MASERU — Former league champions Likhopo have had a shaky start to the season.
The club lost 1-0 to Lioli on the opening day of the season and were then humbled 3-0 by LCS last weekend.
This has sent early alarm bells ringing within the Likhopo camp.
But when a team loses the core of its talent maybe it can be understood.
Six players left the side in the transfer window.
This season the majority of players were free agents after the end of a set three-year contract period that was introduced by the premier league in 2008 to curb the poaching of players by the so-called state teams LCS and LDF.
With the contracts up this year players were up to the highest bidder.
Thabiso Mohapi, Lekhanya Lekhanya and Mokone Marabe moved to Bantu while Raotse Raotse and Tšepo George were grabbed by LCS.
All were key players last season, helping Likhopo to the Vodacom Soccer Spectacular title.
With these players gone it was a very inexperienced side that took to the field when Likhopo played LCS on Saturday last week.
Only Kananelo Makhooane, Salebone Lekhooa and Tšeliso Sejake were surviving members of the Likhopo first team from last season.
But speaking to the Sunday Express last week Likhopo owner Bishop Molatoli was in typical bullish mood and said there is still a bright future for Likhopo.
“We do have a team. We will promote players from our development structures, the quality is still the same,” Molatoli said.
“It wasn’t good for the players to leave but there is nothing we can do. The young players are already proving themselves,” he added.
In some quarters Molatoli has been criticised for not moving forward with the times but he insists that he wants to introduce player contracts to prevent other teams from poaching players for free.
“We are now turning professional and players will have to sign contracts,” Molatoli said.
“If a player leaves then I have to put a tag on him.”
Likhopo were champions in the 2004/05 and 2005/06 seasons buoyed by their attacking brand of football.
But their ability to compete has been diminished by the departure of talent over the years.
Lack of strong financial muscle has also contributed to the team’s slump in form and success.
Likhopo have changed their ground to Ratjomose as a cost-cutting measure.
But there is hope not only for Likhopo that with the new tax reduction companies will be more open to sponsoring the game.
Clubs like Likhopo certainly need it.
“We hope this will help us work hard to ensure a bright future for the team and the players,” Molatoli said.
Likhopo is known for producing players for Lesotho’s national teams.
Ten of the 23 players in the squad announced by coach Leslie Notši last week have come through the team.
“Likhopo is producing young players. There is no national team where there is no player from Likhopo,” Molatoli noted.
“Our secret is development, developing young players.”
But Molatoli insisted they are not producing players so they can be sold. “We are not producing players to sell; we are producing to have a strong senior team at the club.”
The target this season though is a modest one.
“Just to avoid relegation,” Molatoli said.
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