Motlalepula “Manqane” Mofolo played a starring role as Lesotho secured their first ever qualification for the then African Youth Championship in 2005 and also reached the final of the COSAFA U-20 in the same year.

The impressive run with Makoanyane XI also attracted the attention of international scouts and in the end Mofolo was snapped-up by Soweto giant-Orlando Pirates to play for their development team. He hit the ground running at Yebo Yes and was later rewarded with the captain’s armband in a team that had the likes of the late Senzo Meyiwa, Excellent Walaza and Tlou Segolela.

In this wide-ranging interview, the Lesotho Football Association media team goes down memory lane with the man, who is affectionately known as “the General, Z10 or Manqane” among his supporters.

LeFA: “Manqane”, thanks a lot for making time to talk to us. What have you been up to since hanging up your boots?

MM: I’m still involved in football getting all the mentoring I need to fulfil the ambition of becoming a coach. Gone are the days we used to become coaches just because you played football at the highest level. You have to earn your badges and I have been learning a lot working with coach ‘Thots’ (Lehlohonolo Thotanyana). I worked with him throughout my playing days with the national teams and also at Lioli. He has been there and done it all as a coach working for the Lesotho Football Association. The dream is to follow in his footsteps by first making a name for myself as a coach at Lioli, I’m already in their system coaching their youth teams and hopefully one day will graduate to the senior team to eventually coach the national teams as well.

LeFA: You career was a success from an early after being scouted by South African giants Orlando Pirates to join their development team. How did the move come about?  

MM: They spotted me playing the Lesotho U-17 team that was under the mentorship of coach Leslie Notsi and continued to follow my progress as I graduated into the U-20. As you know, that team was a success as we reached the Final of the COSAFA U-20 tournament and also qualified for the African Youth Championship in 2005. Several of us from that team impressed scouts from abroad and in South Africa. A lot of teams wanted to sign us and, in the end, Pirates won the race for my signature and I moved to Soweto.

LeFA: Take us back to your debut match for the senior national team. It was against a powerhouse of African Football in Nigeria and they came with all their stars of that era…. Nwankwo Kanu, John Obi Mikel, Joseph Jobo, Obafemi Martins and Yakubu Ayegbeni, who were already playing their football in England.

Mofolo: I had goose bumps days leading to the match, I was already at Pirates playing for their reserve team and we had Onyekachi Okonkwo, who was with the Pirates senior team and also in the Super Eagles squad. We got to meet a lot with players from the senior team and obviously most of them were following our progress and he was aware that I had earned a call up for my country as well. He came to talk to me using the tsotsitaal (local lingo) that was very popular at Pirates and told me that we will meet in Maseru. That was a motivation by itself knowing that I may come up against my senior at club level. The Nigeria team had a lot of stars playing abroad in their squad and we all wanted to make it difficult for them on the day and it happened exactly they way we had planned as they got away with a narrow 1-0 victory courtesy of a goal by Yakubu. People were expecting them to give us a hiding, but we gave them a run for their money

LeFA: Talking about Pirates and looking back, it must be very painful that you got so closed, but never got a chance with their senior team?

MM: It was a very difficult and painful situation. Okonkwo is one of the players from the senior team, who told me that he doesn’t understand why me and Dlomo Monaphathi were not being given a chance with the first team. He felt that at that time we deserved such an opportunity. I’m not saying others like Tefo Maipato and Katleho Moleko were not good enough to also graduate to the senior team, but I think at that time I was one of the best players in the reserve team. Other teams such as Moroka Swallows were also interested in my services as we played friendly games against them regularly. However, nothing materialised and it was heart-breaking because we were not getting the opportunity with the senior team at Pirates. I kept pushing with the hope that my chance will come, but it never did and it was painful seeing players that I felt were not at my level being given that opportunity. We had a lot people giving us the support we needed to keep going, but it was really a painful experience. In the end I came back home to play for Lioli and got my career back on track and became a regular for the national team.

LeFA: You have come up against top international players and locally, who always gave a hard time when you came up against them. Who are those that were a nightmare to you as opponents?

MM: Locally, I can mention maybe three in Ralekoti Mokhahlane, who was a teammate for both the National u-20 and the senior team. He always gave me a tough time during his time with LCS, it was a good rivalry in the field of play. Bokang Mothoana and also Tefo Maipato, they were also my teammates for a long time from our time with the national U-20 team and graduating to the senior team around the same time. There was also Bushy Moletsane, I can go on and on. We also had a good understanding when we were in camp for the national teams and it was an honour playing with and against them.

LeFA: That Makoanyane XI side will go down in the history books as one of the best to be assembled by this country having qualified for the African Youth Championship and reached the final of rhe COSAFA Championship in the same year?

MM: We loved football, we were united and dedicated to the game.  The wiliness to learn from our coaches helped us a lot to be successful as a team. Once football has been given the greenlight to return, my wish is to have this group back together to have maybe a benefit game. It would be good for our football to have a match against a team of a different generation like our senior team that reached the final of the COSAFA Cup in 2000. We need to inspire the current generation of players and show them that anything is possible if they work hard.

LeFA: which player has impressed you from the current crop of players?

MM: It’s a tough one to answer. From the players I have seen, there is a guy at Lioli we call ‘Mapompi’ (Monaheng Velaphe). He is a special talent and has the potential to go far. I’m impressed with what I have seen thus far.

LeFA: What’s your message to the current crop of players aiming to bring the glory days of “class of 2005”?

MM: My message to the current crop of players is to respect their talent and put a lot of energy towards improving. Football has a lot of opportunities that can change lives for the better, but at the same time it’s a short career that if you don’t do things right, you will regret forever.  I think with our generation; it was all about passion and the hunger to succeed. Donning the national team jersey and representing our country was a motivation by itself. It wasn’t really about money, but the hunger to bring success to our country.  Yes, we all need money to live a comfortable life, but sometimes as a player you need to put the flag of your country ahead and the rest will follow. We were focused on our football and it opened doors for us in so many ways and that why a lot of us from that U-20 team managed to secure deals outside the country. We need to have a lot of our players playing outside the country, it will help Likuena perform better.

LeFA: A lot of people think you retired when you still had a lot left in your tank. Did it have to do with the fact that your knee was always heavily bandaged before you finally pulled the plug on your career?

MM: The knee injury gave me a headache for a long time, but when I retired, I was still in good shape. I think football politics at Lioli at that time contributed in me finally calling it time on my playing career because one of the coaches, who came in at that time told me that I was too old to play for the team. You know the culture in Africa when a player is in his 30s they say he is old.