THE 2017/18 Premier League season finally gets underway this Saturday after a delay which was partly due to the delay in the disbursement of prize money for the previous campaign.
The Premier League Management Committee (PLMC) confirmed that the money finally came through on Monday from league sponsors, Vodacom with champions, Bantu pocketing the lion’s share of M200 000.
Despite the setbacks, clubs have been preparing for the new season and the pre-season has seen significant activity in the transfer market, particularly by the big guns.
On paper, the country’s most successful side, Matlama appear to have caught the biggest fish, particularly with the capture of former Linare and Bantu forward, Nzenze Nkulu, who impressed last season with a 17-goal haul for Linare.
Nkulu will certainly give Tse Putsoa a new dimension in attack. The team has over the years relied on Motebang Sera for goals.
Matlama also secured the signature of Teboho ‘Shakes’ Lilane on a season-long loan deal from Bantu while Lisema Lebokollane is back having been on loan at Lerotholi Polytechnic where he also studied.
Lebokollane has been impressive in the pre-season, bringing stability to the defence that leaked last season.
The fact that coach, Seephephe Matete, has had a pre-season with his players could be another advantage, given that he only joined the club midway through the last campaign.
The changes comes after a disastrous 2016/17 season where the most decorated club only managed an eighth place finish and this means that Matete will have nowhere to hide if things fail to work out.
Defending champions, Bantu, also overhauled their squad by bringing in exciting prospects while parting ways with some of the players that helped them win the title.
Experienced and versatile, Thabiso Mohapi, joined bitter rivals Lioli.
Another experienced player, Katleho Moleko, was also released by the club.
In came, exciting youngsters such as defender Johannes Molapo who joined from Sandawana and is seen as the long-term replacement for retired former captain Tlali Maile.
Tsietsi Motšeare was also signed on the back of an outstanding season for Sky Battalion.
National University of Lesotho side, Rovers, also hogged the off-season headlines after acquiring the franchise of Sky Battalion to return to the top flight league.
Rovers had been relegated to the A Division but they made the most of Sky Battalion’s financial struggles to buy the latter’s franchise.
It remains to be seen whether or not they will put their house in order so that they do not find themselves in the relegation dogfight once again.
The pressure will also be on Lioli coach Halemakale Mahlaha to lead Tse Nala back to the glory days.
Mahlaha took over a club that had won back-to-back titles but narrowly lost out to bitter rivals Bantu last season.
Lioli’s squad remains intact and Mahlaha will be boosted by the return of star player Tumelo Khutlang after his failed move to South African First Division side Mthatha Bucks.
Another of the country’s oldest clubs, Linare will be looking to get their house in order after years of struggling to keep up with the big boys.
They look set to register a number of seasoned campaigners such as Motlomelo Mkwananzi, Pali Tšalong and Teboho ‘Teacher’ Mota.
Mkwananzi, a Likuena international, was on the books of Sandawana while Tšalong and Mota return after a self- imposed exile due to work commitments.
The arrival of former national team striker Teele Ntšonyana as coach in the second round of last season brought stability and helped Linare survive relegation.
This time around the legendary Likuena striker has a chance to improve the squad and bring in players that he feels will help him compete better.
Kick4Life also made headlines as they lost some of their key players including attacking midfielder Morapeli Lesoetsa who left for the United States of America on an academic scholarship and sharpshooter Thabiso Brown who is set to play in Bolivia.
They also lost experienced striker Thapelo Tale who enjoyed a good run of form after joining midway through last season.
All eyes will be on Coach Leslie Notši to see if he can replicate last season’s top four finish or even go on to challenge for the big prize.
It looks like we have an exciting season coming up and I cannot wait for the games to begin.
It would be amiss for me to sign off without saluting Metropolitan Lesotho and Standard Lesotho Bank for heeding the football fraternity’s call to increase sponsorship packages.
The two companies this week announced a new increased three year package for the Independence Cup that takes place every October which will see the winners walk away with M200 000.
This is the same amount that the league champions receive after a gruelling campaign for almost a year and yet the Independence Cup is only played over two days.
I am particularly impressed with the individual accolades where the Player of the Tournament will pocket M8000, up from last year’s M1500.
This is a massive improvement and it shows that the companies and the premier league management are really concerned about the wellbeing of players.
I also salute premier league chairperson John Leuta.