For a long time, Botswana’s senior national soccer team, the Zebras, relied on the goal scoring instincts of Jerome Ramatlhakwane. The Democratic Republic of Congo based striker earned admiration throughout Africa when he single handedly helped Botswana qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations that were held in both Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
He scored crucial goals against tough opponents like Tunisia and later emerged as the country’s leading goal scorer. What was remarkable about Ramatlhakwane was that he continued to deliver for his country even when he was not playing first team football at club level in South Africa. The former Mochudi Centre Chiefs striker was following on the footsteps of former strikers like Diphetogo Selolwane and Tshepiso Molwantwa. However, Ramatlhakwane has of late not been receiving national team call-ups. Zebras head coach, James Peter Butler, was quoted in the media saying he didn’t select Ramatlhakwane because his international career was coming to an end.
But his exclusion from the national team has created a void at the front and there is currently no one to immediately fill Ramatlhakwane’s shoes. The selected players are missing many clear cut chances that a ripe striker like Ramatlhakwane would have scored with ease. In the last official match against Burundi, winger Joel Mogorosi was deployed to the front to be the target man. Even though he ended up scoring the all important goal, Mogorosi struggled to adapt for most of the time.
The crisis at the front has raised concerns among many fans of the Zebras. They are all too aware that Botswana regularly produces good goalkeepers but falls short when it comes to strikers. From the days of Mooketsi ‘China’ Mading to the current Kabelo Dambe, Botswana has never been short of quality goalkeepers who even made it outside the country despite tough competition. In an interview, former premier league coach, Stanley Mwaanga, who is now responsible for development, attributed the lack of quality strikers in Botswana to poor development structures. He said a lot should be done to produce strikers of high quality who would be envied by many countries.
“Honestly somewhere we are not doing something right. But there is still room for improvement. Proper development requires a lot of money, resources and focus, or else you would not get the desired results. Development should start from the age of three years. At this stage you are teaching kids all aspects of football. From around the age of 15 that’s when you look at the strength of players and those who have qualities of a striker. You teach them all the 43 qualities of a striker and if they can meet over 50 percent of those, then they have a bright future as strikers,” he said.
Mwaanga also said it’s important to expose kids to high level training at a young age. He gave an example of Zambia whose government has joined forces with the private sector to finance football development. He said the current Zambian national under 17 spent almost a month in Japan where they were exposed to advanced coaching from the Japanese. For his part, football analyst and youth development enthusiast, Fobby Radipotsane said the reason why Botswana teams produce good goalkeepers is because almost every premier league side has a goalkeeper coach. Conversely, he said, most teams don’t have specific coaches for strikers.
“Most technical teams are not balanced because sometimes you find that a coach and his assistants are former midfielders. That automatically affects the striking force. Sometimes the technical bench would be full of former strikers and they will obviously have a lot of influence on the strikers at the expense of other departments,” he said.
Radipotsane also lamented that upcoming young strikers are rarely given a chance by premier league teams, which negates their progression to the senior national team.
“I can count several local players who had potential to become the country’s lethal strikers. Where is Aubrey Kebonnetse as we speak? He was a very good striker at junior level and Township Rollers did not give him the chance he deserved. In some cases, teams prefer foreign strikers which kills our football,” he said.