‘Why fix it if it’s not broken?’ This sounds like a tired cliché, yet the defending premier league champions Township Rollers ought to have heeded it especially after an impressive first round undefeated streak. But now the league champions find themselves in a treacherous position after losing this season’s Mascom Top 8 cup final 2-1 to cross town rivals Gaborone United in a thrilling encounter on Saturday.
The defeat guaranteed there will be no silverware in their cabinet this season.
Perhaps trouble at the Gaborone West club began in the last premier league transfer window after they signed ‘big name’ players including Dirang Moloi, Jerome Ramatlhakwane, Noah Maphosa and Tshepo ‘Talk Talk’ Motlhabankwe. On paper, this was a great business move by the team. The Rollers executive must have been happy to acquire services of some of the best players in the country. But now this seems to have come at a cost for their technical department. The arrival of the four players saw a sudden shift in the team’s morale. This became evident is some games they played when they were about to face South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs in the CAF champions league. Rollers eventually lost to Chiefs 3-1. Before the recruitment of the ‘big four,’ Ndlovu was trenched in a patina of invincibility, having gone for half a season without losing a single game. The scoring margin was impressive too, from the likes of Manqoba Ngwenya and Jerome Louis. Ndlovu’s sensational combinations included the likes of Segolame Boy, Maano Ditshupo, Jerome Louis and Lawrence Majawa.
The midfield and attack worked like a well-oiled machine. However, when the ‘big four’ came into the picture the team started to go into decline. This sudden shift in performance very much echoed the previous decline of Spanish giants Real Madrid in the early 2000s when they came up with the Galaticos (Galaxy) policy that saw the La Liga giants breaking the bank to sign big name stars every season. This strategy worked for a while until the team went into decline around 2003. At the time, a dominant Madrid signed a galaxy of stars including David Beckham, Luis Figo, Zenedine Zidane and Ronaldo. Despite this abundant super talent, Madrid still failed to win the league and could not even make it to the Champions League semi finals at the time. Most of the decline in performance was blamed on the clash of egos between the stars. The scenario at Madrid much reflects what happened at Rollers. Although the likes of Moloi are paid measly salaries compared to Beckham at Madrid, P20 000 monthly in the domestic league is still a lot of money and expectations were high for him and other new recruits. This also put pressure on the technical team when selecting the first 11.
It was obvious that the signing did not immediately translate into results on the pitch. In addition, Rollers have lately seen their fortunes dwindle in premier league games. It was obvious that the lucrative Top 8 cup that attracts a million pula prize was Ndlovu’s last hope. This week Popa, as Rollers are affectionately known, confirmed that they had parted ways with the coach. Last week Rollers spokesperson admitted that the coach was under pressure to win the Top 8 cup after losing six games in the league. However, reality hit home when Rollers failed to gel and committed tactical errors in the final against cross-town rivals Gaborone United. Over the weekend, they had to watch with long faces as confetti rained down on United, with further celebrating falling in the form of a chilly drizzle from the heavens. With hindsight, it appears that the hard-pressed Ndlovu’s mistake was removing key players who had previously been crucial to the team’s early success in the season. Moloi replaced the influential midfield dynamo Maano Ditshupo. Ditshupo usually plays well in the defensive midfield supplying both wings and forwards like Segolame Boy. Although Moloi managed some accurate passes he never settled in this position. Neither did Ramatlhakwane. Another experienced player was defender Motlhabankwe who likes to surge forward and help in attack. It was when Motlhabankwe left his position and overlapped that United took advantage and attacked from his flank, culminating in an equalising goal from Ntesang Simanyana. Whenever Motlhabankwe ran forward, the likes of Oscar Ncenga had to cover his position leaving the defence exposed.
In addition, burly striker Ramatlhakwane failed to get past the United defence. He came in as a substitute, replacing goalscorer Kobamelo Kebaikanye and struggled to settle into the team. Since arriving at Popa, Ramatlhakwane has struggled to excel where Boy, Kebaikanye, Ngwenya and Louis found so much success. As for veteran goalkeeper Noah Maposa, there was not much of a difference between him and the less experienced regular Mwampule Masule. Maposa hardly directed or commanded his defenders. Goitseone Phoko, United’s young and sensational goalkeeper, clearly outshone Maposa. Meanwhile, in what was his last post match interview as Rollers head coach, Ndlovu criticised the referee’s decision that handed United a penalty and the winning goal. “A match like this should not be decided by the referee’s decision,” he said, adding that it was a good match despite the outcome.