Monday, January 24, 2022

Maano Ditshupo and the talking soccer boot

If you have never heard of Maano Ditshupo, or cannot recognize him from the photo, that’s the way he likes it. The Township Rollers midfielder is weary of the limelight in a way that seems inconvenient for a celebrity whose name is currently on the lips of every local football lover.

The young lad was a sensation during the recent encounter between the Zebras and Burkina Faso over the Independence Day holidays and the crowd that packed the national stadium will be talking about his five star performances for a long time to come.

You will, however, wait a long time before the publicity-shy Ditshupo, describes himself in such breathless terms. The celebrated recluse of local football mostly prefers to let his soccer-boots do the talking.

True to form, pinning him down to an interview was as difficult as trying to mate elephants, but once he came round, he was polite to a fault. We rendezvoused at the Gaborone taxi rank and Ditshupo turned up with a “sporty” hat pulled over his now famous face and teammate Kaone Molefe on tow. If that was an attempt at disguise, it failed dismally and Ditshupo could not hide his discomfort as we picked our way through a goggled eyed throng. The new boy wonder of football does not seem to have any interest in being famous or giving interviews, but sadly for him, his new found fame following a brilliant performance for the Zebras against the visiting Burkina Faso means he had better get used to the limelight.

On his fourth cap, Maano earned a starting berth from head coach Stanley Tshosane. He played alongside BDF XI’s Bonolo Phuduhudu in central midfield and was unlucky not to make it into the score-sheet: His thunderbolt from outside the box was parried away for a corner by Burkinabe goalkeeper. Adorned in jersey 12, Maano commanded the midfield unnerved by thousands of Batswana who were cheering from the stands. It was a performance which many believe has earned him a place in the “Future Zebras” provided he remains level headed and keeps up the form at Rollers.

When his name came up in the Zebras first eleven, Maano was besides himself with excitement but all he needed was a moment to collect his wits. He saw an opportunity to prove himself and he took it Julius Ceaseresque: He came, he saw, he conquered.

In the previous three caps, he came on as a second half substitute. “It was an honour to be in the starting line-up of the national team and the playing the entire game was the cherry on top. I’m still trying to come to terms with it. That game (against Burkina Faso) will always be etched in my memory. I wanted to frame the jersey I wore on the day but unfortunately we had to return them after the game.”

As the bus ferrying the players to the National Stadium rolled on, the air was thick with tension you could actually cut it with a knife, remembers Maano. Most of the players were going to be making their first appearance in Zebras colours and were battling to bring their nerves under control. The pride of the nation weighed heavily on the shoulders of the youngsters who did not have a lot of old players to lean on for support.

“We tried to still our nerves by singing and dancing. That helped to ease the tension. The coach (Stanley Tshosane) told us that though we have been together for three days, it is upon us to give Batswana an Independence Day present by beating Burkina Faso. He told us to go out there and enjoy ourselves. I’m glad that at the end of the day we did.”

Now that the Burkina Faso game is history, Maano says that it is up to the technical team to make a decision on his future. He says he would like to add to the four international caps but he knows that it can only be possible if Tshosane calls his again. “I will always be ready for another call-up. What is important for me is to continue working hard at club level,” he adds. Maano admits that his club, Rollers, have to up their game if they are to compete for the league honours this season.

Ahead of their game against their boogey side Uniao Flamengo Santos at the Molepolole Sports Complex this afternoon, Rollers have recorded only one victory in three outings. A loss against Extension Gunners in the opening weekend followed by another defeat to Motlakase put a lot of pressure on the team. But they managed to bounce back on September 24 when they hammered Notwane 4-0 at UB Stadium. “Donning a Rollers’ jersey comes with a lot of pressure and it was not nice to lose the opening two fixtures. I think after our win against Notwane things will start looking up and we’ll start competing,” says Maano.

His career started in 2005 at FC Satmos where he played under the tutelage of coach Mooketsi ‘China’ Mading. Maano remains indebted to FC Satmos as it gave him a chance to kick-start his footballing career. After two years at FC Satmos, Maano moved to Ireland where he stayed with his sister. “When I got there (in Ireland) my sister organized trials for me at the Irish Premier League club side called Lisburn Distillery. I played there for nine months on loan from FC Satmos and it was an awesome experience,” he says. In 2008 the Serowe-born star joined Extension Gunners after he was turned down by a number of big giants in the country. It was an anti-climax for him to struggle to find a club in Botswana after a sterling performance in Ireland. “When no one wanted to sign me I did not despair. An opportunity came at Gunners and I did not look back. Even when a chance came to move to another club came, I didn’t move because I wanted to reward Gunners for showing faith in me when all other teams were turning up their noses at me. Last year when I left Gunners I felt it was the right time to move on,” he says with a smile. During his time with Gunners, Maano was part of the Gunners’ generation which won 2011 Coca-Cola Cup beating Motlakase 3-1 in the final played at Lobatse Stadium. But it was their 1-0 win over high-spending Mochudi Centre Chiefs in the semi-finals which won Gunners a lot praises. “Chiefs were hot at the time and nobody gave us a chance. But we were determined to make names for ourselves. I’m glad that I was part of the team which managed to bring silverware to the club after so many years,” he concludes.

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