Zebras utility defender-cum midfielder Michael “Lepako” Mogaladi has been hailed by his coach, Kosta Papic, as a vital cog in his new South African premier soccer league side, Maritzburg United’s rearguard.
Speaking to Sunday Standard Sport shortly after United’s 1-2 loss to Silver Stars at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in Rustenburg last week, Papic said that the hard work done by Mogaladi in the United defence is the reason why teams are failing to penetrate his team through the middle.
“Mogaladi takes no prisoners. When we beat Orlando Pirates the other day, he competed well, stopping the slippery Pirates players in their tracks. Even today, you could see that Silver Stars exploited us down the flanks. He really has a presence and Botswana is lucky to have such a player in their national team,” said Papic.
The irony of things is that locally, many enthusiasts have been calling for the axeing of the former BMC FC’s hardman from the Zebras fold. Papic’s words should make those who booed Mogaladi during a friendly game between the Zebras and Zambia at the UB stadium eat humble pie.
Added Papic, “The boy does the simple thing, win the ball and passes it on to his teammates. He also has a good attitude on and off the field. The players here respect him because he is a humble character. He also communicates well at the back.”
In the Silver Stars game, Mogaladi came up against a fired-up Silver Stars striker Hareaipha “ Simba” Marumo. Many are of the feeling that Marumo came second best against the former Lobatse Secondary School student. Marumo, however, scored the winner for Stars from the penalty spot after Mogaladi’s defence partner Thabang Rooi brought down a menacing Mmotong in the box. Rooi was also immediately sent off and it meant more work for the Botswana international.
Papic has built a formidable Maritzburg United outfit with Mogaladi settling in very quickly in the Pietermaritzburg side’s set-up.
Silver Stars coach, Owen Da Gama, a shrewd tactician, noticed that his midfielders were having a mammoth task against Mogaladi and company in central defence.
“Yeh, I had to instruct my players to play wide in most cases because that Botswana guy was winning just every ball through the middle. I instructed Koketso (Mmotong) to add a little bit of pace to his game. That is when we started stamping our authority on the game,” said Da Gama.
On why Botswana players, Moemedi Moatlhaping and Phenyo Mongal, are often out of the team, Da Gama had this to say, “The duo are aware that like any other players, they need to fight their way into the starting line-up. We are currently doing well and you know sometimes it is suicidal to interfere with a winning combination. Jomo and Mzambiya are very good players and when their chances come, they should grab them.”
Da Gama seems to have a point because even top players, like Zimbabwean Joel Luphahla, who played in Europe, sometimes find themselves at the stands or on the bench. Against Maritzburg United, Luphahla only came in as a late substitute.