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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!

Sport

KBL closure scuppers BFA deal

25th January 2021
Football

The negotiations involving Botswana Football Association (BFA) and Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL) over elite league sponsorship have suffered a setback as the local brewer this week took what it termed a ‘difficult’ decision to shut down operations.

This effectively means that football sponsorship is back in
its dark corner as all efforts to go back to the field take another nasty twist in the midst of ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is regrettable that this latest total ban on alcohol sales has resulted in the suspension of KBL operations, which will remain in place for as long as the alcohol ban persists. KBL continues its efforts to engage government on this critical issue, which is having an enormous impact on the industry and its extensive value chain,” the company explained.

Although not proudly maintained at Lekidi Football Centre, the company is said to have abandoned talks on explanations revolving around ‘lack of funds.’In the initial agreement, sources say that it was settled that KBL would sponsor the Botswana Football League at a tune of P30million for a period of three years.

It is maintained that the deal was to be relooked and redefined to fit the sponsorship modalities of today’s game.Highly placed sources speaking with this publication however state that BFA is assisting BFL to cajole other companies to come on board as football is about to return to the field.

Top of the list is ABSA Bank who have remained afloat despite the impacts of the virus. The bank is said to be committed to football but sources say it will take a considerable amount of persuasion to see the bank increasing sponsorship.

KBL, in the first phase, were willing to commit without much difficulties but after the storm of COVID-19, the company was to take a back seat and played a waiting game. They reasoned that the continuous lockdown the country has gone under has left them with little income than expected.

But according to sources, KBL is still expressing pleasure to engage with the association again and will further illustrate their willingness to come on board as soon as the corona virus situation subsides.It is said KBL has requested further information regarding sponsorship value from the association and once satisfied, negotiations will resume.

However, some administrators within the National Executive Committee believe KBL’s parting message does not inspire confidence. “KBL‘s phase is over, they gave us hope but it is difficult to keep track of them, COVID-19 has affected every plan,” one member shared.

At the close last season, way before the corona virus impacted the country negatively; BFA revealed that it had long compiled its situation analysis of sponsorship value for the local game. It was understood that the property that is the Premier League could be purchased at a value P 15 million over 43 premier league games.

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Sport

BFA proposes new league format

25th January 2021
Maclean letshwiti

Botswana Football Association (BFA) President, Maclean Letshwiti.

Botswana Football Association (BFA) is engaged in protracted talks to stage a mini-league as lee-way to ascend into a proper football season by August this year.

The idea is to keep players fit and all football structures functioning as time pressure mounts.Informants say the idea is discussed at the competition office and will soon be forwarded to the National Executive Committee (NEC) for further deliberations.

This therefore means that all leagues across the country will be played for only one round until August where a new full football season will resume. Football has never returned to the field for almost 10 months now due to the corona virus.

The situation on the ground looks gloomy as COVID-19 cases continue to rise with each passing day.
Football clubs are also feeling the pinch with Sua Flamingos becoming the latest victims. The club has been forced to suspend operations as players and members of the technical team test positive for the deadly virus.

While playing a mini-league is a last resort, it is mentioned that no team will be promoted or relegated after the completion of the games.Sources say it is better than folding arms when teams are continuing to pay players without kicking the ball.

The idea of the mini-league therefore means that there will be no prize money but teams will likely survive with grants from identifiable sponsors. Already, the Botswana Football League (BFL) has secured a P 5 million television deal for over three years.

The BFL think tanks contemplate to augment the television deal with sponsorship grants from ABSA bank. According to information, this will keep the league and its secretariat running until everything gets back to normalcy.

“It is true we are thinking to stage a mini league looking at what we have but this is still an infant idea, we are discussing and we will engage NEC going forward,” a member of the association shared.BFA leadership finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place as the motion to kick start the league in February was shot down by the assembly in October of last year.

The movers of the motion argued that high temperatures usually recorded in the South of Sahara desert negatively affects player performance and their overall health conditions. However, there were intentions to commence the league at the earliest possible time but the task force together with the Ministry of Sport wanted players to be tested and football fields be fumigated regularly to avoid spreading the virus.

Early this week, the BFL leadership engaged the Footballers Union of Botswana (FUB) to give an update on how football will return. However, this publication cannot adequately establish the detailed plan of the league.

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Sport

Orapa United re-sign Ramoraka from TS Galaxy

25th January 2021
LESENYA RAMORAKA

Boteti based side, Orapa United were quick to snatch back Zebras left-back, Lesenya Ramoraka, tying him with a two-year deal after he was released this week by TS Galaxy.

The 26 year-old defender left The Ostriches in 2018 to join Highlands Park who later sold their status last year to renowned football agent Tim Sukazi of TS Galaxy. Ramoraka’s contract was to end this year July.

At the time of the sale, the team then opted not to register him for another season hoping to register him in the January transfer but his injury kept him out for longer than anticipated, forcing TS Galaxy to release him as he was free to start to negotiate with any team that may be interested in him.

“We have signed Ramoraka after assessing his injury and he is in Orapa as we speak doing his rehab.The injury is not bad and we expect him to resume light training anytime from mid- February,” said Kabo William, the club spokesperson.

Ramoraka left an impressive mark at Highlands Park where he played 29 games in all competitions and netting only once. Lee, as he is known in football circles, is one of the most trusted left backs in the country and has been a vital part of the Zebras with his absence felt at the national team.

“The team had wanted to keep him but they were just concerned that his injury was taking long to heal and they opted to release him as you cannot have a player out for too long more especially who is a foreigner,” said a source.

“He had survived the changes at the team and you have to also note that the coach who brought him, Owen Da Gama also just joined TS Galaxy and he is one of the players that he trusted and used so it is not a matter of performance but they couldn’t afford to have him on the side-lines for too long.”

Orapa United have also announced the signing of other players that include; Thabiso Boti formerly with Notwane, Kutlo Kolagano from City Eagles, Galagwe Moyana who was released by Township Rollers, Kagisano Mungu from TAFIC and the team promoted Phemelo Pushudi from their development side.

The Ostriches have released goalkeeper Bophelo Kealeboga who has signed a 2 year deal with Sua Flamingos, Mothusi Johnson who retraced his steps back to Gaborone United, Baboloki Makhura and Abdullah Hamisi.

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