As Botswana football’s cr├¿me de la cr├¿me and political aristocracy came to pay their last tributes to the late Thero Gaadingwe, one could only contemplate on the sad reality that the life of a marvelous soccer player had been cut short.
Through he played at the top level for only a short period, Gaadingwe was an immense talent. Blessed with velvety skills and an educated left foot, ‘Relax,’ as Gaadingwe was affectionately called, was undoubtedly one of the best talents to ever come out of Botswana.
Sadly, his career never really took off. Not because he couldn’t live the dream or perform up to expectations, but because the dream was snatched away from him by persistent injuries before he could even hit his peak. And now, just like his career, his life has been cut short at a tender age of 36 years. For those new to local football, Gaadingwe came to the fore way back in the mid 90’s as part of a hugely talented crop of young players to every come out of the country. The crop included the likes of Masego ‘Abedi’ Nchingane, Diphetogo ‘Dipsy’ Selolwane, Tshepiso ‘Sox’ Molwantwa, Mokaedi ‘Barnes’ Maplanka, Lebogang ‘Ace’ Moruti, Desmond Hambira, Seabo ‘CB’ Gabanakgosi and Phazha Butale, just to mention but a few. However, according to many in the know, Gaadingwe was the most talented of the crop. This was echoed by Kelisitse Gilika who said Gaadingwe was so talented that he was always on the starting list at his development club, Arm City.
“I understand why he was always put on the starting line even if he had missed training. He was very talented and very passionate at the same time,” said Gilika at Relax’s memorial service, which was held at the National Stadium this past Thursday. The same sentiments were also echoed by Uniao Flamingo Santos coach, Matshidiso Sexton Kowa, who said Gaadingwe could perform extraordinary feats with the ball. Had injuries not marred his career, Kowa believes Relax would have been one of the country’s best football exports.
“He was passionate and had a burning desire to play professionally. At one point when his father seemed to be pressing him to go for tertiary education, he came to me and begged me to plead with his father to let him play football. He was a devoted and passionate player,” said Kowa.
It was these qualities and exploits that assisted Gaadingwe to be part of Coach Gaborone’s National under 17 team that made history in 1995 by becoming the first local team to qualify for the Africa U17 Nations Cup finals in Mali. Playing as a creative midfielder, Gaadingwe was behind the scoring exploits of both Selolwane and Molwantwa as Botswana qualified. However, for whatever reason, when the team left to play at the finals in Mali, the talented player had been omitted.
Gaadingwe later turned up for Gaborone United, but he only played for a short time before injuries caught up with him. Despite not even finishing the whole season with GU, the player had done enough to etch his name eternally into the hearts of GU supporters and the football loving Batswana in general. While he later attempted to come back a couple of times, the player could however not recover from his consistent injuries.
“At one point, we even sent him to Cape Town for medicals. They did what they could and even made him a training regime but it never worked out,” Kowa explained.
Off the field of play, the talented Gaadingwe was described as a ‘very good man.’ According to his lifelong friend Phazha Butale, the late Gaadingwe had a very big heart and always wanted to help others. He said Gaadingwe was keen to make a difference in other people’s lives and always lent a helping hand where he could to keep young people off the streets. Meanwhile, Gaadingwe, who died this past week from what is suspected to be a cardiac arrest, was buried at the new Broadhurst graveyards this past Friday.