Mafoso), his presence has brought a positive impact on the team,” he added. “I believe going forward; we will do more than what we are doing. I believe it is not early to praise him.”

Makhanya said one of the keys has been the togetherness Mafoso has brought to the team and they are confident to say they will stay in the top four and even finish the Vodacom Premier League season in second place.

A top four finish would be real progress for ‘Tse Tala’ because they have not had consecutive top four finishes since 2004, mainly because Linare have been consistently inconsistent from year to year.

Mafoso told thepost on Monday that very experienced coaches mentored the team before his arrival. He said his predecessors, Notši and South African guru Teboho Moloi, did a lot of good work so the reception of the players has made his job easier.

“I would like to appreciate the reception they gave me,” Mafoso said.

“Every team is good because of the players it has, so I accepted the assignment (to coach Linare) because of the quality that I believed the team could have. It is a long process that is at its start, but we are happy with how we are growing,” he said.

Mafoso said Linare are ready to win as many games as they can to finish the season on a high note.

“The dedication and attitude of the players satisfies me a lot, it is why we are doing well,” Mafoso said.

Relebohile Tšepe

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