He is one of Lesotho’s rising stars whose name has become synonymous with Bantu’s rhythmic football which is such a joy to watch.
At 20 years of age, Hlompho ‘Stiga’ Kalake is already a member of the national team, Likuena, and made his debut against Botswana in a friendly last month.
The Tšenola-born midfielder makes football look so easy and was part of the midfield machine that drove Bantu to their maiden premier league title in 2013/14.
Kalake on Wednesday told the Sunday Express how it all began and where he would want his talent to take him…and much, much more.
“It started way back when I was still a little boy and I eventually joined my home-team, Tšenola United. It was while I was at United that Ntate Bishop Molatoli took me to his club, Likhopo, where I played in the under-12 side,” Kalake said.
The 2014/15 Vodacom Premier League Young Player of the Season-nominee, who is the second born in a family of three boys, says he was also playing football as a student at St Bernadette and Phomolong primary schools and Lancers Gap High. Now a student at the School of Basic Studies, ‘Stiga’ says he was inspired by the late Lioli, Likhopo and Likuena midfielder Sello ‘Scalo’ Mmuso, who was his neighbour, to be serious about football.
“I grew up watching Scalo play and he became such an inspiration to me. It was because of him that I decided to be serious about football. He also liked me and is the one who gave me this nickname, Stiga, and in addition to Scalo, we have several footballers where I come from, so it was kind of normal that I ended up in the game.
“The other thing is I am told my father was a decent footballer although he did not play for any of the big teams, so I believe that’s where the natural talent for the sport came from.”
Kalake made his name when he was called into the national under-15 side by then coach Motlalepula Majoro in 2008 and was promoted to the under-17 team a year later before he made it into the under-20s.
However, the midfielder, who had left Likhopo’s junior side to re-join his boyhood club which was now playing in the B Division, found his big break in 2010 when he joined the country’s most successful team, Matlama. He stayed for two seasons at Tse Putsoa, and despite his tender age, managed to hold his own at the club.
“It was not easy to play for Matlama as I joined them at a very young age so I struggled a bit during the first season. The following year was much better for me, and I guess my good form was the reason Bantu sought my signature, and I joined them at the start of the 2013/14 season.”
Voted Bantu’s most improved player for the 2014/15 season, Kalake says he is determined to be one of the best footballers to emerge from Lesotho.
“I have been working hard of late, and am very glad that my determination is finally paying off. The national team call-up was , by far, one of the greatest things to happen to me football-wise and it has encouraged me and made me realise that I can make it in this sport. It is every player’s dream to earn a living through football and I am no different; I want to play outside the country in one of those highly developed leagues, which pay players huge sums of money.”
The talented midfielder also paid tribute to his former Matlama teammates, Dlomo Monaphathi and Thapelo Mokhehle, who made it easy for him to “fit-in” at Bantu.
“Bantu are also a big side so it is obvious that I was not going to break into the first 11 just like that. But the fact that Dlomo and Thapelo, who were my teammates at Matlama, had become regulars at Bantu made life so much better for me and most importantly, I never wasted any of the opportunities I was given by the coach,” he said.
The midfielder believes it was a “dream come true” to realise such success in his first season at Bantu, and particularly helping the Mafeteng-based outfit win their first premiership title in their 87-year history.
“I won my first league medal with Bantu and we also clinched the Independence Cup the same year. This past season, we won the LNIG Top8 tournament, which I believe has been a great achievement for me since I moved to Bantu, particularly being part of the team that made history by winning the club’s first premier league title.”
Kalake says his secret to success is hard work as he also does extra training on his own.
“Like I said, I have been working very hard this season because I realised that I had to be very fit to compete so I was doing extra training on my own and I am glad this paid dividends.”
Kalake also emphasised the importance of education to ensure he has a profession to fall back on when he retires from football, and also because the game does not pay that much in Lesotho.
“You can’t earn a living through sport, and not just football, in this country because of lack of sponsorship, so it is important that one goes to school and has something as backup because we are still amateurs.
“Compared to other countries in the region, our league is still way behind although there are some signs that things are slowly improving. I think our administrators must start taking sport seriously because there is no way we will get better if there is no infrastructure and proper resources. For example, how can we be expected to compete with the world’s best when I only access proper training facilities when I am with the national team?
“Players’ welfare is also very important and that is not something our administrators care about that much. Believe me, there is a lot of football talent in this country but the fact is it is not taken good care of and ends up being wasted.”
Kalake, who is now completing his COSC studies at the School of Basic Studies, further said it was “challenging” striking a balance between his studies and football.
“I am still at school and it is very challenging to balance my football and studies because at times, you will find that we go for training twice a day when I am with the national team. It is therefore, up to me to push myself and cover what I would have missed at school. I would also like to thank my brother and mother who have always been very supportive of me, and make it possible that I dedicate myself to both my studies and the game.”
The midfielder’s advice to the youths is simple—get involved in sport to ensure they are not involved in destructive behavior such as taking drugs.
“It is important to take part in different sporting codes as it helps you refrain from things that might destroy your life. Again, you should know that nothing comes easy in sport—you have to be prepared to work extra-hard to be a success no-matter the sport.”
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