Lihale face tough climb

MASERU — In 1996, boasting players such as the peerless late striker Ramaumane “Roma” Mahula, Lerotholi Polytechnic took silver in the Independence Cup, then Lesotho’s biggest cup, to seal their status as one of the country’s finest football clubs.

The team affectionately known as Lihale were then renowned for their free-flowing, liberated style of football that had seen them taking part in the then Caf Cup Winners Cup in 1986 and 1997.

However, as the start of the 2010/11 Vodacom Premier League gets closer, expectations have drastically changed for Lerotholi supporters as their team is now only a shadow of its former self.

Last season the Fokothi side finished only one point above relegation, winning just eight of their 30 league games.

In a continuing trend, Lerotholi have failed to amass at least 40 points in any of the previous five league campaigns.

The best they have finished in this period is seventh in 2007/08, but even then Lihale were still only eights points above the relegation zone.

Lerotholi’s plight perhaps demonstrates the gap that has grown between the Premiership’s top clubs and its also-rans — and that it is becoming harder for college teams to compete.

Last season Rovers, the National University of Lesotho’s team and national champions in 1996, were relegated.

Apart from ever-changing squads, these sides also have to deal with coursework, exams and school holidays.

Lerotholi’s poor periods in recent seasons have come during exams and holidays.

Last season, for example, from October 24 to January 17 Lihale went 10 league matches without a win, losing six of them.

Other problems are technical.

Last season Lihale scored more than one goal in a match only six times.

Also, with only a total of 29 league goals, Lerotholi’s record was superior to only four teams in the league.

Three of them — Botha Bothe Roses, Rovers and Nyenye Rovers — were relegated.

Speaking ahead of the forthcoming season, Lerotholi coach Naleli Tšilo says his first task is to assemble a competitive team.

“The first thing is to see that we have a team that can play,” Tšilo says.

“There are many challenging factors that we face and it’s not easy to say out of the blue what we will achieve next season.”

“I’m not able to forecast like other coaches who have had their teams for a long time,” he adds.

“This is a bus stop — players come and go.”

The problems facing Tšilo, who led LMPS to the Buddie Top 4 in 2007 and the Imperial Top 8 in 2008, seem daunting.

For example, Lerotholi will only begin their pre-season training when the college re-opens on Monday, just three weeks before the league kicks off on August 21.

These days, because of poor facilities at the college, Lerotholi play their home games at LCS’s Central Prison ground.

“Fokothi is a team of students but the kids don’t stay on campus anymore,” Tšilo says.

“When Lihale was still Lihale, they lived here and they had all they needed — water, showers and food.

“Now the players live far — one walks to Thetsane and there he has to queue to get water.”

Basic organisational problems have also hampered the team.

For instance, last season Lerotholi struggled to merely arrange transport for an away match against Linare on December 5 and the worse-for-wear Lihale side duly lost 6-1.

And even though Tšilo refuses to lower expectations, saying it would instead be wiser to resolve Lihale’s administrative problems, it is difficult to see Lerotholi reaching the heights they last scaled nearly two decades ago.

Fortunately, Tšilo still has a talented group of players to form the nucleus of his team. The technically sound central midfield pairing of Teboho ‘Mota and Lebohang Molaoli were consistently impressive last season.

Nkuebe Mohato meanwhile is a dependable right-back while goalkeeper Tumelo Ntšoane is a former Likuena international.

What’s more, Makoanyane XI kingpin Kopano Tseka, who was with Mphatlalatsane, could be available for selection after enrolling at Fokothi this year.

Whether or not Lerotholi can hold on to Tšeliso Sejake, arguably Lesotho’s most exciting attacking midfielder, will also be key to their prospects.

Sejake’s return to Likhopo following a two-year stay at Fokothi has yet to be signed, sealed and delivered.

But Tšilo is typically pokerfaced when it comes to Sejake’s issue.

“For people like Tšeliso, it’s you (the media) that have put him there,” Tšilo says.

“I would understand if you were talking about Cabazela (Tlali Maile) and Likano (Teele) who have left the team.

“He (Sejake) is just one of the players at the club.

“I left LMPS but it is still there. I look at it through that perspective.”

He adds: “If we get a striker and a keeper to compete with the ones we have already, we will be happy.”

If Lerotholi can productively negotiate the first part of the season, they could possibly achieve a top-10 finish.

But this promises to be yet another long and tough season for Lihale.

Comments are closed.