Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A promising career that never took off

It normally takes ages to unearth skillful players. Such players normally determine the outcome of the game because they hold the fort in most cases. They can render the game to be quick, or slow. Skillful players normally give defenders nightmares because they are never easily contained. Globally, players who match skillful status include former Argentine hero, Diego Maradona, former French captain, Zinedine Zidane, and Brazilian, Ronaldinho.

Such players are famous and what ever they do always attracts media attention. In Botswana players such as Itumeleng Duiker nearly reached that status. Undoubtedly, Duiker was the driving force behind Lobtrans Gunners during the mid nineties when they were just about unbeatable. Gunners won the Super league three times in a row, in 1992, 93 and 94.

Another local player who was surely on his way up to achieve legendary status and put Botswana on the world map was, Thero Gaadingwe. As fate would have it, injuries stood on his way. Gaadingwe can be remembered as the player who made immense contribution to the 1995 under 17 team that was also known as the dream team. They became the first team from Botswana to qualify for African championships in Mali. Some of the players he played along side with are Diphetogo Selolwane, Tshephiso Molwantwa (then Malatsi), Barnes Maplanka, Noah Kareng, Lebonyemang Temogo, Masego Nchingane, Seabo Gabanakgosi, Mogorosi Motswagae and others.

Gaadingwe was left footed and had rare skills which most current players lack. He combined his skills with passion and that made him outstanding. He was, in most cases, given a free role in the middle of the pack and did all the leg work. He was not even afraid of taking on the defenders. When he was in possession, he would go straight to the defenders, knowing that he would find his way out. His skills resulted in Selolwane and Molwantwa having an easy job upfront and banged goals with ease.

Gaadingwe ended up joining Gaborone United (GU) but only played for a short period of time before he got injured. Despite playing for such a short period of time he is still a popular figure among many GU supporters.

“I last played for GU way back in 1995 and it did not even take a season. What astonishes me is that many GU supporters still remember me vividly as if I played for the team for many years. May be it was due to the fact that many people admired my style of play or may be that I had unique skills other players did not have. But it still pains me because had I not been injured, I could have gone places like Selolwane,” he said.

Despite his progress having been hampered by injuries, Gaadingwe had his ups and downs during a promising soccer career at the Under 17. He did not make the historic trip to Mali despite having played a vital role for the team prior to the championships.

“It was also painful not to make the trip to Mali after playing so hard during the qualification stages. A few days before we left for Mali, I told the management that I was attending a family ceremony and when I came back I was told that I would not be part of the team. What surprised me the most is that I was told by fellow players before I was officially informed. The truth of the matter is that there was a communication problem between the management and I was the victim of that. But I ended up accepting my omission,” he says.

Gaadingwe feels very humbled that some of the players boycotted his exclusion and demanded his reinstatement. He says that showed players valued his contribution. He, however, stresses that he did not harbour any hard feelings against the then team.

On why their team qualified for the championships which many other teams failed to, he says the team was made up of youngsters who started together at the then Chappies Little League.

“When most of us were still at Primary school, there was Chappies Little league which was mainly for the youth. I, together with players like Phazha Butale, Molwantwa, Selolwane, Maplanka knew each other from there. We developed an understanding which we passed on to the national team. Before and after us there was no Chappies league that’s why teams struggled. Our league was more competitive than the current one ‘Re ba bona ha’ because we trained together on a daily basis and played competitive matches on weekends. That is something the Botswana Football Association (BFA) should establish to produce many youngsters.

Gaadingwe’s memorable game was against Swaziland in 1996 when they graduated to the Under 20s. Botswana won the game 6-0 and even though Gaadingwe did not find the back of the net, they contributed to all the six goals Botswana scored.

At the age of 28, he says many people should not be surprised if he makes a come back for one of the Premier League teams. He says he is fit and ready to play for any team of his choice.

The BFA’s technical officer, Sexton Kowa, was an admirer of Gaadingwe. He says had Gaadingwe played to his full potential, he could have put Botswana on the World map.

“Gaadingwe was the most gifted player. He did not only use his legs to beat his opponents but also his mind. He played football with passion and devotion. It is a pity that injuries got in his way.

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The Telegraph September 30

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 30, 2020.