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Will Swallows stand the heat?

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Teboho Molapo

 

MASERU — With the modest resources they have Swallows will be thrilled to once again be amongst Lesotho’s elite clubs when the 2010/11 Vodacom Premier League season kicks off on August 21.

Last season Swallows survived by the skin of their teeth after a 1-0 win over Lerotholi on the final day of the season secured their stay in the elite league for at least another year.

But their reprieve is likely to bring more headaches.

The Mazenod side have one of the smallest budgets in the premiership and if the truth be told, they are a team that has continued to punch well above its weight.

That this is Maswai-swai’s tenth consecutive season in the premier league can be considered a miracle in itself.

However, Swallows’ ability to be a competitive force amongst the big boys has diminished dramatically since their famous Buddie Challenge triumph in 2003.

In the previous four league campaigns they have finished 11th, 12th, tenth and 11th respectively.

And in what promises to be the hardest fought premiership ever Swallows’ prospects are dampened even further.

For the first time since 1994 Lesotho’s top-flight will consist of 14 teams instead of 16 as part of plans to one day turn local football professional.

At the end of the season four teams will again be chopped from the division in order to reach goal of a 12-team Premiership.

And, if their dismal performance last season is anything to go by, Swallows are likely to be relegation candidates.

Last season the Mazenod team conceded 46 goals which were the most by any side that was not relegated.

And by losing 14 of their 30 matches and owning a goal difference of minus 14, both the worst records of all survivors, Swallows illustrated their growing struggles in the premier league.

Swallows also only won twice against top-eight opposition all season, with 1-0 wins over Linare and Lioli, while 13 of their 35 points came against the relegated trio of Botha-Bothe Roses, Rovers and Nyenye Rovers.

On top of that this pre-season has been a shake-up within the club’s management.

Swallows’ executive committee has been dissolved to allow elections in September of a new board in accordance to guidelines set by the Mohale Declaration.

Long-time coach Tšeliso Fothoane meanwhile has left the club and has been replaced by Mohla Seoli.

Mabote Masienyane, who is the head of the interim committee in charge of the club, is however adamant the Maswai-swai will fly high.

He says Swallows will finish in the top six.

“It’s very much possible,” Masienyane says.

“Right now we are on a mission to get people of Swallows who have been at other teams.”

So far the Mazenod side has made just one addition to their squad, signing experienced attacking midfielder Pholo Mafatlane from LCS.

But Masienyane says “three or four more players might be joining the team soon”.

Yet it is not really who joins the team but who leaves it that really matters. 

This pre-season their most exciting prospect from last season Mosiuoa Boseka has joined Bantu.

In recent seasons Swallows have lost highly-rated players such as Seenyane Nthejane, Lebohang Molaoli and Mohau Khali.

It is this gradual loss of talent that is likely to eventually catch up with Maswai-swai.

“It’s heavy on us. It is key players that leave us a lot of the time,” Masienyane admits.

“Last year we promoted about five players and we are hoping that this year they will be able to compete well.”

The continued departures from the club have led Swallows to possess one of the youngest and most inexperienced squads in the premiership.

Apart from club captain Joele Letsoela, Lebohang Matobo, Lebohang Matamane and former Likuena international Thabo Khoboli their squad is made up of young players below the age of 25.

Perhaps this is why Swallows are one of the most unpredictable sides in the Vodacom Premier League, but more seriously it is a major reason Maswai-swai have faltered in the second half of the season of late.

In the 2007/08 season Swallows were third in the Premier League at the halfway stage but finished 12th while last season they only amassed 13 points in their final 15 matches.

It is unsurprising therefore that the expectation in Mazenod is it to collect points early on again.

“What we do is collect maximum points at the start and we are going to do that again,” Masienyane says.

Local hero Letsoela, a rock in Swallows’ defence since rejoining from Lerotholi in 2004, also believes early points will be essential and says Seoli is the man to lead Maswai-swai.

“Soeli is a very good coach and he is liked by the players. We are happy and I can say we will be ready.”

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