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.
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For the first time after eons, football clubs plying their trade in the elite league are walking in the shadow of the undefined with nothing concrete agreed and on sight before the commencement of the football season.