It’s all systems go for Teboho Moloi in Lesotho! The Orlando Pirates legend starts life as Linare coach in Hlotse, an important market town in Lesotho, located on the Hlotse River, near the South African border.
And life at the helm of Lesotho’s oldest club, nicknamed Tse Tala, isn’t starting on an easy footing on Sunday afternoon. As if the football gods had it all planned, his first game in charge is a derby against Lioli at Hlotse Stadium at 3pm.
Tefo Maipato, who played with the late Senzo Meyiwa in Pirates’ development sides under the tutelage of Moloi, explains to FARPost why Sunday afternoon’s tie is important.
“It’s a very big game here. These are two big teams in our country and the districts they come from are close to each other, so it’s like a derby,” Maipato says. Not that Moloi is unaware of the task that lies ahead of him.
“The stadium will be packed,” Moloi tells FARPost, adding that government in the small mountainous kingdom has allowed fans to watch games from the stadium. There is undoubtedly a lot of hype around the game with Lioli mentor, Thomas Tshabalala, vowing he wants to teach the Pirates legend a football lesson.
In a video seen by FARPost, Tshabalala is adamant his boys will tear apart Tse Tala. Of course, any football-loving person in the small, enclaved nation of Lesotho will know of the exploits of a man like Moloi and beating him is a massive plus for their career.
But the cool gentleman that he is, Moloi, who is no novice when it comes to derbies, has chosen to silently prepare for the potentially explosive tie. “I’m not for that. I respect my colleagues in the game,” he says calmly, but with apparent confidence.
After all, this is a man who made his debut for Pirates against Kaizer Chiefs, arguably two of the most supported and popular clubs in sub-Saharan Africa, at just 18.
But, of course, the Lesotho derby comes in a different shape for one simple reason. Linare, formed in 1931, will be 90 next year. And as they turn 90, they would certainly want to celebrate it in style.
Obviously, turning 90 in a football environment like Lesotho, which is semi-professional, is the culmination of persistence, dedication and absolute sacrifice. It certainly must be celebrated in style and in football, style is winning games, trophies and excelling beyond your borders.
But since 1980, exactly 40 years on, they have not tasted any glory. Like the Israelites in the bible, they have wandered for 40 years, rocked by boardroom squabbles and mediocre performances on the field of play.
They have even been far from playing bridesmaid to the likes of defending champions Bantu FC, who were recently booted out of the Caf Champions League by Zambian side Nkana Red Devils. In fact, Linare finished a distant seventh place last season albeit after only 18 rounds of games with the league aborted because of Covid-19.
The previous season they finished 11th after only managing six wins in 26 outings. In the 2017/18 season they finished 10th after only managing eight wins. Such has been the mediocrity.
Perhaps that explains why they have had to exit their enclaved nation into South Africa to bring in a man who has tasted glory both as a player and as an assistant coach.
“I didn’t know they last won a trophy almost 40 years ago; they haven’t won the trophy in so many years,” the former Chippa United coach, Moloi, says with astonishment.
He knows exactly what is needed having been with the Buccaneers during different spells in their lifetime. He is well aware of the expectation that is there at this point following the 40-year trophy drought at his new club.
Luckily, he believes in the ammunition he has been given to do the overhaul with. Barring the limitations that come with the league being semi-professional, Moloi is confident the overhaul can be done to the satisfaction of the Mamalente faithful and leadership alike.
“I have four players in my 25-member squad who were captains for other teams, and they all lifted trophies with their former teams. I also have seven players that have tasted winning the league with other teams. They’ve all won it somewhere else. Those players were being recruited to come and win trophies for the team. So, there’s a need to change the mindset. Those 11 must rub off that winning mentality to the other players,” he says.
But while he tries to gel his players, he must strike the balancing act seeing Lesotho is still semi-professional when it comes to football. “We need to find a balance, it’s a semi-professional league so you can’t tell a player to leave work and focus on football. So, sometimes we have to wait for companies in Maseru to release the players. At times you won’t have all the players in a session.”
Moloi is certainly looking beyond the Lioli tie in which his hopes will be pinned on national team playmaker, Mabuti Potloane, picture below. “The league is a marathon,” he prudently insists. His ultimate aim is to one day take Linare to competitions like the CAF Champions League where he has been with Pirates.
Linare president Refiloe Martin will certainly love the sound of that. After all, the end of 40 years for the Israelites is exactly when they entered into the Promising Land. The land of milk and honey.
And as the journey of thousands of miles begins on Sunday, under the tutelage of Moloi, Martin will be hoping it starts off brightly and leads the club to the Promised Land.
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By Mthokozisi Dube