MASERU — Former Lesotho national football coach April ‘Styles’ Phumo died on Sunday after a long battle with cancer.
He was 74.
Phumo, who was born in South Africa, died at a private hospital in Bloemfontein.
The football fraternity described Phumo as a “man who revolutionised Lesotho football during his time with Arsenal in the late 80’s and early 90s”.
Lesotho Football Association (Lefa) vice-president, Tlholo Letete, this week led the tributes to Phumo.
He described him as a father figure.
“You were not only a coach but a friend, brother, father, mentor, role model and statesman. Words fail to describe the role you played in our lives.
“You will forever be remembered. I am what I am today as a result of Styles Phumo,” Letete said.
Thabane Sutu, one of Phumo’s greatest pupils at Arsenal, also lavished praises on the late coach.
“He was a great coach, friend, mentor, comedian . . . he touched so many lives in so many ways. He will be dearly missed,” Sutu said.
“Personally, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today were it not for his guidance. I am devastated.”
South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) chairman Irvin Khoza led the tributes across the border.
“When South Africa was readmitted to international football Bra Styles introduced us to Lesotho football,” Khoza said.
“At that time Bra Styles was one of the top coaches in Lesotho. We have lost one of the most highly qualified coaches on the continent,” he added.
“He was highly educated when it came to coaching on the continent and was recognised as an instructor by CAF and Fifa.”
Under Phumo’s leadership Lesotho felled Cameroon 2-0 in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier on November 13, 1994 at Setsoto Stadium.
By all accounts Phumo was a gentleman, stylish in his approach to life and football which earned him a nickname he would be known by all his life – Styles.
After his success in Lesotho, Phumo left for greener pastures in South Africa in the mid-90s.
He first made an impact while coaching Bloemfontein Celtic and took the Free State club to dizzy heights through its clinical, exciting brand of football.
Phumo then moved to Ria Stars where he cemented his reputation of playing entertaining football.
During his stay between 2001 and 2002 he turned Ria Stars into a formidable team in the PSL.
Phumo’s achievements led him to being thrust into the job of South Africa’s national team coach in 2003 shortly before the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Tunisia.
After Bafana’s first-round exit Phumo was fired and was replaced by Stuart Baxter in 2004.
However, Phumo continued to serve Safa in various capacities for many years, coaching a number of junior national teams and heading grassroots development, which was his passion even from his days at Arsenal.
Another chapter in his fine career was written earlier this year when he took over the reins at first division side Nathi Lions.
Battling to avoid relegation from the second tier, Lions were given no chance against giants Kaizer Chiefs in the Nedbank Cup.
But after Chiefs took an early 2-0 lead Lions staged a remarkable fightback, drawing level at 2-2 and only to lose the tie 3-2 in extra-time.
Nevertheless Phumo again showed his class.
“I’ve never criticised a referee in my life and I don’t intend to start now.
“I believe we provided a display that was a credit to South African soccer, and that was more important as far as I am concerned,” Phumo said after the game.
A few months before his death, Phumo bravely accepted the job of coaching first division club, Atlie FC, but he was soon forced to relinquish the position because of his deteriorating health.
Phumo will always be remembered for the impact he made to football in the region and the players he groomed.
Orlando Pirates captain Lucky Lekgwathi is one such player.
“He was a father figure to me and always encouraged me to work hard so as to play for Bafana Bafana one day,” Lekgwathi said.