Bantu attacking midfielder Litšepe Marabe (22) is back from the dead, figuratively speaking.
After spending the entire 2013/14 football season without kicking a ball in a competitive match due to work-permit problems after joining South African First Division side Garankuwa United, Marabe returned home at the start of this season and re-joined his old club Bantu.
It appeared the end of the world for the gifted player and there were fears the disappointment could finish off his career.
Yet 13 matches into the 2014/15 Vodacom Lesotho Premier League season, Marabe is top of the scoring charts with 10 goals and four strikes ahead of the chasing pack, and enjoying a rich vein of form that has made him one of domestic football’s most sought-after player.
Born and bred in Ha-Ratjomose in Maseru, Marabe’s football career started at a very tender age, and he would frequently go to watch football matches with his father. He then started playing for Ratjomose Primary School and continued with the sport at Qoaling LEC Secondary School and Lesotho International College.
“I started playing the game at a very young age. I remember going to football matches with my father when I was very young and I could say that was where it all began,” Marabe said.
“I then joined the development side of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) called LDF Rangers, but I later left for Arsenal’s under-12 team. However, I returned to Rangers before I left again to join Lioli’s development team, Hunters FC, in 2004.”
“In fact, I played for several development teams until I decided to join Matlama in 2007. Two seasons after my arrival at Matlama, we won the league title and a year later, moved to Flamingo Santos of Botswana.
“I was also in the under-20 side that qualified for the African Youth Championship played in South Africa in 2011. As you are aware, this was the second Lesotho team to ever qualify for the continental championship following the Class of 2005 that made it to Benin.”
However, Marabe was forced to leave Santos after the club experienced financial challenges and had to return home after a year to join Bantu.
After a very successful spell with Bantu in 2012/13, the talented player moved to Garankuwa United at the start of the following season, but his world went up in smoke after failing to acquire a work permit.
In addition to kicking his heels on the sidelines in frustration, Marabe also lost his place in the national team. The player says he also went four months without getting his salary at United, compounding an already complex situation.
“I never lost hope,” said the Premier League’s current top-scorer. “I just kept on praying and focused on my job, knowing that my chance would come again.”
Marabe said what kept him going during his frustrating time at Garankuwa United was his passion for the game, which he believes he inherited from his father. His father played for LDF, and is now an assistant coach at the club.
“Passion is one thing that has kept me going and made me overcome the rough patches that I have come across in my football career. What I went through at United was very painful but because I love football. I kept on pushing and that is what has put me where I am today.
“Remember I have only played nine matches but scored 10 goals, which is something I find very interesting, and satisfying.”
Marabe further said his changing of teams and leagues has made him stronger, while the exposure to different cultures also helped him become more resilient and a complete footballer.
“I learnt a lot during my time in Botswana and South Africa. Most importantly, I learnt to always fight. I became a very strong person and never let those many things that were happening get to me. I lost my place in the national team and was told that my level of fitness was very low but I did not take it negatively. Rather, I kept on training hard.
“I still put God in front of everything else because I believe he is the one who has always been by my side and gave me that strength and courage to remain calm during those testing times in Botswana and South Africa. When I came back home from Garankuwa, I was under a lot of pressure because I had left in top form, so the supporters were expecting much from me and I am grateful that I have lived up to their expectations.
“The biggest dream now is to help Bantu break the jinx that Lesotho teams never pass the first stage of the African Champions League. I believe with the quality of players in our team, we can achieve that next year as most of them have played for different national teams, and know what to expect at international level.”
The dribbling wizard further said playing in the African Youth Championship in South Africa and winning the league title with Matlama in 2009, were among the highlights of his career.
“I have not achieved much, but among my treasured moments was winning the league title with Matlama and playing in the African Youth Championship. Remember we were the second group in the country to participate in that tournament after the Class of 2005.”
Asked what he thought of local football, Marabe said: “It’s a tough call. But what I have seen is that there is no consistency in our football and our national team’s performance is a clear example of this. We play well at some point, and even feel like we are getting there but then, something goes horribly wrong and we are back to square one. I mean, just look at the national team, Likuena. Their performance in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers started well but ended poorly.
“I think the problem starts with the administration side of the game. Our administrators have let us down on several occasions and I think until we stop treating our football as recreation, we will not get anywhere.”
Marabe also said local football needed massive injection of sponsorship.
“Our administrators must source huge sponsorships that will help the league transform from amateur to professional. We must avoid this perennial failure which has since been associated with our game at international level.
“The way football is run in this country is the biggest problem, and not us the players. That is why you will always find us, the players, struggling after we have joined other leagues outside the country. Administrators must try to source sponsors so that we can move from this amateur to professional level where every player will have his manager or agent. Having such professionals will help us get clubs outside the country and not experience work permit challenges, for instance, because other nationals don’t have the same problems that we face in South Africa. This is simply because they have managers and professional or semi-professional leagues that prepare them for moves outside their countries.”