Leading from the front
Bantu’s inspirational captain, Tlali Maile, takes the Sunday Express on a journey of discovery and also reveals why he decided to retire from the national team.
He has come to symbolise Bantu Football Club—an unassuming but immensely gifted player who goes about his business without the arrogance normally associated with some of his peers who have let fame get to their heads.
Fans affectionately call him King Cabazela, but Tlali Maile appears oblivious of both the adoration and status which comes with captaining one of Lesotho’s biggest football clubs.
After six years with the Mafeteng-based Premier League outfit, Maile (30) says he is still as hungry for success as ever, and believes barring injury, he would like to still be wearing the team’s famous black and yellow colours for a further six years, if not more.
The third born in a family of two elder brothers and one sister, Maile says he has always loved football—a sport he insists gives him so much joy and peace of mind.
After Iketsetseng Primary School, Maile, who was born and bred in Ha-Abia in Maseru, attended Adventville High and then Lerotholi Polytechnic where he studied Electrical Installation.
A stint at then B Division side Likhopo then launched what has turned out to be a very fruitful football career for the tough-tackling defender.
“I began playing football at a very early age with teams such as Peace Makers and Red Arrows, which were based in my home village,” Maile told the Sunday Express.
“Later in 1999, I joined Likhopo which had just been formed by the now late Bishop Molatoli. The team was then playing in the B Division and it took us seven years to make it into the elite league in the 2005/06 season.”
However, Maile was to shoot to national prominence in 2002 when he was called up for the national under-17 side, and a year later, the defender made it into the national under-20 side, further enhancing his status as an eminent footballer.
Maile was an important member of Leslie Notši’s under-20 side which played at the 2005 African Youth Championship held in Benin, and later graduated to the national under-23 and senior national teams.
Maile says he does not know where he takes his soccer acumen since his father never played football, while his mother was a netball player.
“I don’t know where the football brain comes from because I do not come from a family of footballers. My father was not a footballer but my mother used to play netball, so maybe that’s where the sportsman in me comes from,” he said.
Maile joined Bantu from Lihale (Lerotholi Polytechnic) FC in the 2009/10 season and a month later, was appointed team captain—an honour he carries to this day.
“Since my arrival here at Bantu six years ago, I have been enjoying myself so much. The love and support I have been getting from all the stakeholders at this team has been phenomenal, hence my development to be the player I am today. When I was appointed team captain, I spoke with my teammates about the need to maintain our Premier League status, and we have managed to do exactly that.
“When I came here, we ended the first season in sixth position, and we have been making it into the Top4 since then and last season, we finally won the Premier League title for the first time in the history of the club, which is quite an achievement for this amazing group of dedicated players,” said Maile.
However, Maile said it has not been easy playing for Bantu and maintaining the level of fitness and consistence expected at the club.
“I have a wife, ‘Mabohlokoa and a daughter, Bohlokoa, a fulltime job and my soccer career. I have to strike the right balance for everyone and everything and this is not as easy as it looks, but I believe I have managed to do OK.
“I have set myself a goal that I want to play here for a decade at least. I want to retire after my daughter has seen me play because right now, she is too young to know what is really happening.”
According to Maile, he has received offers from other clubs but has remained loyal to Bantu, where he hopes to end his illustrious soccer career.
“Lots of offers have come my way from big teams in this country, but I have been turning them down. I don’t want to start afresh at a new club at my age, so I hope to be here at Bantu when I decide to retire, which is not anytime soon.”
Asked what he thought of Lesotho football in general, Maile said the game was regressing instead of improving.
“I don’t see any improvements in our football; if anything, I think we are even worse now because we are playing for money, not the passion that used to drive us in the past. In the past, we used to play for the fun of it; we were driven by passion for the game, but now, it is mostly about money, and this has not helped our football; it has somehow killed that dedication that used to make us tick.”
Maile also had advice for youngsters who might want to pursue careers in sport.
“All I can say to those kids who want to be sporting stars is that they must work hard to achieve their dreams. However, they should also bear in mind that education is very important in their lives because a sporting career is very short, so they must have something to fall back on when they retire,” he said.
Meanwhile, Maile also told the Sunday Express that he had decided to retire from the national team due to personal reasons.
“I have decided to retire from international football due to personal reasons. I work for the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) and I am based in Qacha’s Nek, so I have had to balance my time between Bantu, my family, work and the national team, which has been difficult.
“I only come home during weekends for our matches but sometimes I fail to even make it due to work commitments, so I decided to retire from the national team to have time for the other equally important commitments in my life.”