‘A lack of hunger’ means that fewer players from Botswana are earning contracts in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League, says former player Mogogi Gabonamong.
Traditionally, the PSL has been an attractive destination for a lot of Botswana’s footballers due to South Africa’s proximity, a common culture and financial lure.
The success over the years of some of Botswana’s finest exports including Gabonamong, Modiri Marumo, Diphetogo ‘Dipsy’ Selolwane and Mogakolodi Ngele opened the door for others.
However things seem to be changing. Last season there were 10 Botswana players in the PSL but that number has dropped to just two for the current campaign.
Ngele, who has been in the PSL since 2012 and plays for Black Leopards will feature this season along with Lesenya Ramoraka at Highlands Park.
Botswana’s squad for their Africa Cup of Nations debut in 2012 included six players from the PSL, several others with experience in South Africa and others who would go on to play there.
Gabonamong and Selolwane were established starters at Supersport United, Phenyo Mongala was at top side Orlando Pirates, Marumo kept goal for Bay United, Boitumelo Mafoko featured for Santos and Kabelo Dambe was doing a sterling job at Platinum Stars.
Not staying long
While there has been a steady supply of Botswana talent to the South African league, in recent years many players have failed to hold down regular starting berths.
Some have failed to last a season in South Africa including Zebras captain, Simisane Mathumo who signed for Free Stars in January but is already back home.
Player agent Olebile Sikwane, who facilitated moves for two players to Chippa United in 2018 – both of whom have now returned home – is disappointed with the Botswana players’ lack of hunger.
“Our players don’t have the hunger of Mogogi, the endurance of Joel (Mogorosi) and the ambition of Dipsy (Selolwane),” he lamented.
“They cross over and post themselves on social networks, before they even make the 18-man squad.
“They get homesick easily, because they don’t see the bigger picture. It takes a very strong character to compete in the PSL.
“You compete with players from Nigeria, Ivory Coast and of late, South America and Europe. So the league needs strong characters.”
Gabonamong, who enjoyed a stellar career, spanning nearly a decade with three clubs in South Africa, shared Sikwane’s sentiments.
“I think most of the players are not hungry enough. Football is all about competition,” said Gabonamong, who made nearly 200 appearances in a career that took him to Santos, Supersport United and Bloemfontein Celtic.
“The previous group had hunger and focus, that is why they were able to stay (in South Africa) longer.”
He also cites the falling standards in the local league as a reason for the players’ failure abroad.
When Botswana qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations finals in 2012, the country reached its highest ever ranking of 53, but has since plummeted to 148 in the Fifa rankings.
‘Talent is not lacking’
Tim Sukazi, owner of South African second-tier side, TS Galaxy and also a renowned player agent, attributes the decline in the number of Botswana players, to a lack of hard work.
“I cannot attribute that to lack of talent in Botswana. There is talent that can make a huge impact in the PSL,” he insisted.
“If they can remain level-headed and work hard, they will make it.
“My experience so far indicates that Botswana players, or any other player that goes to a foreign league, requires mental strength.
“A foreign country can never be compared to home. I believe this to be a real challenge with the Botswana boys in South Africa,” said Sukazi, who has three Botswana players in his team.
But national team goalkeeper, Kabelo Dambe, who recently returned from his second stint in South Africa, insists that players do put in the hard work.
“The problem is the mindset about Botswana players being average, as compared to players from Zambia or Zimbabwe,” he said.
“You cannot tell me that 19 out of the 20 players who return, are not hungry enough (to succeed).”
The lanky goalkeeper played for Platinum Stars between 2012 and 2015 before returning to join Bloemfontein Celtic last season only to be offloaded at the end of the campaign.
Dambe said financial incentives also play a part, as sometimes, there is not much difference between the salaries they are offered in South Africa and what they get at home.
“I am prepared to go back to South Africa (if the right offer comes). But at times you discover there is not much difference in terms of salaries,” he said.