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Ramabele dreams big

Teboho Molapo


MASERU — If a striker’s job is to score goals then Lehlomela Ramabele is just doing that — with reckless abandon too.

By the time 18-year-old hitman joined Botswana Premier League outfit Botswana Defence Force XI in January he had already plundered 18 goals for local first division side Mabeoana.

Those goals ultimately helped the Matsieng side gain promotion to Lesotho’s Premier League last month.

Now, as well as forging a professional football career, he is leading the national Under-20 side’s attack.

“I didn’t believe that I could score all those goals,” Ramabele says of his tally for Mabeoana, as he settles into his seat.

“They helped the team but they also helped me a lot. I thank the team and my coaches.”

And that is probably Ramabele in a nutshell — modest but sure of himself.

The second-born in a family of four, the Thaba-Bosiu native is speaking to the Sunday Express before Makoanyane XI’s one-all draw against Mozambique last Sunday.

That result in the Caf Under-20 Youth Championships preliminary qualifier in Maputo has allowed Lesotho to progress, 7-2 on aggregate, to the first round where South Africa await.

A tall player blessed with clever movement and cool finishing, Ramabele has been pinpointed by Makoanyane XI coach Leslie Notši as the man to spearhead the side’s qualifying campaign for the 2011 tournament in Libya.

“I have settled in well,” Ramabele says of his three months since joining BDF XI in a two-year deal for an undisclosed fee.

The seven-times Botswana champions also have the first option on Ramabele’s services once the original agreement ends.

It’s all a far cry from playing barefoot at Boqate LEC Primary School.

The move has proved financially good for him.

Ramabele is paid P2 500 (M2 700) monthly and he received P20 000 (M21 505) as a signing-on fee.

“I was able to bank the money,” Ramabele says. “Some of it I was able to give to my family. I’m there to work.”

“I’m looking after my family because my father is not around anymore,” he adds.

“It gives me strength to work hard so I can succeed. I want to help my family.

“I want to build my mother a house there in Matsieng with a security fence, and I want to get furniture for the house.”

It’s that focus that has got Ramabele where he is right now.

And bearing in mind that he only joined Mabeoana in 2007 Ramabele’s story is quite remarkable.

Just last December a down-and-out Ramabele had just failed his Form 5 at Matsieng’s Moshoeshoe II High School.

It was seemingly, he says, the end of the world.

But by the end of the following month he was in Botswana.

“To tell the truth I cried when I got my results,” Ramabele recalls.

“But that very same day they got a phone call at home, and it was people who were talking in an unfamiliar way.

“They didn’t know who it was — it was the people from Botswana.”

A BDF XI scout had seen Ramabele play for Lesotho’s junior sides, most recently at the Cosafa Under-20 Championships last December where he was Lesotho’s top scorer.

BDF XI were then persuaded by his red-hot form in the A-Division Northern Stream for Mabeoana.

“They had been in contact with my team and it was a big relief for me because I had really struggled with my schooling,” he says.

“But they have said they will put me in school starting next year. We have written it down in the contract.”

On the field however things have been slow to take off.

Ramabele is yet to play for BDF XI because the necessary paperwork has not yet been signed but he says “everything is very good so far”.

“The first day that I arrived they presented me to the team and the supporters,” he says. “To me it was motivation.”

He adds: “The coach has been encouraging me: the plan is for me to play next season.”

The standard of football in Botswana is not much higher than in Lesotho, but Ramabele says off the field the former have a more professional approach.

The professionalism includes nationwide television coverage of matches — and Ramabele has time and again watched on the small screen countryman Bushy Moletsane in action for BDF XI rivals Flamengo Santos.

The younger striker hopes to emulate Chelsea and Ivory Coast marksman Didier Drogba.

“I like the way he plays. He has everything that you need as a striker in football,” Ramabele says.

“I support Chelsea now because of him.”

But Ramabele is the first to admit it’s not child’s play to be Lesotho’s own Drogba.

“I want to improve my fitness,” he says. “I also want to improve my (ball) control and I want to be able to see myself playing better on the field.”

Yet he is confident he will be among the top strikers in the country — and maybe in Africa too.

“I’m bad news. They used to call me General at school,” he says.

At home Ramabele says he owes his progress to mentors Maqhala Letanta, Ben Phofane and Motheo Mohapi.

“In Sesotho they say malome ke ntate. They always gave me advice and I hope they keep encouraging others like they did with me,” he says.

The target now for the self-confessed Orlando Pirates fan is straightforward: get ready for next season, play for BDF XI’s first team, score goals and one day don a Likuena jersey.

“I’m prepared. I want to help my country so that Likuena can be a strong team that makes the nation happy,” Ramabele says.

“I think that is the goal of all players.”

And Ramabele has bigger dreams.

“I really want to find myself far in football,” he says.

“I take it as if I’m in Botswana on a trial and I know if I work hard I will make it to one of the big football leagues.”

“I say to my age-mates, let’s leave the streets,” he adds.

“Let’s stop drinking because it brings us no future. Football can be life and life comes just once.”

That’s Lehlomela Ramabele — the starlet who dreams of becoming Lesotho’s own Didier Drogba.

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