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Matlama redemption . . .

Teboho Molapo

MASERU — Redemption, the dictionary says, is to recover or recuperate from loss or jeopardy.
In many ways that is what the 2011/12 Vodacom Premier League season is all about for Matlama.
Throughout the pre-season this need to recover Tse Putsoa’s standing has gradually cropped up from within the Matlama camp and with a week to go until the season starts, it is now a simple reality.
For Tse Putsoa midfield supremo, Pali Tšalong, this is also true on a personal level.
After playing a central role in Matlama’s history making 2009/10 double winning season Tšalong was forced to sit out the majority of last season because of a knee injury.
In the end he only played in six matches all campaign, the last being Matlama’s one-all draw with Likhopo way back in March.
It has been a long way back but when Tšalong speaks to the Sunday Express he is in positive mood.
“We are very determined to do well this season.
“We spoke as a team and our aim is to do better for the club,” Tšalong affirms.
“The knee is fine. When the season starts I will be fine.”
He will have to be. Matlama have undergone an overhaul during the off-season bringing both good and bad news.
The good news has been the hiring of Mokoena Mohale as coach with Halemakale Mahlaha as his assistant.
The bad news is that star players Litšepe Marabe and Tšoanelo Koetle are on the verge of joining Botswana premier league side Flamengo Santos.
Media reports continue to paint uncertain futures for Thapelo Mokhehle, Dlomo Monapathi and Motiki Mohale.
It isn’t the best preparation as Matlama seek to improve on a season where they meekly relinquished their league and Vodacom Soccer Spectacular crowns.
“It’s going to be tough. Litšepe and Litšoane (Koetle) are key players and it would be a big blow,” Tšalong admits.
“It will be tough because one, we didn’t play well last season and two, we didn’t bring in any quality players to replace the players that are leaving.
“If you look at last season most of our goals came through Litšepe’s contribution while Litšoane (Koetle) completed more than one role very well. The other challenge is that Motiki Mohale could be leaving,” he says.
In some ways Tšalong, after his long layoff, will bring a breath of fresh air to the team groove.
But he is not sure though where he’ll play. “To be honest, I won’t be playing in the same position. So far I have played in defensive midfield and attacking midfield.”
But that’s the least of his worries.
During his injury woes Tšalong feared he wouldn’t be able to play again. It’s an experience he says has taught him a lot.
“There were times when I felt I wouldn’t play again. Emotionally it was very tough. I missed the game a lot,” Tšalong says.
“Somehow there is something I have learnt. Something can hit you at anytime and you lose what you have. Football is just a game.”
This has made him start preparing for life after football, focusing on his studies for example.
Tšalong says although there have been discussions at Matlama with regards to paying players there are no guarantees. It’s also made him more determined to reach his goals.
“Normally as a football player the aim and the dream is to play for the national team. That is still my goal,” Tšalong says firmly.
Tšalong was part of a Lesotho development side that played against South Africa last February before a period that brought him close to leaving his beloved Matlama side.
“I almost left; there was a time when I almost left the team. The person who said I should stay is Tata (Ntebele Taole),” Tšalong says.
He admits Matlama players were sad to see the veteran coach leave as coach last October.
But Tšalong is happy that new coach Mohale has the full support of the team.
“There is full support for the coach. Every time Matlama succeeds there is a good relationship between the coach and the players,” Tšalong says.
He says key players such Lehlohonolo ‘Killer’ Mokhele and Lebakeng ‘Moscow’ Lebetsa have returned to add to the young stars like Phafa Tšosane. “Killer is back so is Combe (Hlomelang Theko), Phafa, and Moscow (Lebetsa),” Tšalong says.
He however says Matlama need to recruit to have a chance of winning trophies this season. “The team that I have seen is Bantu; look at the players they have signed. LCS and LDF also ended last season very strong,” he says.
“There is pressure. Every time the supporters want results. All they are worried about is results, so as a Matlama player you are under pressure all the time,” Tšalong says.
He says that the development of the game in Lesotho is going too slow.
“The teams that are competitive are not many. The most challenging factor is the grounds. Support is also lacking. Teams don’t fill their grounds,” Tšalong adds.
“But Lioli is a big game. Mostly it’s because of the support. Every player wants to perform at their best,” he says.
The focus however is going to be on getting Matlama back to the top of Lesotho football once more.
“I can’t say we can win the league, but Matlama will definitely play better. To win the league requires quality players that can sustain a title challenge. We will do our best and see where we end,” Tšalong notes.
The Matlama faithful will be waiting.
They want redemption for their glorious side.

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