The 2015/16 Vodacom Premier League campaign explodes into life on 22 August and teams are now putting the final touches to preparations for what promises to be a highly competitive season.
The Lesotho Times looks at the prospects of each of the league’s 14 teams in this preview.
Lioli: Tse Nala start the campaign as the team to beat following a successful 2014/15 season, in which they won the coveted double—the league title and Independence Cup. The Teyateyaneng (TY) outfit have the quality and quantity to retain their title, but their main challenge will be keeping their big squad happy. Lioli have been busy during the current transfer-window, bringing in quality players such as Tumelo Khutlong and Kananelo Makhooane who will, no doubt, add value to their already formidable squad.
Coach-Mosholu ‘Shoes’ Mokhothu: Key players-Tšoanelo Koetle, Jerry Kamele, Montoeli Sonopo. New signings-Kananelo Makhooane, Tumelo Khutlang.
Prediction: Based on the quality of their large squad, Lioli have what it takes to go all the way and retain the league title.
Bantu: Coaching changes at the club could work against the Mafeteng-based team in the new season. Motlatsi Shale has since been replaced by Katiso Mojakhomo as head-coach and A Matšo Matebele have also rung several changes to their squad. These developments could mean both Mojakhomo and the incoming players might take time to settle in their new environment and by the time they do, it might be too late to challenge for the league title. However, the team’s advantage is Mojakhomo’s experience, since he previously won the league title while still in charge of LCS.
Bantu won the premiership and Independence Cup in Shale’s first season in charge (2013/14) but came second to Lioli in the last league campaign. However, the team won the LNIG Top 8 tournament, which means Mojakhomo has his work cut out for him to also bring success to the club.
Key players: Liteboho Mokhesi, Litšepe Marabe, Nzenze Nkulu.
Prediction: Coaching changes aside, Bantu have a very solid and experienced squad, among them last year’s Vodacom Premier League player-of-the-season Litšepe Marabe. Marabe was the league’s top-scorer last season with a massive 22 goals. However, I can smell a disappointing third-place finish for the team this season.
LCS: Masheshena had a decent campaign last season, finishing third on the 14-team premiership table despite having a relatively young squad under coach Mojakhomo. LCS now have a new coach, Mpitsa Marai, who will be in charge of his first premiership team after previously working as an assistant at both LCS and Bantu.
Marai would have to decide whether to continue with Mojakhomo’s policy of playing youngsters ahead of experienced campaigners—a decision which could decide the outcome of LCS’ campaign this coming season.
Key player: Thabo Seakhoa.
Prediction: The fact that Marai would be in charge of a premiership team for the first time could really test LCS’ character. I have a feeling LCS cannot challenge for the league title this term, with a fourth-place finish the most likely outcome of their season.
Matlama: Tse Putsoa have been very impressive in pre-season so much that many pundits have tipped them to end their long drought for the league title.
The arrival of Moses Maliehe could be a big boost for the nine-time league champions after he proved his coaching ability with both the national under-20 team as well as Likuena B.
Matlama have a very balanced squad and this could be a big season for Phafa Tšosane, who has been the team’s main man over the last three seasons.
However, Maliehe would have to deal with challenges that come with coaching the country’s most successful team, which include administrative problems that have torn the team apart in the past.
Matlama showed so much promise last season and played in two finals, losing the Independence Cup to Lioli on penalties and the LNIG Top8 to Bantu.
But Maliehe is no newcomer to Matlama as he donned the team’s famous blue-and-white colours as a player.
Key players: Phafa Tšosane, Kefuoe Mahula, Nkau Lerotholi
Prediction: Matlama’s pre-season preparations included a 1-0 over Free State Stars which could be a sign that Tse Putsoa will be a force to reckon with in the new season. But it could all boil down to the team’s stability off the field.
They will be Lioli’s main rivals for honours but might fail to match the quality and quantity in the Lioli’s squad and finish the season in second position.
LDF: The army side showed a lot of improvement last season, topping the table for the first 13 matches. However, the team could not maintain its consistency as the squad seemed to lack the depth required to battle the top guns.
This will be Malefetsane Pheko’s second season as head-coach of the club and a lot will be expected from him after guiding the team to fifth place last term.
Key players: Melefe Lekoekoe
Prediction: This could prove a tough season for LDF known for their reluctance to buy players. Unless the team explores the market and buys players, I see another campaign where they will struggle to qualify for major domestic competitions and will finish the season in fifth position once again.
LMPS: The police side had a tough time last season and only came alive very late in the campaign.
Simunye will also have to go into the market if they are to challenge the big boys. However, the team could benefit from the arrival of Basia Makepe and Tšepo Seturumane from Lioli.
Key players: Solomon Lefuma, Sheli Ramoseeka.
New players: Tšepo Seturumane, Basia Makepe, Pule Akhente
Prediction: LMPS could be boosted by signing some of the country’s top players, among them Seturumane and Makepe, who have since been employed as police officers. They will slightly miss-out on a spot among the top four teams in the league to finish in 6th position after ending 8th last season.
Likhopo: The former league champions have been going through tough times over recent years and the death of team-owner Bishop Molatoli last year did not help matters. Several top players are leaving Likhopo which somehow tells you that of all is not well at the Red Army, who ended last season in 7th position.
Motheo Mohapi remains head-coach, but is regularly out of the country due to work commitments, leaving his assistant, Wright Mofoka, in charge. Both are good coaches but the departure of several high-profile players might hurt Likhopo’s chances of challenging the big guns for honours.
Key players: Thabo Mongali, Salebone Lekhooa.
New players: Moeketsi Damane, Thato Maobi
Prediction: A top-8 finish would be a bonus for a team in a massive rebuilding process following the exodus of senior players and the passing away of Molatoli. An 8th place finish is likely for this side.
Linare: Tse Tala were very poor last season, with the team looking very disorganised both on and off the pitch, leading to the departure of long-serving captain Mabuti Potloane who had been the team’s mainstay for a number of seasons.
But the team’s management is determined to bring the midfielder back to Hlotse, and should he return, then Linare could be the force they used to be once again.
Former national team striker Lephajoa Mphongoa has been given the responsibility of reviving Linare, which no doubt, is a huge task.
But Mphongoa, who also played for Bloemfontein Celtic in South Africa, is yet to prove himself as a coach, having worked at Nyenye Rovers where things did not work out well. This will be the season for him to prove his coaching credentials, but he really needs quality players to succeed.
Key players: Moorosi Tšiu
Prediction: Linare will have to spend heavily on new, quality players otherwise it could be another disappointing season for the Hlotse-based team that has gone three decades without winning the league title. As things stand, Tse Tala are still lagging behind and will finish the season in 9th position once again.
Kick4Life: This is one of the ambitious so-called small teams in the league and a place among the top-eight could be a bonus for Kick4Life as this would be their second season of topflight football.
Young striker Thabiso Brown was fantastic last term and could prove invaluable again this time around. But the team will also have to add a bit of experience to their squad to improve on last season’s 10th position. The other advantage for Kick4Life is that their management is much more organised compared to the other small teams.
Key players: Thabiso Brown and Morapeli Lesoetsa
Predictions: Kick4Life will be battling for a top 8 finish with teams such as Mphatlalatsane and Sundawana. They will finish in 8th place.
Mphatlalatsane: Club legend Tšepo Hlojeng has left his position as head-coach and is now president of the St Monica’s outfit. The changes were made in an effort to bring more stability to the club.
Of course, lack of resources has been the main challenge for this team but if all goes according to plan, we could see a much more improved Mphatlatsane next season.
Coach Mojalefa Kobisa was assistant to Hlojeng over the years and gets the chance to prove himself this time around.
Key player: Thahane Mokhehle.
New Player: Monaheng Rasile.
Prediction: If Mphatlalatsane could add a few quality players, maybe that might help them sneak into a top 8 finish. But as things stand, I foresee them finishing in 9th place, while they ended last season in 12th.
Sundawana: The ambitious side, owned by traditional healer Thato ‘Sundawana’ Nkone, has decided to go outside the country for new players. However, the departure of Tumelo Khutlang will be felt upfront. This is a young player who had shown so much potential over the years and was expected to take a leading role at the club and unless Sundawana get a good replacement for him, it might turn out to be very tough for them this season.
Coach Freeze Ntene recently signed a new contract at the club and this could be a make-or-break season for him because if Sundawana fail to perform, he will certainly be shown the door.
Key players: Themba Mzamane, Nkopane Ntoi.
New players: Michael Mireku Chene, Alvono Lentoor.
Prediction: This is going to be a tough campaign and their season will depend on the new players they bring in. I predict the team to finish slightly above the relegation zone, at 10th position from last season’s 11th place.
Likila United: Last season’s surprise package following a 6th position finish in their first year of topflight football.
It will certainly take a lot for Likila to reproduce the impressive performance of last season and they will be tested severely in the new campaign based on the fact that they were a closed book to many teams last term.
Bob Mafoso is a smart young coach who proved his pedigree with a team of unknown players last season. But now that they are no longer a team of unknowns, Likila could be in for it this time around.
Key Players: Sello Koetle, Tšeliso Chenene.
Prediction: Likila could be fighting relegation this season after the surprise of 2014/15 when they were still rookies in the premiership. They could find themselves in 13th position and going down to the first division.
Liphakoe: The Quthing-based team comes with big expectations after an impressive A Division campaign, which won them promotion to the premiership.
But this is a different league altogether and the team needs to invest heavily in new talent to be the surprise package of the new season.
Coach Kalaela Tseka would need to be at his best if the team is to survive in this dog-eat-dog league.
Key players: Mohau Rammoneng, Neo Skhosana.
New player: Masilo Nnena
Prediction: A finish slightly above relegation positions, at 12, is likely for Liphakoe while they might even be involved in the fight for survival.
Rovers: The National University of Lesotho team returns to topflight football after winning promotion from the first division.
Most of the players have to balance their academic responsibilities with football, which might prove very difficult and Rovers might be forced to bring in a number of outsiders.
For their young coach Pule Khojane, this could be a season to forget and might be forced to concentrate on survival alone and forget about silverware.
Key player: Pule Moloi.
New players: Pitso Mankoane, Tšeole Ranthimo.
Prediction: The Dynamites seemed to be experiencing administrative problems after winning promotion to the elite league and their survival will also depend on sound management or else they will go back to the A Division come end of the season. They are likely to end at the bottom of the table.