MASERU — Despite being born in Botswana, it was always written in Leribe’s blue stars that Kabelo Mosothoane would one day don Linare’s famous green and white jersey.
It wasn’t just because his father (Pitso Mosothoane) had starred in the club’s championship winning sides of the late 70’s, or because of the goals Mosothoane amassed during lunch breaks at Hlophe High School –– but because, growing up in Linare, football was the only sport.
“Football was the only sport then,” he recalls, “You’d play everyday and then go watch games on weekend — that’s where your love grew.”
Of course, the fact that Linare were good also helped. The boy who grew up idolising Linare midfield linchpin Thulo Leboela matured into a fresh-faced 19 year-old who would score a hat-trick on his debut against Rovers in 1993.
As the curtains come down on his illustrious 16-year career, Mosothoane, 35, spoke to the Lesotho Times about his playing days.
The first thing he admits regretting are his invariably brief and trophyless stays at his beloved Linare.
During his first stint with the team, school commitments cut short his playing time. Despite a bright start to the 1993 season Mosothoane had enrolled at the National University of Lesotho by the end of the year.
Luckily he would become an integral part of the most successful Roma Rovers side ever.
“If I were to pick my best time it would have to be at Rovers,” Mosothoane glows, “I played my best football there.”
And at that time Rovers were the best. In 1996 the Roma boys won the league, then won the top four before venturing into an unforgettable African adventure in 1997.
As champions of Lesotho, Mosothoane and his mates battled Malawi kings Telecom Wanderers, now MTL Wanderers, in the Champions League. The aggregate score –– 5-1 to Rovers.
“At that time they were called Telecom Wanderers, I don’t know what they are called now,” Mosothoane chuckles, “But after we drew 0-0 in Malawi we came back to beat them 5-1 here.”
With Malawi’s finest disposed of, next up was South African giants Orlando Pirates. After a 1-0 first leg loss in Johannesburg Rovers faced Pirates at the Setsoto Stadium.
“I had never seen Setsoto that packed,” Mosothoane says, “The match itself was tense; we knew we had to score at least one goal. (But) we were confident enough, even those (players) who had had fear (of Pirates) were fine after the first leg.”
Sadly, despite gallant efforts, that goal never came – 0-0, Rovers out.
“We had very a balanced team, we had everything,” Mosothoane says, “We had players like Khauta Monyobi, Mpekeleli Lihohlo, and the late Isiah Phakisi.”
Mosothoane’s performances caught the eye of Pirates and he was approached to join the South African team for the start of the 1997/1998 season.
“It was the element of excitement, that Pirates want to sign you,” Mosothoane recalls, “I didn’t even take time to think about it, I just told myself that I’m going and I’ll worry about everything else in the future.”
“I was a bit scared, especially being with people I believed were not like me,” Mosothoane says of his first training session, “But what helped me is that most of the players at the time spoke Sesotho.”
However, he couldn’t play. In South Africa’s top-flight league, only five foreigners can be registered per season. Pirates had reached that quota –– indeed Mosothoane was one of two surplus foreigners.
“Before I signed I was told that two foreign players would leave,” Mosothoane recalls, “But that didn’t happen.”
Instead the young bustling 23 year-old had to endure a frustrating season on the bench.
“It was tough because I trained with the first team, Williams Okpara, Gavin Lane (Jerry) Skhosana. I was part of the team but I knew that even if I did well I still wouldn’t play at the weekend,” Mosothoane says ruefully.
“I spoke to (Pirates owner Irvin) Khoza towards the end of the season but he told me to be patient, he said he had plans for me, but what kind of plans he never told me,” he continues.
Things didn’t improve, instead they got worse. After a season of internal strife at the club coach Viktor Bondarenko was fired and in came Nigerian Shaibu Amodu.
“I was patient but the team didn’t do well, a new coach came in and he brought in two strikers of his own. I was overlooked and those two were registered. So again, I was left in the cold,” Mosothoane says.
After unsuccessful trials in China, midway through the 1998/99 season, Mosothoane decided it was time to leave Pirates.
“I left without saying a word,” Mosothoane remembers, “From what I had seen, Pirates just left their former players to fend for themselves. So I thought, what more me who was not playing. I decided to quit.”
The next season was spent at Bloemfontein Celtics but, despite the club’s willingness to sign him Mosothoane, couldn’t play because he didn’t have his clearance from Pirates. In effect, three seasons of talent had been ruined.
“What I regret is that I never got a chance to play,” Mosothoane says of his time across the border, “I was at my peak at the time. I had trained well and in the few friendlies I played I did well. I just needed that opportunity to prove myself like others who’ve gone to South Africa, (Lehlohonolo) Seema or Lebajoa (Mphongoa,) to see whether I would fail or succeed,” he says.
Nevertheless Mosothoane refuses to let a dark cloud hang over memories of his time at Pirates and Celtics, “I can’t complain about the treatment I received,” he says.
“I learnt a lot, playing with many different players and coaches. I learnt about professionalism and discipline,” Mosothoane says adding, “It helped me in my life in general.”
After finally getting his clearance from Pirates, Mosothoane returned home, joining Linare in 2002. “I told myself that I was done with playing abroad. There was also pressure coming from my family, they were telling me there was no use frustrating myself with football, they were against it.” he says.
Mosothoane spent two seasons at Linare before moving to Likhopo, helping them to the 2004/05 Premier League title.
“Likhopo were not under pressure to perform. They didn’t have a huge crowd and I was playing with young players so there was no pressure at all,” he says.
In 2007 Mosothoane returned to Linare once more, “My father (Linare coach) asked me to come back to Linare to help” he says, “I had no intention to come back, but as my father he persuaded me.”
Linare though remained trophy-less. “I have met success at all the clubs I’ve played for except Linare which is disappointing,” Mosothoane says.
But in such a long career there are moments more treasured than medals.
“My very first game for Likuena against DRC (in 1993 at Setsoto) was special,” Mosothoane glows.
“I remember, when I was told I was coming on, trying to do my laces and the chair was shaking. I was so nervous,” he smiles, “But I was lucky and I scored the equaliser end the game finished 1-1. That’s one of my fondest moments, it launched my career.”
And the celebration? “I remember just running, not knowing where I was going. My teammates had to stop me,” Mosothoane smiles.
One last question “KB” — will your son follow in the family tradition and become a third generation Mosothoane to play for Linare?
“No, I don’t think so,” Mosothoane laughs, “You have to give your child freedom — it’s not like the old days!”