MASERU – Alliance Insurance, Matlama’s official technical sponsor, last Friday celebrated with the league champions after Tse Putsoa recently won the league in a match against Bantu.
Matlama last won the title in 2009/10 season.
It may have been long overdue for Lesotho’s most decorated league champions to reclaim their supremacy in the league which has been dominated by LCS, Lioli and Bantu back-to-back but, the fact remains Tse Putsoa finally did it.
This is Matlama’s 10th league title, two more than former champions Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) with eight. LCS won the league title six times, Lioli five times and Bantu three times in total.
What is also incredible about Matlama is that they have achieved that under the guidance of a new coach coach, Thabile Secker, who many critics in the beginning thought did not have what it takes to lead Tse Putsoa to the league title.
Moreso since he was taking over from several seasoned coaches like Likuena head coach Moses Maliehe and former Likuena coach who is also a former Matlama ace player, Seephephe ‘Mochini’ Matete, amongst others. All the more experienced coaches had failed before him.
Matlama roped in Secker as their head coach in the beginning of the just-ended season from the A Division side Manonyane FC. Before then, Secker coached the then premier league side Sky Battalion from Lioli where he was assistant coach after hanging his playing boots at Tse Nala about four seasons ago.
In an exclusive interview with Public Eye this week, Secker, for whom this is the first league title he won in his coaching career, said one of the contributing factors behind Tse Putsoa’s success this past season was the fact that his players have played together for a long time and, as a result, they understand each other’s weaknesses and abilities.
“The team played together for a long time with very few newcomers who include myself as a coach. So, I think the oneness of the players and the effective communication contributed a lot to the team’s success,” Secker said.
In fact, Secker said it was clear from the beginning that they wanted to win the league title.
“There were signs right from the beginning that we wanted to win the league title, even though we lost a few games in the middle of the season,” he said.
He said their secret for winning the league trophy was that after every game they sat down and analysed their performance, regardless they would have won, drawn or lost.
“After each and every game we sat down and analysed how we played, whether we won, drew or lost. We didn’t say because we won it was alright, and what was good about that was that the players make a big input in those analyses.”
Secker said they had to change their playing format from time to time, according to different playing styles of their opponents and the magnitude of each game.
“Much as one could tell that something was clicking among the team members from the beginning but you would find that some of the things we did we were forced to do because of what was needed for us to win certain games, based on what our opponents were playing like.
“And, of course, I used to say when our opponents are letting us down, we must possess the ball so that they can come to us because that way they will open up spaces for us to play from and allow us to go forward, which is what is important in football because you cannot win a game if you don’t score,” Secker said.
Matlama, however, lost twice against their biggest league competitors, Bantu, this past season.
But that did not discourage Tse Putsoa in their endeavour to win the league title. Secker said they had to make peace with that because they knew that in football you cannot beat every team.
“In football, there is a team that can beat you now and then, regardless how hard you try. So my football philosophy is that you must beat those other teams over whom you have the upper hand so that you would collect as many points as you can, come the end of the season, which is exactly what we did.
“I mean losing to Bantu back-to-back was not new for me with Matlama. It used to happen when I was still with Lioli but you would find that at the end of the season we won the championships because we beat other teams. This is to say you must know that you cannot win every game.”
Secker gave credit to his defenders, whom he said were solid enough throughout the season, adding that even their passing of the ball was outclassing opponents.
“As a result, I would like to thank players like Lisema Lebokollane and others for a solid play at the back, and also our midfielders because if it wasn’t because of them I don’t think the supply to the strikers could have ever been that smooth.”
On the other hand, the team’s sensational attacking midfielder, Lebajoa Mosehlenyane, said the experience their players have was what contributed immensely to the team’s achievement this past season.
“Most of Matlama players play for the national team. We have players who are playing for the Under-17, Under-20 and the senior national team, and that experience was enough for us to win the league title,” Mosehlenyane said.
“But what also helped us was hard work and playing as a team. And, on top of that, our players’ experience was very important, like I said.”
Mosehlenyane, who was forced to be out of action for about two months due to a shin injury towards the end of the season, also believes Matlama’s success was as a result of having several youngsters who have energy and are hungry for success.
“Most of our players are youngsters among whom were just four to five mature players, and you can tell that their combination was superb. The presence of those few mature players had indeed played a great part for Matlama to win the league title this season,” he added.
The sensational Mosehlenyane is one of the few players who have won the league title before. He won it twice with Bantu, in 2013/14 and 2016/17 seasons. He joined Matlama from Bantu during the summer transfer window period of the 2017/18 season.
The other Matlama player who also won the league title before is Bushi Moletsane. The midfield maestro won the coveted league trophy more than twice with Lioli.
Moletsane, who joined Lioli from Matlama several seasons ago, returned to Tse Putsoa in the beginning of the just-ended season.
There is no doubt that the two players brought in the necessary experience to Tse Putsoa, hence the team managed to win the trophy.
Like his coach (Secker), Mosehlenyane said they had to focus on winning their remaining games and never bothered how Bantu played regardless the fact that the latter had games in hand.
“We didn’t bother that much about Bantu having games in hand. Instead, we focused on winning our remaining games.
“And, by that way, we put pressure on them which helped us a lot because by the time Bantu picked up form we were well ahead of them,” Mosehlenyane said.
However, for Mosehlenyane, watching his team from the terraces put him under pressure, especially when Matlama lost to Bantu back-to-back in the league.
“It was very tough for me. Supporters used to call me, saying my absence was likely to affect the team’s chances of winning the league title.
“But there was nothing I could do to help except I kept supporting my teammates, who also encouraged me. They kept telling me that they were going to win the league for me and I should not bother but focus on getting well. My technical team as well was always with me, providing me with everything I needed and I think that was the reason why I recovered quickly.”