Youth development structures are the most important aspects of football and without them there would not be a future. Almost all countries or clubs that have won major trophies have firm youth development structures because that is where players are groomed and polished before graduating to the senior teams. Most of the renowned world players started playing football at an early age and it is rare to find those who did not.
On the other hand, most African countries, including Botswana, have weak youth structures and that is the reason mainly attributed to Africa’s failure to win the World Cup since its inception decades ago.
In Botswana, there have been a few players for the past years that progressed from Under 17 up to the senior team. Some of the notable faces are Mompati Thuma (BDF XI), Mogogi Gabonamong and Diphetogo Selolwane.
Due to the fact that Thuma is working for the army, some people normally say if it was not for that, he could be playing professional football outside the country. Thuma was a member of the 1997 under 17 team that was popularly known as ‘Basimane ba kgwathe’ (Let the opponents tumble). That was the time when Botswana hosted the tournament that was eventually won by Egypt. Botswana saw red in its group because they lost all their group stage matches and managed to only score a single goal in the three games they played. The most humiliating was a 7-0 loss to Ivory Coast in the presence of the then President Sir Ketumile Masire. Despite a brimming talent that was in the team, it is only Thuma and Gabonamong who managed to make it to the Zebras. Some of the brilliant players who were in the team include the likes of Edwin Disang, Oteng Moalosi, Botlhe Bolofete and Mompati Banda.
What could be noticed of Thuma at the time was that he was playing as a striker, but the then English coach, Ray Whelam, who was in charge of the under 17s, converted him to the defence because of his height. Since then Thuma has never looked back and is arguably the best defender in Botswana. One of Thuma’s strongest points is overlapping when the going is tough, something other defenders are afraid of doing. The game most people remember him for was two years ago during the COSAFA Castle Cup in Namibia. Botswana was then trailing by a goal against Namibia with only three minutes to go. Thuma then surged forward and his cross found Moemedi ‘Jomo’ Moatlhaping who equalised. Botswana then went on to win the game on penalties.
In 2002, when Botswana played a friendly game against Trinidad and Tobago, their coach was surprised to learn that Gabonamong was still playing locally. Just like Thuma, he has been instrumental from his days at the Under 17 until now. He only joined well paying professional ranks just last year when he joined Cape Town Santos. He once had a stint in Trinidad and Tobago but did not stay long. When he started out, Gabonamong was a full defender, mainly assigned to contain dangerous strikers. He started playing for the senior team before he was even 20 years old, way back in 1999 when Botswana lost 2-1 to South Africa in a COSAFA Castle Cup game. That was the time when he closely guarded then South African danger Man, Pollen Ndlanya. Although he is currently on a self imposed exile, Gabonamong still remains a vital cog of the Zebras because he can go to an extent of scoring from the midfield. He once scored against Tunisia in 2005 when they were still the reigning African champions.
Selolwane unarguably is Botswana’s best export so far. Currently, he is the only surviving member of the 1995 under 17 team that went to compete at the African youth championships in Mali. The 1995 team was the first in Botswana’s history to qualify for the tournament. It had great players like Masego Nchingane, Phazha Butale, Desmond Hambira, Barnes Maplanka, Lebonyemang Temogo, Noah Kareng, Thero Gaadingwe, Seabo Gabanakgosi and Tshephiso ‘Sox’ Malatsi (now Molwantwa). With the exception of Maplanka, Temogo and Gaadingwe, the rest are still playing in the elite league.
Molwantwa is fighting for the golden boot award. Although this season Selolwane has struggled with form at Cape Town Santos, last season he was a man of the moment scoring in almost every game he featured.
At the national team, Selolwane has scored about fifteen goals. It is a good record bearing in mind that Botswana was for the past seasons not playing regularly in international competitions. But the chance the country got, Selolwane scored regularly.