Vodacom Cup: Lessons for Lesotho

MASERU – On Saturday South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs beat England’s Manchester City (the world’s richest club) 1-0 at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld Stadium to win the tenth edition of the Vodacom Challenge.

For those fortunate enough to be in the arena, the experience –– from seeing world stars to being refused entry of even a water bottle into the stadium) was one of a lifetime –– a refreshing change from the mediocrity of our local football.

But that was the problem, because despite the excitement, the back of one’s mind was disturbed by the problems Lesotho football has and what our local game has become.

Lesotho football has gone from being almost at par with South Africa as recently as 25 years ago, to Saturday, a day that illustrated the gulf that now exists between the two countries.

Perhaps the mind does wander too much, but – on that day when South Africans hailed Chiefs’ triumph – it was inevitable for this Mosotho to wonder when his country would witness such a spectacle.

Certainly it doesn’t seem it will happen in the near future.

On a day when 40 000 fans packed a world-class stadium, our national stadium Setsoto remained closed –– still undergoing never-ending and ever costlier refurbishments.

The arena has been that way for nearly two years and doesn’t look set to be available for football anytime soon. Initially Setsoto was scheduled to have been opened by May this year. That was then changed to July, then October. Now the earliest date being touted is April 2010 and even that is not a certainty.

In the meantime Lesotho will not see any international football and will miss out on any benefits such as hosting national teams for practice sessions during the 2010 World Cup to be held next year.

On Saturday Likuena were preparing to play LDF on Bambatha’s rundown outside ground, because the one inside has not been fixed for two years.

On an afternoon when South African players dribbled on the lush, green grass of Pretoria, Lesotho’s players had to make do with glorified grazing fields that are not only unsuitable for top flight football but also pose a danger to players.

For a player to execute tackles, quick turns or high-speed dribbles on Lesotho’s fields is simply a risky affair. These deficiencies seem insignificant but are brutally exposed at international level.

It is unclear why our fields have become so bad, Pitso Ground, for instance, has gone from being a pitch worthy of hosting international friendlies to a grassy heap not fit for horse-racing. It is owned by the Maseru City Council only in name. There has been absolutely no development or upkeep of the ground. If the current trend continues, there will be no grass growing on that pitch in the near future. Its owners Matlama have talked a good deal about how they want to refurbish the stadium, nothing has happened.

But it is not just Matlama who have it tough. Champions Lioli play on such a rundown pitch as well.

And if that is how the top flight league is then it’s no use discussing how the situation is in the lower levels.

Any positives?

Well, Nigel De Jong, Manchester City’s Dutch international midfielder signed for 15 million pounds, is not much better than Bushy Moletsane, if at all. At least technically he is not.

But then being a footballer is not only about talent. Lesotho’s players have lost the appetite to be the best and forgotten the importance of performing on the field. Players are ill-disciplined, unfit and are happy being big fish in a small pond.

It’s amazing how much difference has been made by Likuena going to Lehakoe. Six months later there’s a visible difference on and off the field.

But it’s part of a vicious cycle of a lack of care that won’t change.

Players don’t care because they feel authorities don’t care about them. Fans therefore regard the game and its players as a joke – the few who turn out to games are hooligans. Authorities don’t act because that is not their baby. Coaches don’t feel the need to get qualifications and the players play.

In the end Likuena doesn’t win a match for two years.

So boarding a bus on the long way back home one’s mind was filled with questions.

Will Lesotho be able to attract the likes of Manchester City? Will we ever have world standard pitches?

And the commonly proffered excuse of money has to be put aside for a while. Gambia, a country with a smaller population and economy than Lesotho has over twenty players playing in Europe, two junior continental titles and its national team was ranked 65th in June.

Lesotho is ranked number 121.

Lesotho is not a hopeless case.  Talent comparable to our neighbours abounds. But sadly the only thing Lesotho and South African football have in common at the moment is the weather.

And that won’t change as long as Lesotho remains a land of excuses.

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