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No bones about it: Zebras needs a JJ rebirth

Jerome Ramatlhakwane

The current crop of Zebras strikers is arguably apocryphal, and the vicissitude engulfing the national team has rendered them to a ‘milk and water’ status – very weak! Zebras is currently playing AFCON qualifiers and the team has scored a mere two goals in four matches!

Don’t be fooled by the 1-0 win against Zambia recently, it’s just an eye wash, win and loss in football are like Kith and Kin – the bottom-line is that our strikers are evidently gentlemen at large!
This damning conclusion on the senior men National Team is deduced from the lethargic performances since the maiden appearance at the AFCON 2012. It is a fact that the frontline attack has grown toothless since returning from their maiden AFCON cup qualifiers in February of 2012.

This is not just a squawk about Zebras strike force without basis. To steer clear of any assumed malice, here is why every firm football fan could be steamed up right now – ever since the disappearance of striker Jerome Jay Jay Ramatlhakwane, none of the selected strikers is hitting the net consistently as he once did! They have all literally failed to step into JJ shoes.

Between the 2015 and 2019 AFOCN Qualifiers, it has been uninspiring performances from the Zebras men in front of the goals. The strikers have played nine (9) rounds of games and they have scored only twice. While we could be stirring up a hornet’s nest with this matter of fact write-up, we are prepared to stick to our guns – the current crop of strikers is failing the national team.

It shouldn’t appear we trying to stretch the truth. Let’s look at the 2012 qualifying rounds, Zebras played eight (8) games and scored seven (7) times. Striker Jay Jay alone found the net five (5) times hence ascending to the summit of the top scorers’ list in Africa alongside deadly Senegalese striker, Mamadou Niang. At a personal level, this was a wonderful, hard-earned moment of sporting grace for the monstrous built striker whose body built suited his Zebras role to a T. His scoring ability remains unmatched up to now.

For far too long, The Zebras players, strikers to be more precise, have become little more than spectators in any African Cup of Nations qualifying scoring race. By extension, the future of scoring players mirrors a tomorrow that may never come. Ever since the remarkable and buccaneering record set during the wonderful seasons of striker Jerome Ramatlhakwane in 2011, The Zebras striking force has been nothing but a blunt knife – this is for the record.

Here is the sum and substance of our situation at the Zebras – four (4) AFCON finals passed without anybody hitting the net consistently. Other than trying and experimenting with a handful of strikers, our tiny land locked country struggled to find its way out of a mediocre zone.

But along the visible lines of pedestrian performances, the name of Jerome Ramatlhakwane remains popular in this country and by extension, Southern Africa. Believe it or not, Jay-Jay as he is popularly known, has built a legacy for himself that is unrivalled.

He is arguably one of the most highly acclaimed footballers this country has birthed, albeit with little success due to lack of exposure and many other obstacles the robust player has experienced in his football career. Ramatlhakwane has been both the darling and the villain in the media and in the country for the display he provides on the field of play.

With the senior national team failing to score goals, one wonders how Jay-Jay used to find the back of the net with such ease. Records are here for everyone to see but as Mark Twain argued, ‘facts are stubborn and statistics are pliable.’

With a career spanning from 2006 till date, Jay-Jay is Botswana’s all-time leading goal scorer, having found the back of the net on 21 occasions, with 53 caps under his belt and counting. Jay-Jay’s skill as a box striker is second to none; the striker is a marvel to watch on the field of play. His agility and sheer love of the game gives him an aura of a warrior on the battlefield.

That is why it is hard to comprehend why Jay-Jay is still a local player, why scouts haven’t scooped him up. A player of his calibre and the skill he possess as a finisher makes it obvious that he could be destined for greater things. Jay-Jay would make for a pronounced addition to any international club.

THE STATS

Hot on his heels is Botswana’s poster boy, Diphetogo Selolwane who hanged his boots post the 2012 AFCON showpiece. He has 18 goals from 68 caps in a football career that kick started in 1998.
In terms of play, Selolwane and Tshepiso Molwantwa, the famous jersey number 9 owner, are better than Jay-Jay but when it comes to statistics, Jay-Jay has the upper hand, this leaves one to ponder; is this what Mark Twain meant when he argued that statistics can be bent?

It’s a shock to learn that Molwantwa has won himself 44 international caps but only 8 recognized goals. We take a dim view of Molwantwa when it comes to goals scored but take heart in his selfless maneuvers on the field of play.

In modern Botswana football, Omaatla Kebatho of Orapa United and the late Oliver Phikati have all failed to rise to the occasion and with coaches not willing to give Teenage Orebonye enough opportunities, the Zebras’ striking situation has been a well-documented issue that portrays how and why The Zebras have failed to move up in the world rankings. JJ should have shown some of these players the ropes.

There seems to be no striker who will soon surpass Jay-Jay. The likes of Jomo Moatlhaping and Joel Mogorosi who have practically retired may have given the dominant striker a run for his money. Mogorosi is sitting third on the rankings with 14 goals from 79 appearances.

Only Onkabetse Makgantai can turn the tide on Jay-Jay’s story, should he come to the party. Onkabetse stands at 12 international caps with 5 goals, a far cry from what Jay-Jay resume reads. But in a squad that is losing its renowned defensive stability, Jerome can still score top marks in all aspects of the game, especially when he is working with a crafty midfielder.

Looking back at that goal reel, if ever there is one, in among the bullet headers, the tap-ins, the dinks and spins, there is a sense of man constructing a monument for himself. For Jay-Jay, the 2012 AFCON showpiece may have been the last significant mark to pass. One that may not, all things considered, be surpassed. All the hope we have on the current crop of strikers – just a shot in the dark!

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