Having won a controversy riddled Premier League title last season, Township Rollers head coach, Mark Harrison was expected to further demonstrate and parade the gulf in class of his team this season and the anticipation was enormous given the marquee of signings of Jagdish Shah‘s project.
But against fiercest rivals, Mochudi Centre Chiefs, the Briton coach’s tactics betrayed his class. His mid-September travails were expected to be given some much needed respite against a limping Centre Chiefs, but instead, misery piled up, thus challenging the whole Township Rollers management with a difficult question to fathom – How do you solve the midfield conundrum of Township Rollers without Maano Ditshupo’s input?
Entering a popular calendar fixture against the Kgatleng oufit, Harrison was a picture of exasperation after naming an unchanged line up for the second successive time. And when he left the stadium, he was a shadow of himself. Township Rollers midfield play in those abysmal showings against BDF XI, Security Systems and now Chiefs was broken up, with award winning captain, Ditshupo as a bench warmer yet again.
Instead Harrison, since the splendid performance against BDF XI, opted to field Ntesang Simanyana who aimed for reprieve from the naysayers owing to his dismal showing whilst he was with cross town rivals, Gaborone United, a season ago. However, the decision to field Simanyana continues to compound the club’s midfield misery; where Segolame Boy has been slightly redeployed to function on an unfamiliar territory.
This on the whole should be a banana skin too hazardous a prospect, because long serving Rollers midfielder, Lawrence Majawa and the now rejected Rollers captain were often times paired in the midfield to shield the defence, with Boy tasked with providing additional support to the striking force, forming a midfield diamond with Joel Mogorosi and Galabgwe Moyana on either side of the pitch to pose a menacing attack. Under Mandinda Ndlovu, Rollers’ former coach, the team opted for power play but Harrison’s tactics are increasingly becoming a gargantuan task.
The midfield composition of Majawa, Simanyana, Motsholetsi Sikele and Lemponye Tshireletso struggles to give Harrison his Holy Grail- balance. Simanyana, despite his admirable battling qualities and improved form, can hardly be classed as a key cog in Rollers’ midfield. Essentially, the former Gaborone United player has been asked to replicate the role. Maano Ditshupo has made his own- breaking up play and playing simple passes to keep Rollers ticking.
When Rollers won the league last season, Ditshupo played 29 games of the club, missing only one. His underlying boldness as a midfielder of note showcased when he won the coveted Mascom top 8 player of the tournament-a fruitful effort that saw him becoming the engine that ran Township Rollers to the finals.
He scored four goals as a deep lying playmaker on process clinching the tournament’s golden boot. This season, Ditshupo started only 5 games. He played two games as a substitute- a period that saw the club slipping down the log to the 4th spot. Observers say Maano was the perfect player for power play, someone who passed the ball endlessly sideways, registering impressive possession stats without going anywhere. It is an allegation not without foundation but misses an important point about balance.
Having one player who can be relied on to keep the ball is not the same as having 11 who are terrified of giving away possession. As he showed this season in the away wins against Nico United and Jwaneng Galaxy, Maano is more than capable of incisive 40-yard forward passes when the situation allows. The club’s captain is not perhaps the most fashionable player. It is hard to see how he would fit in a hard-pressing, relentless running team such as Extension Gunners or Gaborone United.
Football analyst and former Notwane player Fabian Zulu says the introduction of Simanyana has brought confusion in the Rollers midfield. He is of the view that it consists of many ball players leaving a lot of work on Majawa. ‘‘I think it was unnecessary to drop Maano, he is a workaholic and can help the team in attack and equally in defence, but both Boy and Simanyana are liabilities defensively,’’ Zulu argued.
On the other hand, vice-captain Joel Mogorosi continues to polarize opinion. Nothing is coming off for him, and has not for a good while. He looks like an old man in a young man’s game. Before the season started, Harrison was fervent in his declaration that we would not see Mogorosi as an outright striker, like he was utilized in the dying embers of Peter Butler’s campaign in the world cup qualifiers. Yet Mogorosi is still seeking the sanctuary of coming deeper and is upsetting the balance and structure this Rollers side is striving for. It looks though that Harrison has catered for the vice captain’s needs and wants.
The Botswana Football League (BFL) house has never known peace since its establishment in 2020. The company’s directors and shareholders, built to professionalise the elite league, are seemingly in a wild goose chase, leaving footballers’ dreams to shatter amid ‘man-made’ sporting adversity.
The BFL titanic has hit an iceberg, and the stewards and captains of this ship are struggling to bring it to calmer waters. This infighting and militancy have attracted the eye and wrath of the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Tumiso Rakgare, whom sources say is readying himself to prepare a tell-all meeting with the 16 premier league clubs chairpersons in the next coming weeks.
It is said that the Minister is concerned by the lack of progress at the league that should be ordinarily a flagship of Botswana football. As the Minister of Sports, Rakgare is disappointed by the crusade of blames and figure pointing at the boardrooms while essential issues like sponsorship and safe return to play are not adequately addressed.
It is said that the Minister has silently observed that the league house is moving in circles, and time wasted never returns. He is shocked that these chairpersons are incurring unnecessary costs paying players, yet they delay the return of football. When approached for clarity, the Minister could only say he is on leave and will only talk about sports matters when he resumes duty.
“I am not going to comment on anything concerning sport; for now, I am currently on my leave days to charge my batteries; talk to me after two weeks or so,” he briefly commented via a telephone interview. To this date, the BFL board has had two chairmen in as a space of seven months. Township Rollers boss Jagdish Shah was its maiden chairman during its formative stage, and Nicholas Zakhem assisted him.
It said significant progress was made to source sponsors, but what later led to factions and divisions inside the board is not adequately established. When Shah was removed, Aryl Ralobala was installed as the second chairman, but his stay has been rocky right from the beginning.
He was confronted with taxing sponsorship and broadcasting deals but what would later complicate his tenure is the burning issue of a mooted loan agreement with the Botswana Football Association(BFA). All these combined were complicated by the inability of the previous board to proceed with a smooth handover.
The BFL structure was first established in August 2020. One of its mandates was to divorce itself from the football association and negotiate key sponsorships for itself. This autonomous idea was rubber-stamped at the previous BFA general assembly.
Once the BFL fully gained independence, BFA was to give it a playing licence, and the FA will have a minor share of the profits made within a football calendar. In this company, all the 16 premier league clubs have equal shares. But at the end of every season, relegated clubs transfer their shares to newly-promoted clubs.
The spirit of brotherhood at Lekidi Football Centre has indeed fallen apart. Evidence of this development emanated at the recent National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting where the Botswana Football Association (BFA) is reported to have repeatedly fluffed lines to bring football’s most shrewd schemer, Nicolas Zakhem, to book for what they term ‘undermining leadership.’
The association is said to have noted with utmost concern that Zakhem, the chief investor at Gaborone United, has on several accounts, poured scorn over BFA leadership for failing football and went on to call for their resignation as things continue to fall apart.
Moreover, the Lebanese business mogul has come out from the shell and punched holes on the administrative head of the newly formed establishment, Botswana Football League (BFL), arguing that, they too, have fallen by the wayside while attempting to professionalize the local football.
Wary of these continuous onslaughts by the Zakhem, BFA feels the man is out of order and ought to be hauled before red burning coals for undermining leadership. Sources say the association wants the ethics committee to apply its mind over Zakhem’s previous uttering and tame him for good.
Zakhem, whom football observers agree was the kingmaker as MacLean Letshwiti, and his troops triumphed over Tebogo Sebego’s allies at BFA general election held in October 2020, is believed to have fallen out of favour with the Letshwiti regime. The proof of the pudding was when he ate up Letshwiti administration during an interview on Gabz FM roughly two weeks back.
However, the association’s NEC is said to be torn apart as relationships continue to decay. Reports suggest that quite a handful of them are not entertaining the idea of reprimanding Zakhem, and even if push comes to shove, it is not the mandate of the NEC to spell a final determination on him. At the same time, judicial bodies of the association are available and functioning.
The Zakhem issue, burning as it is, saw Letshwiti’s troops coming face to face with him for the first time since assuming office. Sources claim that the members were not coy about calling a spade a spade that the BFA boss is also out of his mandate by ruling with an iron fist and should try by all means to uphold the constitution of the association. Indications are that the members are not impressed by the current state of football affairs and want a plethora of issues to address other than tailing and chastising other football administrators in the name of ill-discipline.
However, sources say there is strong determination to bring Zakhem to book by hook or crook. Meanwhile, the BFA has allowed their legal advisor to study the matter and advise on the way forward. When approached for comment, BFA legal advisor Pako Moakofi said he was not able to speak as he was still attending to his health issues.
The issue of Zakhem is also said to have lifted the lid off another NEC member’s matter. Last year, Carlos Sebina, former Tafic Chairman, was relieved of his duties after being accused of conniving with the enemy to betray and sabotage the association. The decision came when Botswana was preparing to play a crucial tie against Zimbabwe in AFCON 2021 qualifiers. Sebina was the medical committee chairman and had previously won the NEC seat as the only member from Sebego’s side.
Zakhem himself is out of the country and cannot be reached to provide further clarity, but sources close to him told WeekendSport that he is fully aware of the ongoing matter. It is no longer in doubt that BFA elephants are fighting, and it is the football grass that will suffer the most.
Botswana Football Association (BFA) contends that football is an industry that employs everyone from different sectors of the economy and will argue this point until the COVID-19 Task Force fully comprehends it.
The move comes to the fore after the association, this week, held an emergency meeting with Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC) to deliberate on possibilities of allowing footballers to resume training. At the same time, sporting activities remain suspended as a COVID-19 containment measure.
The BFA, BNSC held a meeting to establish the impact of suspending sporting activities on football. The BFA argues that considerable effort was initiated to return to play. Although sources say it was the first phase of deliberations, another meeting is scheduled for Wednesday with the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport, and Culture Development, Tumiso Rakgare, to further find a common understanding.
Sources contend that although the atmosphere was a bit tense at the beginning, discussions were fruitful, with the Ministry of Sport promising to discuss the matter with the Coordinator of the Task Force, Dr. Kereng Masupu.
The uptight mood cascaded when Rakgare complained about the leakage of confidential information to third parties, especially the media. It will seem the minister was not happy at how the BFA meeting together with theirs was to be known by outside parties before a conclusion is reached. The ministry expressed its frustration concerning the slow progress of BFA as far as the resumption of football was concerned.
A senior administrator in the ministry complained that BFA was dilly-dallying even before the government suspended sporting activities. When asked to give clarity, the BFA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Goabaone Taylor said it would be remiss of her to talk about the details of the meeting, especially when the time was not right.
“Even the ministry had to gag us because we find our confidential information littered everywhere. I am afraid that is not right, and should it persist, it can damage the confidence and the talks we are having with our partners,” she said when asked about her presence during the Wednesday meeting.
BFA, in the meantime, says their position paper does not change. They have argued that football is the only code that employs masses, and the continuation of sports ban hampers and jeopardizes contracts with various stakeholders, including players and sponsorships. Moreover, BFA says companies are reluctant to commit to football because the ban brings much confusion on the way forward.
Furthermore, the association argues that football is the biggest revenue spinner, estimated to be around P55 million. They say the game employs over 3 000 people directly and provides over 9 000 indirect jobs countrywide. Over the years, when football was in full flight, the game raked about P 26 000 000,00 in sponsorships while 4 000 000,00 came from broadcasting deals.
BFA will therefore play a waiting game while the suspension comes to an end in a week and will hope the game will never be clamped down again, which will allow the 2021-22 season to commence.