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Is it a two horse race again?

Mochudi Centre Chiefs has the knotty task of defending the league title against wounded Township Rollers which gave away the title to their rivals last season despite leading the log for the better part of the season. This season, Rollers will be out for revenge while Chiefs will be looking at defending their title.


While many will publicly not admit it, ever since the arrival of network giants, be MOBILE as sponsor, the league has been synonymous with the big two; Township Rollers and Mochudi Centre Chiefs.  The two teams are arguably the most followed in the country.

A PERENNIAL TWO HORSE RACE

Apart from Rollers and Chiefs, only Gaborone United has managed to win the Be Mobile Premiership, a feat it never managed to emulate for the past six seasons. Both Rollers and Chiefs are equal on three titles each. A league victory for one of the sides this season will see it gaining superiority and bragging rights.  


This season nothing has changed pretty much. Both Rollers and Chiefs remain real title contenders. There will be of course Gaborone United and BDF XI chasing the pack but history reveals that, the title is not theirs.
Last season Orapa United became a surprise package and was able to keep both Chiefs and Rollers at their bay in the title race. In the end, Orapa United surprisingly finished ahead of Rollers in the league standing as they completed the league as runners-up.


This season is no different. Both Rollers and Chiefs have been pretty busy in the transfer market in an effort to bolster their squads. Rollers have signed former players Mogogi Gabonamong, Kabelo Dambe and former Chiefs player Moyana as their marquee signings. Reports also indicate that Zebras captain, Joel Mogorosi may also re-join if he does not find offers in South Africa’s PSL.


Chiefs on the other hand have signed former Ajax Cape Town player Makhanyaseli Siwawhla and former Gaborone United midfielder Jackie Mothatego as probably their major signings. The Kgatleng giants also added Mpho Kgwaswane to their squad among others.


The two teams began the league title race in an impressive fashion last weekend. Chiefs debased BR Highlanders 5-0 at Molepolole Sport Complex, with their top marksman Kekaetswe ‘Mara’ Moloi appearing twice on the score sheet. Captain Pontsho Moloi, Tendai Nyamusi and debutant Mothatego also scored.


Rollers eased past BDF XI on Saturday night at the National Stadium. Segolame Boy registered a brace, while Jerome Ramatlhakwana, and Lawrence Majawa also registered a goal each in a 4-1 victory.


Chiefs have an advantageous situation as they have maintained majority of the title winning squad. They have a smaller squad and with less egos in the dressing room to manage. Coach Mike Sithole is an instrumental factor in the league race as well. He has a wealth of experience and knows the expectations that come with being at the helm of Chiefs’ hot seat.


Meanwhile Rollers have made various changes since they surrendered the title to their rivals. Mandinda Ndlovu has left, so did Dirang Moloi who was signed on short contract. Rollers have hired British tactician Mark Harrison to steer the Blues back to their glory days.


Looking at the fixture list, the big game is in two months time (October) .A Rollers-Chiefs game which could prove decisive, not so much in terms of the title race but as a timely confidence boost going forward. Everything hinges on whether Chiefs or Rollers come out on top, whether a draw favours one side or the other, whether there is a change at the top of the table or not.


Last season, Rollers title hopes were ended by the same fixture after a 1-0 defeat courtesy of Lemponye Tshireletso’s goal. Since then Rollers could not make a comeback, in fact, it was the beginning of the end of its title aspirations.

CHASING THE PACK

Apart from obvious favourites in Rollers and Chiefs, there are few sides that will make efforts to challenge the big two. Gaborone United is an obvious choice, having been the inaugural winner in 2008/09 season, The Reds feel compelled to strive for emulation of six years ago heroics. Every season GU has failed to rise to the occasion even at a point where it had signed the best players in the league.


GU has however managed to do well in cup competitions becoming the only side to win Mascom Top 8 twice. Gaborone United finished the league title in fourth position last season.


Orapa United proved to doubters last season what it’s capable of. Following smart signings. The Ostriches were able to give up on the title hopes at the last day. United went on to finish ahead of Rollers in the title race.

This season, Orapa United has not made more changes, and has brought in two more important signings in Manqoba Ngwenya and Coach Madinda Ndlovu. Ngwenya knows how to score goals while Ndlovu has tasted the feeling of winning the league. Those important qualities will be vital for Orapa United if it challenges the league.  


BDF XI will be keeping an eye on the big two as well. In 2013/14 season, the army men looked like they were on their way to lift the be Mobile league title for the first time, until their morale was dampened by deduction of six points after being found guilty of taking football matters to court. This season BDF XI still look exciting despite suffering a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Rollers in the opening game.  


Extension Gunners also look like a side which will give title chasers a run for their money. The Lobatse side had an impressive pre-season and looked like a well-polished machine. Under the tutelage of former Zebras player Pio Paul, Ezi-Mnyama project promising prospects for this season.


Dubbed the sleeping giants, Gunners has not lived up to expectations in the past seasons. Ironically at some point, the side found itself fighting to survive relegation rather trying to end at the top. Gunners will be definitely a side to watch this season.


Stubborn Nico United will also prove to be a team to watch. Majombolo rarely disappoints and have caused major upset to title ambitions of the big three. Both Rollers and Chiefs have suffered upsets at the hands of the Selebi Phikwe side.


Police XI is another side that is capable of keeping up with the big three, but it will definitely finish in the middle bracket. There is no sign that the Jungle Kings will struggle or fight clear relegation battle.


The same goes for Gilport Lions (formerly BMC). The newly acquired team has no precursors of a title winning side. If it’s anything, inability to stay in the middle of the log will see it fighting relegation.


The biggest surprise in local football last season was Sankoyo Bush Bucks with its heroics. With a squad of nonentities Ngurungu was able to produce one of the season’s exciting performances. Ngurungu turned Maun Sports Complex into their slaughterhouse and the team was able to attract big crowds week-in and week-out. Many doubts if the team will be able to achieve the feat or not.  

WHO WILL RELEGATE?

Relegation is a debacle that is more often than not unpredictable. At the beginning of last season, nobody would have imagined that all-present league side Notwane FC would have bitten the dust. The same imagination would not have been put on former league champions Ecco City Greens. BR Highlanders, Satmos, Sankoyo Bush Bucks survived the chop last season. But the odds are still stack against Satmos which survived the relegation after victory in a dramatic play-off encounter with Notwane FC at the Serowe Sports Complex.


BR Highlanders will need to do a lot to stay away from the axe. Jwaneng Galaxy will have to prove itself as well. After adopting the same model adopted by Orapa United, there is a sense of hope that Galaxy has joined the top flight football for ever.


Green Lovers will also have to do a lot to stay. It has proved difficult for new comers to survive their first stint in the top flight. The team has not added major singings to their squad yet, and reliance on the same squad which took them to elite league would not necessarily save them.


Miscellaneous bounce back not for the first time, and it seems like they are enjoying the trend of pendulum. It will take another phenomenon for them to survive, at least for another season.

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Sport

City turns to BFA tribunal over relegation

23rd November 2021
Premier league players

Botswana Football Association (BFA) arbitration tribunal is set to hear a case in which Molepolole City Stars is challenging the 2019-20 football season curtailment that led to their untimely relegation. The season was abruptly ended amid the ravaging COVID-19 scourge when the government decided to place the whole country under lockdown.

In particular, City Stars, under Somerset Gobuiwang, challenges the rationale and fairness of the association to end the league when there were several options to pursue. The club does not want to contest the authority of the national executive committee to stop the league but argues that the decision to relegate them based on the log standing was unfair, irrational and unreasonable.

Moreover, the decision was against the spirit of the game and not the most appropriate one under circumstances where they were still about 10 league games to play. As the papers were submitted, City Stars argues that the most appropriate step would have been to suspend the league and protect the league standing. “The league would then resume when it was safe to do so, as indeed it is happening now, with the log standings maintained as they were,” the court papers read.

The team, which was languishing at the bottom of the table when the decision was taken, also argues and gives an alternative that the league could have ended without relegation issues. City Stars argues, “This would be in recognition of the undeniable facts that the league was not complete and that the log standings at the time were not in any way an indicator of how they would have been had the league been allowed to run its course.”

Furthermore, Molepolole City Stars are livid that the association did not consider that the complainant had valid contracts with its staff and players and that such agreement could not be terminated abruptly. On the one hand, BFA said it was looking at three options before ending the league. Facts and scenarios informed each decision, and one was independent of the other, it was argued.

The first option, BFA says, was to stop the league where it was and crown the team that occupied the first place, which was Jwaneng Galaxy. Furthermore, three teams lying at the bottom of the table would be relegated, and teams on pole positions from Debswana First Division north and south will be promoted automatically.

By all accounts, the association felt it was a controversial option to undertake but also fairer for the sake of progress. The second available possibility was to stretch the season and consequently change the football calendar. “There has been a shelved proposal that recommends the change of our season from the usual August-May calendar to February – November because of health reasons,” BFA president MacLean Letshwiti said before making the decision.

The last possibility was to nullify all the leagues. This was — and continued to be — the last resort. Across all the global leagues, the domestic campaign had only 10 matches left, which could, in theory, be completed in the space of five weeks. In the end, BFA feels that a decision had to be made for the sake of progress. The dates of the hearing are yet to be made public.

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Sport

Is it time to take Piro serious?

23rd November 2021
GU

Pontsho Moloi’s character and football standing as a young coach have embodied simplicity and hard work for far too long. Moloi is a local bred coach who has so far threatened foreign gaffers with his coaching philosophy, a style that is exciting and irking football purists in equal measure.

As Moloi is famously known in football circles, Piro has coached a few different clubs in the homeland, but his stewardship of Gaborone United last season — going into the new one- remains his best memorable achievement ever. Before the 2019-20 season was stopped because of the COVID-19 outbreak, GU was one of the league’s favourites.

But as any self-respecting purveyor of sporting cliché knows, it is never a bad idea to keep quiet and let your football do the talking. The only hanging problem for Piro is that he has often wanted to let his talking do the talking — which is a shame since, by and large, his football, both as a player and coach, has spoken loudly enough.

Piro’s coaching resume is fascinating and worth the test for a coach whose career is barely two years old. He has presided over big guns, one staggeringly good debut top-flight campaign, one freewheeling title charge, and one dramatic league season. Yet throughout, he has continued to serve as a punch line, painted by a substantial cohort.

Now, three games into the current season, his Gaborone United side sit at the top of the pile, having won all their games and remarkably keeping a clean sheet. No team has scored more goals than Piro’s side. Is Botswana football finally ready to recognize Piro as an elite-level coach? In fact, why has it not done so already?

The answer is not straightforward, regardless of what some of his harsher detractors would want to believe, although it is true that he has often failed to do himself any favours when a microphone has been aimed his way. In today’s culture, it only takes one slip of the tongue — one tiny sound bite lacking in self-awareness — to make you look silly.

Piro’s model has worked across the board: promotion-chasing minnow, sleeping giant, trophy-hovering Goliath figure, and now an aspirational upper-middleweight.

In each instance, he has found a new gear, improved his team beyond expectation and created a side better than the sum of its parts, at least for a time. Young and veteran players excel under his watch. Attackers — especially hard-running and bloodthirsty centre-forwards, Thatayaone Kgamanyane — flourish like never before. And for once, he has needed big money to make significant progress. Yet even at United, the least tangibly successful of his last three jobs and one where things went downhill towards the end, he put together sensationally exciting teams.

Now at GU, pundits still ask whether he will last longer at the top or he will soon fall. His demonstrations this season speak volumes about winning a bigger and better trophy this season. Can he deliver, or time will tell? Part of the answer will come as the season wears on.

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Sport

GU, Rollers – early favorites

16th November 2021
Rollers & GU

Football giants Township Rollers and Gaborone United have emerged as early favourites to win the newly refined Botswana Football League (BFL), following a perfect start to the season.   

There is a sense of relief from different quarters that this new football season, still striving to secure a title sponsor, is set to be packed with more excitement and action than anticipated. Seasons’ never-ending transfer rumour mill, coupled with half-paced friendlies, have their place in football, but they were indeed only going to be a tasty little snack before the sumptuous banquet, which is a new season.

Each team has played three games. At the time of going to print, Gaborone United, driven by local gaffers Innocent Morapedi and Pontso Moloi, remains in pole position with 9 points, maintaining an unbeaten record. The club also holds another record as only to club yet to concede. Also, on pole position is Township Rollers, who remain of the favourites to clinch the title come season end.

Languishing at the bottom of the log is Extension Gunners. The Lobatse based outfit have already pressed panic buttons by sacking their coach. It is still early days, but it appears The Peleng Boys, as they are affectionately called, are suffering early relegation season syndrome. They have played three games and are still struggling to find a win, let alone finding the back of the net.

Big guns like Orapa United and Jwaneng Galaxy have tried to bolster their squads but have failed to stamp authority in their first three encounters. Galaxy look set to be a better team, but two registered wins and a loss may as well betray this standing belief. Orapa, on the other hand, has grouped experienced players in their camp. Die-hard followers hope that this may be a fruitful season, but a midweek loss against Police XI in their backyard leaves followers questioning the readiness of their technical team as the season gets hot.

Township Rollers are breathing heavily on Gaborone United backs. The two teams now becoming rivals are equal on points, but much of the scrutiny is on GU, whose defence might be critical to this year’s championship.  The need for news and views — not to mention wins in Lobatse and Francistown or wherever will once again become the all-consuming passion in many football lovers’ lives. Some had reason to be happier than most. That is why Sua Flamingoes and Masitaoka are ecstatic for their first 2021 victories.

A logical decree is that the Premier League’s usual suspects will have it all their way again. Talent galore and bottomless pockets of cash were enough to ensure yet more silverware ends up in already crammed trophy cabinets. The cream, as they say, always tends to rise to the top. Week 1 of this first half-season was the most interesting one. Eighteen goals were scored, and Thatayaone Kgamanyane of GU became the first player to score a Premier League goal this season.

Premier League Chief Executive Officer Solomon Ramochothwane believes this will be the most competitive season of recent seasons. “It is tight and competitive, and we might have a new champion at the end,” he opined. He also expressed happiness that numbers will grow at the stadiums as time goes on. But beyond the shadow of a doubt, the return of Premier League fourth round — as remarkable as the first three laps — will signal several months of nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat tension.

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