Over the years, Botswana has had a number of exceptional goalkeepers who gave it all for the country, and led the Zebras to exceptional victories, despite enormous challenges.
Most of them were inspirational, always leading the national team by example even when the chips were down.
There have been the likes of Sam Sono, Mooketsi ‘China’ Mading, Thabo Motang, and now Modiri Marumo. All the above mentioned goalkeepers were irreplaceable at their own teams, and the reserve keepers found it difficult to unseat them from the number 1 position, unless when they were injured or suspended.
It has to be noted that it is an enormous task to discover a replacement for an exceptional goalkeeper. The void that exists when an exceptional goalkeeper is absent has always been a disadvantage for Botswana, as the Zebras lost matches they could have easily won.
Sam Sono made his name at Township Rollers, and eventually in the national team, where his acrobatic skills put many strikers at bay. China Mading took over from Sono, even though he came from an unfashionable side, Nico United. Several big guns tried to lure Mading to Gaborone, but his love for the Selibe-Phikwe based team was undeterred. By the time Mading was about to call it a quits, Thabo “Mahala” Motang was already making his name at Township Rollers. It would take Motang a few years to own the Zebras’ number 1 jersey.
When Motang was no longer available for national team duty, the Zebras were faced with a serious crisis. There was no equally able goalkeeper that the Zebras could rely on.
Odirile Gaolebale alternated with Modiri Marumo to guard the Zebras’ goal posts. National team coaches had to alternate the two, as they did not really know who to rely on because both goalkeepers conceded numerous unnecessary goals. A match in point is the one that the Zebras played against Namibia in Windhoek, where Gaolebale conceded seven goals.
Currently Marumo is the first choice goalkeeper, and he only gained the position because he was very patient. But he is left with only a few years before he calls it quits, because age is catching up with him.
There are several good goalkeepers that have the potential to replace Marumo, but the one goalkeeper that many soccer pundits consider to be a suitable replacement is the youthful Kabelo Dambe. He is young, and will obviously need some grilling and rigorous training coupled with experience before he can compete at the highest level.
Soccer pundits believe that once a good goalkeeper reaches the age of 20, there should immediately be some development keepers on the sides. But currently there seems to be no one but Dambe.
One soccer analyst told Sunday Standard that Dambe is so far the last resort for the national team, and we should now go back to the drawing board.
“If you follow the transition of the goalkeeping department in Botswana, you will realize that transition has always been a problem. But we seem not to be taking that seriously. At this point in time we should be having about three goalkeepers of Dambe’s caliber, with others on the development side, but that is not the case,” he said.
However Botswana Football Association’s Acting Technical Director Jellusic Vesselin insists that there are many goalkeepers with potential in the development ranks. He however added that potential does not guarantee success, and a lot needs to be done to groom the goal keepers.
Vesselin added that Marumo can still play for several years to come, depending on how he takes care of himself.
“There are some good goalkeepers around the world who are around 40, and Marumo is yet to cross 35. But it will depend on how he takes care of his body,” he said.