His confidence took a heavy knock when a dream move to Spanish giants Atlético Madrid collapsed in dramatic fashion in 2011, but Montoeli Sonopo soon dusted himself up to rebuild his career with his old club, Lioli.
The 21-year-old attacking midfielder has since become one of the most influential players at the Teyateyaneng-based side, yet his failed switch to Spain still haunts him—a fact the midfielder was at pains to put across when he spoke with the Sunday Express on Wednesday.
Sonopo, the fourth born in a family of six, insists he still does not know what “really” went wrong with the Madrid move, which would have made him the most successful footballer in the history of domestic football.
The dribbling wizard joined Lioli in 2010 following three impressive seasons with Maputsoe-based Nyenye Rovers, who were then playing in the A Division.
After helping Nyenye gain promotion to the elite league at the end of the 2009 season, the forward was made an irresistible offer by Lioli, which marked the beginning of a new chapter in his football career.
The Teyateyaneng Ha Mthele Mosola-born player, who attended Tšekelo Primary School, and later TY LEC Secondary and Morate High schools, insists had it not been for his passion for the game his abortive move to Atlético could have killed him with “stress”. Sonopo’s short-lived move to Spain in 2011, came after successful trials in Cameroon, courtesy of a scintillating performance with the under-20 team in an Africa Youth Championship qualifier against the Central African nation.
“After our match against Cameroon, a Cameroonian scout arranged for my trials in Cameroon, which I passed, hence my move to Atlético Madrid, where I only stayed for one month,” he said.
Sonopo also told the Sunday Express his career started at a club called TY Thunders, which is based in Teyateyaneng.
“I started playing football at TY Thunders, where I was spotted by a certain gentleman who encouraged me to join Nyenye Rovers, which I did. I stayed for three years at Nyenye before Lioli came calling, which opened a completely new world for me,” Sonopo told the Sunday Express.
However, the speed-merchant said only his undying love for football has kept him going following the Atlético heartbreak.
“No one explained to me what really went wrong in Spain. The only thing I know is during my first week in Madrid, I really struggled to settle in. The weather was not good at all; it was too cold but as time went on, I became used to it and even felt I was ready to play but all of a sudden, I was told that I had to come back home.
“Things were not cool at all after that Spain saga. I was so down and at some point, even thought of leaving the game because the failed move really affected me mentally. All of a sudden, I started hating football for what it had done to me but because the game is in my blood, I soon regained my interest in the sport and I was back in the Lioli colours once again.”
However, Sonopo, who played for the national under-17 and under-20 teams, said it took him sometime before he could settle at Lioli once more.
“I really struggled to be in the right frame of mind when I came back from Spain, but thanks to the support I received from my family, and Lioli fans, I managed to regain my confidence and passion for the game again.”
Sonopo, who is father to a two-year-old son, continued on his collapsed Spanish move: “I came so close to realising my dream by moving to Spain, and after the deal failed, I realised that one cannot depend on football alone in this country. That is why I went back to ‘Mamathe High School where I wrote my COSC exams in 2013. So this year, I will be applying for a place at Lesotho College of Education, because I would want to be a teacher. In football, anything can happen, so I would like something to fall back on once my playing days are over,” said Sonopo.
Playing for a team of Lioli’s caliber, he added, means a lot to him.
“To play for a team as big as Lioli is an honour for me, and I am very proud about it despite the pressure that comes with fans’ expectations. But I always try to give my best for the team and win matches for the fans.”
Asked if he was happy with the state of domestic football, Sonopo said: “There are very good players in this country but our administrators are really letting us down. That is one of the reasons why we can’t move to clubs outside the country; it’s not that we can’t play the game but the problems arise when we want clearances at our clubs and work-permits at our new clubs.
“With better administrators, I don’t think we should be having such problems because players from other countries easily get work permits in South Africa, for instance. So why do we always struggle to get them as Basotho?”
Sonopo also said he would like to give advice to youngsters who dream of playing football competitively.
“One thing I would like to advise our youngsters who dream of making football or sport in general, a career, is that they should refrain from alcohol and drugs. They must concentrate on their chosen sport and only through complete dedication can they be a success in life. Sport and alcohol and drugs don’t mix, so if you want to succeed, stay away from them. Again, they must go to school because it is very clear that it is going to take some time before Lesotho can reach a stage where sport can be a source of livelihood.”