MASERU –– As far as dreadful beginnings to a league campaign go Matlama’s start to last season was an absolute horror movie.
By December Tse Putsoa had amassed just two wins from ten games and were languishing in the middle of nowhere, drifting like a rudderless ship. In fact Matlama were helped by a timely three-points Christmas gift handed to them because Lerotholi had failed to honour a first day fixture between the two sides.
Without that donation Matlama would at the time have been relegation candidates, and when Ntebele Taole took over the reins at Pitso Ground in January he inherited a team in absolute mayhem, lacking confidence and direction.
Unflustered, the miracle man then conjured up a spell of seven wins in his first ten games –– including a double over LCS. And even after an April wobble, Matlama ultimately collected 35 points from a possible 57 in Taole’s 19 games in charge –– seeing Tse Putsoa finish in fifth-place.
Throughout his coaching career Taole has seemingly thrived on disorder, rebuilding and raising teams from ashes.
He did it in 1990 with Matlama, in turmoil after Independence Cup humiliation to Arsenal, constructing a side that would win the league, after his departure, in 1992. In 1993 Taole joined LCS lifting them from the B-Division to the Premier League before leaving Masheshena in 1998 well on the way to being one of Lesotho’s finest. Then in 2000 Taole returned to Matlama to build Tse Putsoa’s last championship winners of 2002/03.
Taole will have to begin work on team fitness and morale from scratch. Matlama have been in utter turmoil and this past Sunday appointed a new executive committee –– their third in the last six months.
On the field the side is set to lose the services of key players Lekhotla Pitso (Lioli), Bosioua Boseka (LMPS), Libenyane Maphothomane (Linare) and perhaps the biggest blow of all, Nkau Lerotholi coveted by LCS and Lioli.
“I’m hurt,” Taole says.
“My plans were very high for this season. I have only been able to be with the team for three weeks but I predict that we could be in the top four next season. (But) to replace a player like Nkau is almost impossible.”
Without doubt ‘replacing’ will be Taole’s main task this season; replacing lost players and restoring confidence in the club as whole.
For that to have any chance of happening Matlama need competent management.
“The (negative) things that happened here (last season) were because of the last committee,” Taole says.
“I said to them on many occasions ‘please let’s get these things done’, but that never happened. They never showed the players that they cared about them. When players don’t at least have boots for example, how will they perform?
“Right now I had a player from Matsieng that I wanted to sign. He was here for three weeks until he had to leave because the board had not acted to secure his services. Those are things that some people would call sabotage,” Taole adds.
“Last year there were really lots of things that happened and they killed the players’ spirit,” Taole says in reference to the side’s slump in April.
After a good start under Taole, Matlama then endured a four-match winless run including a 5-1 humiliation to Mphatlalatsane.
“This season will be different. We have young players and I’m sure we will find a way to play without Pitso (for example). We will play in such a way that it won’t matter who is playing or how big or small they are,” Taole says.
Of course hope, as always, springs eternal for Matlama; they are Lesotho’s most successful club and still boast one of the largest fan bases. In Litšepe Marabe they also have one of the country’s finest talents.
Last season when the quicksilver winger played, so did Matlama. And even though Taole refuses to single out any player, he admits this is a big season for the youngster.
“I’m expecting good things from Litšepe, he has been working very hard at training,” is all he says, clearly wishing to concentrate on all his 28-man squad.
It’s a squad that –– with league’s kick-off postponed and having not endured the energy sapping efforts of pre-season’s MGC Supa 8 Cup have had extra-time to prepare for the 2009/10 Buddie Premier League season.
Matlama can have no excuses this year.
“We saw those teams at the Supa 8 – LCS, Lioli, LDF and LMPS – and there is no reason at all why we should not be in the top four and in there as champions,” Taole says.
“People who underestimate Matlama will be surprised. I will change the play, I have many strings to my bow,” he adds.
“There is no coach that wants to be beaten by me. And I’m telling you this year I am going to set the pace, as long as there are 11 players on the field we will find a way to win.”
2009/10 may be the last season for 56-year-old Taole, but it may mark a new dawn for the team he has served for over 20 years.
“Last year, I thought this would be my last season but we will see. The most important thing is to build a team that can challenge for trophies.”
At Matlama trophies are a minimum requirement.