The decline of Township Rollers’ fortunes was inevitable in the eyes of some of its supporters and local football observers. The reigning BTC Premiership champions crashed out of the 2018/19 CAF champions league this past Tuesday following their historic exploits in the same competitions last season.
Popa were knocked out of the tournament by the less fancied Bantu FC via a 4-2 penalty after a 2-2 aggregate score lines in Lesotho this past Tuesday. The two teams played to a one all draw last week and worrying signs were already apparent at MmaMasire. There are many talking points derived from the poor form the reigning champions are currently experiencing. Many, including supporters and football critics have quickly blamed it on the technical team department. It is now apparent that there is a gaping hole in the Rollers technical team following the departure of Serbian head coach Nikola Kavazovic before the looming arrival of Argentine Rudolf Zapata as the replacement.
During his brief stay at MmaMasire the controversial Serbian instilled his own ethos in both players, technical team and management. Despite an unconventional way of doing things, the polarising character, Kavazovic brought results to MmaMasire; in what was almost a clean sweep, he won the 2017/18 title league, Mascom Top 8 and led Rollers to the historic feat of becoming the first local team to make it to the CAF group stages and attracted a seven figure pay .
One could now argue that what is lacking at Rollers is leadership, at least in the technical department. Prior to the first leg encounter against Bantu, Rollers caretaker coach Thabo Motang declared that anything less than reaching the CAF champs league group stages will be a total failure. He also declared that positive results and nothing else is what Rollers expected.
“It is a pressure cooker,” Motang declared.In Kavazovic, a staunch disciplinarian who did not pamper any player at MmaMasire with heads often rolling in both the technical team and players. It is now apparent that Kavazovic has left a void within Popa and opponents like Bantu are there to pick up the pieces. It would be difficult for incoming Rollers coach to fill the void as he will need to instil his own philosophy and culture at the team. With some of the best players the local market has to offer, Zapata will be able to scrape through and stay in the title race. However, it remains to be seen whether Zapata’s version of Popa will reach the heights Kavazovic has achieved.
Zapata believes in a more physical game and rigorous training regime that might stress some of the aging players within MmaMasire. The Argentine, whose long term plans at Rollers are in doubt, is a capable coach, having led a languishing Gaborone United to an amazing position four in the league last season. It is not only international teams that are a threat to Rollers, rival teams like Orapa United and Jwaneng Galaxy are watching from nearby and will be aiming to take advantage of the current poor form at Rollers.
Orapa have already claimed Popa’s scalp during the first round and the former Rollers assistant coach Teenage Mpote is aiming to inflict more damage in the second round. The fall of Rollers this season is just another example of the lack of consistency and continuity in local football.