LESLIE Notši is one of a few local coaches who has coached all the male national soccer teams starting from the under-17 up to Likuena. He was recently appointed the technical director of the Lesotho Football Association (LeFA). In this wide ranging interview, the 53-year-old talks to the Lesotho Times’ (LT) Mikia Kalati about his long coaching journey which includes spells in South Africa.
LT: How have you found the transition from being on the field with player to being in an office?
LN: It is an unusual transition. I still miss working with players on a daily basis especially when I go to watch matches. It has only been a month into the new job and I miss being in front of the players and sharing ideas with them.
As for the office job, it is nothing new to me because we are still amateurs here in Lesotho and I have been working as both a coach and holding a sales and marketing job. Settling down in administration is thus not much of a challenge. However, the administration side of the game entails a lot of work especially in this office where most of the focus is on youth football. What is important is to understand the role and responsibilities of this office.
LT: What does your new roles mean to you as a coach?
LN: I am very honoured. I have worked in different capacities with different teams and now I have another chance to develop local football. I sometimes think that the appointment came a bit early. I thought I would continue coaching but I regard this as a huge step and also a challenge to add value to the growth of soccer in the country. Although it comes with a huge responsibility, I am confident that I can learn a lot from my predecessors and all the administrations within the association and organisations like the Confederations of African Football (CAF) and Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA). I also believe that the experience I have attained throughout the years will be helpful in improving our football at the developmental stage.
LT: Of all your career, which are you best achievements?
LN: I think it has come in different forms because some of the players I coached at the under-17 level were promoted to the under-20 team. The under-20 team became our first ever team to qualify for the CAF Under-20 Championship in 2005. It was satisfying to see them qualify for that tournament because I also feel that I contributed to their growth and they went on to have successful careers.
I also coached the national under-20 team which also qualified for the CAF Under-20 Championship for the second time in 2011. It is such moments that made me happy. Also seeing almost all the players graduating into the senior national team gave me joy.
I acquired the best ever points with Likuena in the qualifying group stage…where we were in the same group as Ghana, Sudan and Zambia. It was also in the same campaign that we broke Sudan’s home record becoming the first country to beat them in their backyard in 10 years. It was a tough group because Ghana had just come back from participating at the World Cup while Zambia were the African Champions.
I was really satisfied with the performance of the team at that time and I remember that we even got a congratulatory message from FIFA. I still remember that in November 2014, we were among the best movers in the FIFA rankings. The fact that our efforts were being recognised by the football governing body showed that we were on the right direction track.
I also dreamed about working in South Africa which was inspired by the late April ‘Style’ Phumo and that dream came true after impressive performances with the national team. I got the chance along with Ntate (Lehlohonolo) Thotanyana and that is one of the milestones of my career. It was a great opportunity that I still cherish. I learnt a lot and met different people sharing ideas to improve football in our region.
(Notši coached then South African National First Division sides Garankuwa United and Mthatha Bucs in 2014 and 2016 respectively.)
Taking Likuena to the semi-finals of the COSAFA Cup in 2013 in Zambia was also a great success as this was for the first time in 12 years. We received a heroes’ welcome on our return. It united and made the country proud. Another great moment came last year with the national under-20 team where I took them to the final of the under-20 COSAFA cup also held in Zambia.
It was special because we played against tough opponents and in each game our players were handed man of the match awards. Those were proud moments for me because we also got the fair play award for our good behaviour.
At club level, I played for Matlama and when I stopped playing in 1993, it was the last time the club won the championship. The next time they won the title I was the coach and I also won the Top4 tournament that year. It was an honour to bring joy back to the team that helped my growth by ending a 10-year dry spell. From there, I coached Lioli and in a short time we won the Top Eight championship ending Lioli’s long drought for major trophies.
In recent years I have been with Kick4Life, a team that had little experience in the premiership when I joined in 2015 but together with the management we have transformed it. It is now a formidable team challenging for honours.
LT: How far do you think we are as a country from qualifying for the World Cup?
LN: We still have a long way to go but I think we are on the right track. There is a lot that must been done to reach that level. We need to be patient because recently I have seen that our people always compare us with other countries that are far better developed than Lesotho. Our supporters need to learn to support the players in our home matches and not to boo them when things do not go well. I think you have learnt that in recent years our teams do well when they play away. So we need to support our players and rally behind them all the time.
The players should work hard at club level by being consistent and respecting what they do. Some of the players are on a honeymoon and their belief is that they are doing football a favour. The game is slowly changing in the country so players need to take their careers seriously.
Our national team can also benefit from exporting players to foreign leagues where they stand a better chance at exposure in more competitive competitions.
We must first be competitive in our region before we can dream of the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup. We must take it step by step. At the moment, I think we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel but have to be consistent.
LT: Who do you regard as some of the best players to come out of this country?
LN: There are quite a number and among them is Thabo Masualle, an outstanding and intelligent defender. Tšepo Seturumane also won praises of our opponents wherever we went with the national. He has so much talent and I still think that he has something to offer for our national team even now.
Bokang Mothoana and Bushy Moletsane have served for a long time and have both been consistent. Ralekoti Mokhahlane and the late Sello Muso were also great players during their time.
There is a lot of talent in the current crop but they need to be consistent. The likes of Basia Makepe, Tumelo Khutlang and Lesia Thetsane have the talent to go far. For those that I played with, it has to be Thulo Leboela, Lekoane Lekoane, Thabane Sutu and Thabo Mofelehetsi.
LT: Are the recent transfers of local players to South Africa a signal of growth?
LN: The last two or three years where we have seen our clubs paying players monthly have improved local soccer. There is competition which in the end has improved the standards. We cannot leave out the coaches because they have been instrumental in the improvement of soccer standards.