QOALING — When Lesotho’s national Under-15 side returned home from Botswana two weeks ago they were empty-handed.
It was not because their luggage had been lost but rather because the team had lost all their games at a four-team Under-15 tournament — 2-1 to Botswana, 4-0 to South Africa and 1-0 to the hosts’ B side.
While the results were disappointing, they weren’t exactly surprising.
Considering that only two clubs — Lioli and Likhopo — in Lesotho’s 16-team Premier League have any semblance of a youth structure then the nation’s junior teams will most likely always be crippled ones.
Seabata Thibiri is disappointed that youth football has largely been overlooked.
He is the owner and coach of Qoaling Emmanuel, a B Division football club he founded in 1999.
“There are a lot of teams in Maseru that have ‘unders’ (youth teams),” he says.
“We have Highlanders, Roller Stars, City Stars and Killers, for example.
“The problem is that these teams are not looked at.”
Emmanuel are one of a select band of teams in Lesotho’s football leagues that have youth sides.
Along with Likhopo’s juniors and Lioli’s Hunters development side, the Qoaling outfit regularly supply the bulk of the country’s Under-12 and Under-15 teams.
“After the demise of Qoaling Flowers and Qoaling Central the people of this area had no team to support or to play for,” Thibiri says.
“That’s when I decided to form Qoaling Emmanuel, a team the children of Qoaling could play for.
“It incorporates everyone under the area chief of Qoaling – Ha Matala, Ha Seoli, Lithotheng and other neighbouring communities.
“We even have kids from Ha Tsolo.”
Each afternoon those kids congregate at Qoaling Flowers’ former home ground to form a modest mission striving to make its mark on Lesotho’s football.
“I’m proud to see what I’m seeing,” Thibiri says, casting a glinting eye on his jam-packed session.
“What I wanted to achieve is happening.”
His pride is understandable.
Born only 10 years ago as a scruffy Under-12 team, Qoaling Emmanuel have blossomed into a virtual football institution complete with Under-12, 14, 17 and 19 teams.
“We even have an Under-10 side now,” Thibiri says.
His oldest group began campaigning in the Maseru Zone II B Division in 2007.
In the just-ended season, the “original crop” finished fourth, an improvement on last year’s sixth place.
“It’s good,” Thibiri says.
“I’m happy the team is improving.
“This season we played with a very young team and they will only get better.”
It is improvement Thibiri believes will eventually lead to the ultimate dream — a jump to Lesotho’s elite league.
“I would like to see the team in the Premier League by 2011,” he says.
“Some of our products have already gone on to play in the big league.
“Daniel Jousse, Mpho Molete, Relebohile Rautsi and Teleko Namane (all with Likhopo) come from Emmanuel.”
Nonetheless — even with these relative successes — the hardships of running a football team in Lesotho, especially in a lower league, are all too obvious.
Thibiri, an electrician by trade, is by no means a millionaire.
“I support this team through my own means,” he says.
“For example, if I get M1 000, then M300 of that will go towards buying balls for these kids.
“It’s not easy to run a club like this, but it’s the passion we all have.”
He adds: “Last year I brought in two people, Roli Khoza and Motloi Maliehe, to help out.
“I’m able to concentrate more on the senior team.”
More help is needed though, not just for Qoaling Emmanuel but, as Thibiri explains, junior and lower league football in general.
“People just concentrate on the Premier League, but there are the A, B and C divisions as well,” he says.
“We have told LEFA’s technical office countless times that they must focus on lower leagues because this is where young players are nurtured.
“This is where the basics are taught.
“Football at the national level is the culmination of what happens down here.”
Thibiri’s sentiments are backed up by facts.
The senior national team, Likuena, have failed to win a competitive international match since beating Niger in March 2007.
Last December the Under-20 side were thumped at the COSAFA Championships.
“There is so much talent in this country,” Thibiri says, “but we are not helping ourselves.”
Thibiri is worried about another serious problem in local football.
“Our fields,” he says.
“Fields are a serious problem throughout the country.
“If we had a proper field here we would do a little better.”