I was at Setsoto Stadium at the weekend where I watched the LNIG Top8 semifinals and final featuring LCS, LDF, Bantu and eventual winners Lioli.
One of the things that came to my attention was how Lioli are benefitting from players who played international football at an early stage of their careers.
Tse Nala fielded eight players who represented Lesotho at the 2011 African Youth Championship held in South Africa, where unfortunately, our boys crashed out in the group stage of the under-20 tournament.
It goes without saying these players are now at their peak hence Lioli’s victory in the final and their dominance of domestic football over recent years.
Kananelo Makhooane, who was in goals at the weekend, was the first-choice goalkeeper for that under-20 side four years, while central defenders Basia Makepe and Kopano Tseka also featured in the team as did wingbacks Mafa Moremoholo and Jerry Kamela.
The only difference is Kamela, who scored the only goal of the final as Lioli beat LCS 1-0, now operates in midfield alongside his former under-20 teammate, Tšoanelo Koetle.
For Makepe, not only is he now the Lioli captain but he has also been made national team skipper, which further highlights the importance of early international exposure.
Lioli’s other players who featured for that 2011 national junior side are Lekhanya Lekhanya, Montoeli Sonopo and Salebone Lekhooa.
Again, seven of these players are also part of the Likuena squad that recently beat Seychelles 2-1 in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at Setsoto.
My point here is Lioli, who are clearly the best team in the Vodacom Premier League, are now benefitting from players who know what it takes to compete at the highest level of the international game.
The other member of that under-20 team who is now a key player for the national team is Sepiriti Malefane of Bantu.
Over recent years, players such as Tumelo Khutlang, Bokang Sello, and Hlompho Kalake have come through the national junior team ranks and are now solid footballers in their own right.
I strongly believe if the Lesotho Football Association could properly nurture their recently-assembled under-15 School of Excellence players, then they would be in a position to eventually become a very strong national team.
Germany is one of those countries reaping the rewards of a similar arrangement as their team that won the 2014 Fifa World Cup came through the youth ranks.
Hopefully, our football leaders will see the need to put more emphasis on proper development for players.
There was also the group that played at the African Youth Championship held in Benin in 2005.
That team had the likes of Bokang ‘Lefty’ Mothoana, Thabo Masualle, Tlali Maile, Katleho Moleko, Dlomo Monaphathi, and Tefo Maipato.
These players went on to have long, successful careers and hopefully, the same will happen to the Class of 2011.
‘Lefty’, for instance, went on to play in Tunisia while Maipato, Monaphathi and Moleko ended-up at Orlando Pirates in South Africa, albeit with their development side.
However, the fact that they attracted the attention of such a big club showed the potential was there and the players had been given international exposure at the right time.
It is also worth noting that most of these players had come through the national under-15 and u/17 side.