MASERU — When Matlama Football Club lifted the league title a fortnight ago, the club became the first side to win a genuine league and cup double.
The Maseru-based side made history when they lifted the Vodacom Soccer Spectacular, the first football tournament that resembled a proper national cup.
Unlike the Independence Cup and Top Four, which are restricted to clubs that excelled in the previous season, the Vodacom Soccer Spectacular was a genuine knock-out competition open to 36 clubs from the First Division and the Premier League.
By winning the league, Matlama effectively knocked rivals Lioli Football Club off Lesotho’s football throne.
This week, the Sunday Express spoke to the man who masterminded Tse Putsoa’s tremendous rise to the top — 57-year-old Ntebele Taole.
But football being as fickle as it is, some Matlama supporters are still not happy over the way the club struggled to get to the finishing line when they failed to win their last four matches.
The team only scrapped over the line because their nearest rivals Lioli FC failed to capitalise when they either lost or drew their crucial league matches.
A relaxed but supremely confident Taole says the team nearly paid the price when his charges relaxed after concluding that the title was already in the bag.
“Towards the end the players felt they were almost there and they loosened up,” Taole says regarding the manner in which his side almost blew away their 11-point lead.
“But you can’t do that. That’s when you fall. Sometimes it is the fans who make players do that.
“They would say ‘Dlomo (Monapathi) why don’t you take them all?’ This goes into a player’s head.
“That’s how football players are. When they feel they have mastered something they relax.”
Taole denies that he was overly confident in the run-up to the league finish.
In the run-up to the Matlama versus Lioli match on May 8, the Matlama gaffer said he would quit his post if his side lost to their bitter rivals.
And they lost the match 2-0.
“I had said I would leave coaching if we lost to Lioli,” Taole says.
“It was all based on what I had seen during training . . . the intensity that was in the players. But the next day that intensity wasn’t there.”
He says Matlama are not invincible and will lose some matches even when they are expected to win.
“Matlama will lose, we will concede goals, because Matlama is a football team like any other,” he says.
“But if you work following the right way those things won’t happen easily. That’s how I have known Matlama.”
Taole, who was born in Maseru and grew up in the poor working-class suburb of Sea Point, is from the old school of coaching where discipline and dedication are regarded as virtues.
Taole joined Matlama as a 20-year-old in 1973 and went on to enjoy a 10-year spell as a player at the club.
He collected four championship medals during his glittering career as a goalkeeper with Tse Putsoa.
Taole finally hanged his boots in the 1980s.
His coaching career has however been less spectacular with no silverware to speak of until this season.
For years Taole was known as a youth development coach who worked well with youngsters than as a championship-winning coach.
Taole had two brief stints with Tse Putsoa in 1990 and 2000.
He also had a similarly low-key stint with the Lesotho Correctional Services in the mid-90s.
He rejoined Matlama in January 2009 only to find the club he loved in turmoil.
But over the past 18 months, Taole turned around Matlama’s fortunes to help the club lift their first championship title since 2003.
Under his stewardship, Matlama played 49 league matches winning 29, losing seven and drawing the rest.
Only Lioli with 30 wins for the same number of games won more league matches.
“It is a great honour to bring the league to Matlama after seven years,” Taole says.
“I owe the victory to the players, the committee and the supporters of Matlama because they have supported me wholeheartedly.
“To me the heroes are the players.
“The squad that is here is the best in the county by far, that I have no doubt.”
He says he is looking forward to leading Matlama in the African Champions League next season.
Taole admits it will be a different ball game where tougher questions will be asked of Tse Putsoa.
“I would like this team to rewrite the history books and that means they have to defend the cups we won this season,” he says.