MASERU — For the past five years Lesotho’s national team has plummeted, unabated, down FIFA’s world rankings.
It’s a freefall that’s been without check or care, and has quickened over the last 16 months.
Since an all-time high ranking of 120 in December 2003, Likuena have proceeded to win only eight of their following 40 matches to slump to their current position of 164 in the world.
The latest figure is Lesotho’s second lowest ever ranking after dipping to 166th in March 2007.
This decline has made Lesotho the worst movers, ranking-wise, in world football — the only other nation in similar straits is Malaysia who’ve slipped from a ranking of 116th to 163rd in the same period.
In Africa 14 countries, including Chad, the Cape Verde Islands and Mauritania, have overtaken Likuena.
The great physicist Albert Einstein once said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
Lesotho’s dismal performance on the international arena is like a primitive play that has been overcaffeinated with little or no stimulation at all.
The Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) has over the years changed the lead character without modifying the script.
Coaches have come and gone.
Success has remained as rare as virgins in Sodom and Gomorrah.
Serbian coach Zavisa Milosavljevic has been in charge of Likuena since last April.
But his European football touch has done little to arrest Lesotho’s regression.
Since beating Mozambique 3-2 in a friendly international last May, Likuena have gone on to lose seven of their following 11 games.
This run includes defeats in each of last year’s six 2010 World Cup/African Nations Cup qualifiers.
Yet, with such depressing statistics, LEFA remains unclear in which direction to steer Likuena.
Even more worrying, Milosavljevic was never given a clear mandate upon his appointment.
Something like a roadmap he can work towards until his contract runs out in 2011.
Targets he can then be judged upon.
“I pick the best players for Likuena,” Milosavljevic says when asked about his plan for Likuena. “That is my job.”
There is nothing wrong with picking players deemed the country’s best available.
But is it not the norm for any coach — as in any job — to have objectives?
Is Milosavljevic meant to choose a team to overcome immediate challenges, such as the upcoming Cosafa Senior Challenge Cup or friendlies?
Or does he begin to build a team for the future?
A team that will form the core of Lesotho’s 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign?
It’s an answer hard to come by from coach and bosses alike.
During last year’s ill-fated qualifying campaign Likuena used 25 different players.
Sixteen of those players were in the 25-man squad picked for this weekend’s friendly internationals against Swaziland.
The average age of the team remains around 26.
All facts point to a lack of noteworthy change — in either playing personnel or targets.
“The coach’s mandate was to qualify for the (2010) World Cup,” says Baba Malephane, LEFA’s public relations officer.
“A person can’t be hired without a mandate.”
Now that Milosavjlevic could not take Likuena to their maiden World Cup, what’s next?
“The coach needs to build a winning team, that is his new mandate,” LEFA’s acting chief executive officer Mokhosi Mohapi says.
“I don’t think there is any association anywhere that doesn’t give their national coach a mandate.”
But does Milosavljevic even have the full support of his employers?
It’s worth noting that Milosavljevic wasn’t hired by LEFA’s present hierarchy.
When the current executive took office last August the coach had already been hired through a selection process that didn’t include any of the serving board members.
“Of course he has the full support of the association. Likuena is a part of LEFA,” Mohapi says.
His sentiments are echoed by Khiba Mohoanyane, LEFA’s vice-president and until last week Likuena’s team manager.
“We talk to the coach every day. I don’t understand how there can be a lack of support,” he says.
But it certainly wouldn’t seem so.
Two of Milosavljevic’s programmes remain in the air.
The coach first submitted a development strategy for Likuena to LEFA last October.
Up to now it has not been acted on or even discussed by LEFA’s executive, Mohapi confirmed.
One of the programme’s central plans was to have Likuena playing at least twice a month.
“I don’t know where it is,” Milosavljevic says.
“Many things depend on finances,” Mohapi responds in a separate interview.
“Also, we can’t impose friendly games on other nations.”
Since playing Ghana in their final qualifier last October, Likuena have only played five times — twice against under-strength Botswana sides and as many matches against Lesotho’s own Under-20 side as well as against LCS in practice matches.
Needless to say, none of those games were of international standard.
Furthermore — results and the quality of opponents aside — the senior team cannot gel because a settled first XI cannot and has not been established.
South Africa-based national team captain Lehlohonolo Seema and the Tunisia-based duo of Bokang Mothoana and Moitheri Ntobo have not played with their national team-mates for eight months.
Five official FIFA friendly dates have passed in the meantime.
“I don’t know why we haven’t played any friendlies,” Milosavljevic says.
“The team was supposed to play Sierra Leone and Liberia (in May) but it did not happen.
“My job is to make a better and stronger Likuena team.
“My job is to prepare and build up the team, but without friendlies and competitive games I cannot see (where) the team (is going).”
He adds: “Training is not my aim. My job is to prepare and build up the players.
“Camps and training are only in service for competition.
“It is not my job to get matches.”
“We have tried to get friendlies for the team,” Mohoanyane says, “But it’s never easy to get games.
“(But) we have secured two games against Swaziland,” Mohoanyane says.
“The coach has the full support of the federation.
“I’m sure you haven’t seen a Likuena team going to Lehakoe to gym before. That shows we are serious about helping the coach.”
Mohapi adds: “There is a lot of help for the team. As I said some of these things are dependant on finances. To say that we are not helping the coach doesn’t make sense.”
National assistant coach Leslie Notši offers a pragmatic, simple approach.
“It’s not right to point fingers, (but) yes it would also be good to sit down as stakeholders of Likuena, the coaches and the executive,” he says.
“Sit down at a table and make sure we all on the same page, that we are heading towards the same goals.”
For now, Likuena are not the same team that showed a lot of promise in short but spellbinding stretch.
Does anyone remember how, between September and October 2000, Likuena drew 3-3 against Ghana in Maseru, 1-1 away to Kenya in Nairobi and 1-1 against the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Kinshasa?
Then the following January Likuena then went to Bulawayo and beat Zimbabwe 2-1?
Sadly such results today will remain impossible as long as the Likuena, and Lesotho football at large, remains rudderless.