A tale of threadbare on-filed performances and despicable off-field behaviour
MASERU – Hushed talk of confrontational outbursts, excessive partying and illicit drug use have always hovered over the senior national football team, Likuena’s camp, but quickly scoffed at as unpatriotic hearsay by football administrators at Bambatha Tšita.
But the football fraternity always knew that the world of sports has never been short of players courting controversy.
Prominent football players in the country, and the world over, always have a significant fan base, but their poor off-field behaviour is often overlooked, excused and sometimes dismissed – and Likuena’s story these past weeks in Mozambique bears testament to that sad reality.
This week the Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) laid bare its dirty linen, revealing that Matlama FC’s hardman, Thabo Matšoele, and a few of his teammates presently on duty with the national team will be dropped from the squad because of untoward conduct during the Mozambique assignment.
Though not divulging much except for naming Matšoele and Bantu FC utility player, Tšoanelo Koetle, out of the unknown number of culprits of delinquencies in Maputo, the football world has been made to understand that their crimes involve dagga and money – a combination of some sort for a sportsman.
Likuena coach, Thabo Senong, told a well-attended LeFA media briefing that some of his players were confirmed as having been involved in some dagga-smoking revelry while the team was in Mozambique for the three-nations tournament involving his charges, the Mozambican ‘Mambas’ and eSwatini’s ‘Isihlangu’.
But while he refused to name the other ganja-men apart from Koetle, he told the world that Matšoele stole some money while there.
Senong said the Matlama defender had stolen M1 400 from a hotel room of Likuena’s team manager, Lehlohonolo Matlosa.
While these were worrying incidents were also taking place off the field, in the field Likuena lost 5-0 to Mozambique last Wednesday and 1-0 to eSwatini last Saturday.
“We had an incident with regard to Thabo Matšoele who plays left back in the Likuena setup, he also plays for Matlama FC in our Vodacom Premier League,” said Senong at the press briefing at the Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena on Wednesday.
“He was involved in some activities of theft. He went to the team manager’s room and stole a sum of M1 400.
“So, maybe that was just a bit of a challenge because we are talking about a player that was in the starting line-up two days before the eSwatini match. Obviously that disrupted discipline, the cohesion and the atmosphere at the camp a lot.”
Senong said as much as they would like to deal with the issue internally, the information was leaked back home regarding the “scandal” while the team was still in Mozambique.
“So, obviously there was a lot of information that was leaked back home; as much as we tried to make sure that we managed things and tried to control things internally within a few hours the information was all over that there were elements of theft in the Likuena camp.
“That’s unfortunate, but it is the nature of our work as coaches, and we have to ask ourselves as coaches how do we punish him, how do we reprimand him.”
But, he was quick to give the verdict that “we don’t need such players in the national team setup because that is bad behaviour.”
However, Senong said everybody deserved a chance at the end of the day, and that as coaches they needed to remember that they were working with human beings.
Public Eye can report that a similar incident of theft of money at a Likuena camp happened in Benin recently when the team played away in the country for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers. Information received points to the same player as the culprit.
LeFA Media Officer, Mikia Kalati, confirmed the Benin incident but said no investigation were carried out with regard to the incident.
“Yes, there was such a case of the missing money in Likuena’s camp in Benin but no investigation was done,” said Kalati.
“That was simply because we did not believe that it could be one of the players who stole the money (in Benin), even in Mozambique nobody thought it could the players until CCTV footage bared the sad truth before us.”
Senong again pointed an accusing finger at Koetle, who he said collapsed Likuena’s entire morale and offensive plans; he said Koetle disappointed him.
“We also had one major crisis in camp in relation to one player, Tšoanelo Koetle, who plays for Bantu FC. I am sure it is not a secret that there was a public outcry about Tšoanelo Koetle’s omission from the team,” remarked Senong.
The coach says Koetle’s behaviour was not good at all, that he was always late for team meetings and training sessions, and never apologised for any of that.
“He was also not cooperating with other players, not developing relations and was neither coachable nor taking instructions from the coaches,” Senong explained. He said generally Koetle didn’t perform well in Mozambique.
“We played him in the Mozambique match and if you have to measure his talent and performance he didn’t play well at all. We also had a few other issues regarding general misbehaviour in camp…Such as the smoking of marijuana by some players, which is totally unacceptable and not allowed in our camp. We spoke with the players and reprimanded them.”
Public Eye has heard from reliable sources that LeFA has already written to the Bantu management, stating that four of their players were among those involved in smoking marijuana at the team’s camp in Mozambique.
And Senong made the picture clear on the fate on these weed-puffers, when he revealed that: “There are players who will be excluded from the national team going forward and there are new faces that will be included.
“We already have a picture of the kind of players we are going to recruit and bring into the team for the COSAFA.”
This could be a turning point as Likuena have not won a competitive game since Senong took over as the team’s coach in September of 2019; and LeFA president, Advocate Salemane Phafane, has as a result given the struggling coach a fresh mandate – to guide Likuena to the semi-finals of this year’s COSAFA Tournament.
And with this seemingly tattered team Senong is skating on thin ice.
Only a week ago, Phafane ordered that he needs to reach the semi-finals of the COSAFA Cup, at the very least, to keep his job.
Phafane said with sporting activities now allowed to return after a forced Covid-19 lull, he expected decent performances, decent results.
So to pave way to a tourney that will decide his future with a dismal performance, and an ill-disciplined squad off-field spelt disaster for the coach; the alternative of recruiting new players is similarly risky.
That Likuena returned home from Mozambique completely shattered after losing two matches during the Maputo tourney is a non-starter.
In the first game against hosts Mozambique on June 2, Likuena lost 5-0 before going down 2-1 to eSwatini the following Saturday.
Surprisingly, in post-match interviews Senong said although he was unhappy with the results he was, however, satisfied with preparations for COSAFA, and we had assumed the two games were in preparation for COSAFA.
He nonetheless promised to work on the mistakes ahead of the COSAFA Cup, adding that they will be better-prepared by July.
Senong was under a lot of pressure going into the tournament after Phafane’s warning.
“There is nothing special about coaches being given mandates in order to deliver.”
But it should not be forgotten that Phafane has said that “the team must be ready for July because July holds bad consequences for some people. If these coaches fail to reach the set targets, they would have to do a simple thing, resign, failing which the NEC will direct that the secretary general write them dismissal letters.”