Saturday, April 1, 2023

The rise and rise of youthful Santos

Almost two seasons ago, Uniao Flamengo Santos was hit by a players’ exodus which killed the club’s rhythm.

That exciting Santos’ squad fell apart and many people predicted that the Gabane-based club was going to be doomed to the dusty First Division.

Santos survived the hard times, much to the delight of their handful supporters.

After a sloppy start to the current season, Santos have shown some signs of brilliance which sees them lying in the top half of the table heading into the festive season. Despite being amongst the best Santos coach George Mogopodi says they still have a long way to go.

When Ngele brothers Godfrey and Mogakolodi, Thato Bolweleng, Boitshoko Zikhale and Bakang Moeng who were all key players in the Santos’ line-up departed for greener pastures, it caused a lot of pain to those who have seen the players through the developmental structures at the club.

What made it more painful was that their clubs paid ‘peanuts’ for their transfers. What made things even worse was when talented midfielder Jackie Mothatego left for Gaborone United at the beginning of the current campaign.

If there is one man who suffered most is coach Mogopodi who who had a cordial relationship with the players that also formed a core of his team. Their departure meant that he had to look elsewhere to fill their gaps.

It was not an easy thing as the supporters demanded results. At some stage last season, some supporters called for Mogopodi’s head but the club’s executive committee did not bow to the pressure.

They believed in Mogopodi as they felt he is the one who knows their philosophy having brought some gaffers before but they failed dismally. Almost three seasons down the line, Mogopodi is building another side which with time promises to come close to the side which had the Ngeles.

“It was not an easy thing to lose those players because they understood the culture of the club having gone through the development. That meant we had to bring in some players from lower divisions and some of them have never been coached before,” said Mogopodi. He pointed out that his technical team had to do a lot of coaching in order to bring them closer to Premier League level.

In the 12 games they have played so far, Santos have been inconsistent, something which Mogopodi attribute to a lot of things.

“There are lots of challenges and we’re inconsistent because we have to change the line-up time and again. Recently, we had most of our players writing exams which meant that we never had the same players at training. We also had to deal with injuries which made our job even more difficult,” he said. While his side is in top eight bracket going into their game against BDF XI at SSKB Stadium this afternoon, Mogopodi is worried that some of his players freeze when playing against bigger sides. He said that this is caused by the fact that some of them have never played in the Premier League before.

“We’ll continue teaching them to approach the games the same way whether it’s against bigger sides or not. We’re on top right now and we’ll have to make sure that they remain focused but they’ll come right,” he added.

With the transfer window expected to open soon, Mogopodi hinted the need to reinforce his side especially with an experienced midfielder. He feels that his side lacks a leader in the mould of Vincent Phiri and Mothatego.

“When things get tougher, you need a clever midfielder who can make things happen for you. At the moment we don’t have someone like that and we need to do the searching,” he said.


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