From the dugout to the boardroom
From his playing days as a goalkeeper for Matlama, coaching Lesotho Premier League big guns such as Lioli and Matlama, spells coaching in South Africa, taking charge of all the Lesotho national teams, and now working for Lesotho Football Association as the Technical Director, Leslie Notsi (LN) has seen it all in football.
The LeFA media team goes down the memory lane with the experienced gaffer.
LeFA: Ntate Notsi, thank you for making time to talk to us. First thing first, take us through your transformation from the dugout to the boardroom?
LN: It hasn’t been easy, but very, very interesting. Having been in coaching for more than fifteen years and making the switch to be the technical director. The job is more administrative, there is a lot of managerial responsibilities. Being a leader in the department and making sure everything is done accordingly. Making sure that all the people in the department are working towards one goal and understand your style of management. Managing the district coaches and coordinators, working with the foreign stakeholders in COSAFA, CAF, FIFA. Working closely with the Secretary General and the Executive Committee as the leaders of the Association. It’s quite a big task, which I’m enjoying really and learning a lot in process. It’s been a new lease of life for me because I’m learning a lot, a learn every day. Fortunately, I have got experienced campaigners around me within the country and outside be it at CAF, FIFA. Having those mentors and colleagues around has helped a lot and made my job enjoyable. With the way things are developing, I think we are going to achieve our targets and hopeful in five years’ time we will see the results of the hard work and the investment made by the Association on different projects.
LeFA: It’s been a busy period for your department since the return of football activities in the country. What inspired the Association to invest heavily on women’s football with the recent allocations of football equipment for developmental teams?
LN: We took a countrywide tour to meet with our district coaches, coordinators, and the leadership of our Districts Association to discuss challenges they face in the development of football in their constituencies. That information was critical in our plans as the LeFA technical department. We always make sure that we cater for their needs in our strategic plan, which is our roadmap as the Association. We want to make sure that we make things easy for them as they play an important role in the development of young talent and women football across the country. That is why we also support them with educational programmes every time and now to make sure that they are not left behind because football is evolving all the time.
I must say, I’m very grateful and humbled by the support from the LeFA President Advocate Salemane Phafane (KC) and the Executive Committee, for giving this project all the support it needed to be a success. As a coach, I know how important it is to have all the equipment you need to be able to train players and I have no doubt buying football equipment for our women’s developmental teams will go a long way towards improving the standard of women football in the country. Our Women’s Football Coordinator Ms. Joalane Tongoane, deserves all the credit for the hard work she continues to put with all the ongoing programmes aimed at improving women’s football countrywide. Now that the girls have the equipment to use, all their teams have been active until football activities were suspended due to the rise of Covid-19 cases in the country.
LeFA: Take us through the introductory courses held recently for coaches and referees in the districts.
LS: We also established that within our regions and zones, we have a lot of talented developmental coaches, who are doing a lot of work scouting and nurturing young talent, but most of them lack knowledge and coaching qualifications. It is then that we designed a programme that will help them bridge that gap by introducing the coaching clinics, which are running simultaneously with that of the referees, who are also without formal training. The programme started in Berea and has since covered Thaba Tseka, Leribe, Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek.
LeFA: Your department has also gone on a countrywide grassroots programme aimed at reviving football at that level. How was the response?
LN: This is the one area that needs a lot of work to revive the love and passion for football among the youth. We have been to almost every district in recent months and the response has been amazing not only from the kids, but their parents as well. An example is the trip to Tebellong in the rural areas of Qacha’s Nek. The trips especially in the rural areas have been very useful in terms of giving us feedback regarding what needs to be done going forward as far as grassroots and youth football are concerned. It was fulfilling to see the kid playing and their coaches learning how to organise and host grassroots activities. It was important for them to learn, so that they can continue with such programmes on their own. We managed to assist the districts coaches with soccer balls to be able to continue working with the kids.
We have since established that lack of resources is contributing massively in most of the kids of today losing interest in football and sports activities in general. School sports is also not getting the support it used to get in the past from the leadership of the schools and the Ministry of Education. We all know that school football was very powerful in the past years and played a big part in the development of a lot of players that went on to represent the country at the highest level, be it in football or other sporting codes. It is for that reason that we feel we should revisit the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), that we have with the Ministry of Education and the Lesotho Sports and Recreation (LSRC). This is the only way that we can save school sport because it has a big role to play in developing and nurturing young talent like it used to do in the past.
LeFA: You have had an interesting coaching career and one of a few coaches to lead all the Lesotho national teams from the U-17 up to the senior team. Take us through that journey?
LN: I started out as the assistant coach to Ntate Seephephe Matete with the senior team after completing my coaching badges in Germany. It was an honour for me to get such a big call immediately after coming back from a coaching school. It’s a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life because it played a big part in my growth as a coach and I’m also grateful that he was able to trust me with such a big responsibility so early in my coaching career. My coaching career at club level started with the now defunct Maseru Sundowns from Maseru East, which used to campaign in the third tier.
From the senior national team as the assistant coach, I was given the opportunity to lead the U-17 as the head-coach, a very special group of players I must say. They all graduated and were promoted to the U-20 side, which a few years later secured the country’s first ever qualification to a CAF tournament, booking a ticket to play at the then Under-20 African Youth Championship. This is a team that was made up of players like Katleho Moleko, Likano Teele, Motlalepula Mofolo, Ralekoti Mokhahlane, Bokang Mothoana, Thabo Masualle. It was a big group of talented players and all went to have decent careers.
My time as the coach of Matlama also produced a lot of good memories especially when we won the double of the League and Top4 titles in 2003. We went to play in the CAF Champions League, which is the pinnacle of club football in our continent. I believe we achieved all the success because of teamwork and the togetherness we had in the team. Everyone from management up to the players knew and understood their role within the club. Well, I had to close that chapter with Matlama as another opportunity to improve my knowledge as a coach came knocking on my door. This time at the Hungarian Sports University in Budapest, doing physical education specializing in football. When I came back, I had an offer to coach Lioli and I didn’t hesitate and moved to Teyateyaneng. It was also an exciting journey for me as a coach and produced a lot of good memories with the club coming very close to winning their first leg title in over two decades and reached the final of a cup competition, which was for the first time in over 26-years that Lioli played a cup final. I had a relationship of great affection and respect for Tse Putsoa and Tse Nala supporters respectively. An affection that remains to this day and I will cherish forever.
In the race for the league title, Likhopo beat us to it two points, but our hard work finally paid in the following season, as we were crowned champions of the then Top 8 competition. Unfortunately, I had to leave Lioli as a call-up to work with the senior national team came knocking on my door again and obviously, I could not say no to serving my country. I believe we had laid a good foundation for the technical team that would come and replace us as the club eventually ended their trophy drought winning the league title the following year. I had a good time as well at Lioli and will forever cherish the good memories we created with the club. I joined the national team to work as the assistant coach to Mr. Zavisa Milosavljevic from Serbia. We went through a very difficult period and unfortunately the coach didn’t take that long on the job, but I learnt a lot working under him and we worked very well together. We are still in contact to this day.
The leadership of the Association decide to take a different route suspending the senior national team’s activities to focus on the junior teams. The decision worked wonders for the Association almost immediately as we qualified for the then Under-20 African Youth Championship again in 2011 with Makoanyane XI. I was working with Mr. Moses Maliehe as the assistant coach, and we had a very good team that was able to eliminate countries like Mozambique, South Africa, and Kenya on their way to qualifying for the tournament. This is where players such as current Likuena captain-Basia Makepe, Kopano Tseka, Jerry Kamela, Kananelo Makhooane, Lehlomela Ramabele, Litsepe Marabe, Tsoanelo Koetle and others were able to show their potential and grow in stature before being promoted to the senior team.
LeFA: You last assignment with the senior national team came recently where you were tasked by the Association to step in after coach Thabo Senong resigned as the Likuena coach just a few days before the start of the COSAFA Cup. How difficult was it to prepare the team in such a short time?
LS: Very, very difficult, I must confess. His resignation itself caught us all off guard as he had already called his provisional squad and had started a bio-bubble camp with the players. Having to step in on the eleventh hour and preparing the players in just two days really gave me sleep nights. They were also affected by those developments because most of them had been working with Mr. Senong for over two years and it was always going to be difficult for them to adapt to a new coach. But we took that task together and I want to thank them for their cooperation and commitment. All in all, it was a learning curve for us as a team, the players, and the technical team. I think that was a wakeup call for us as a country from club level and the administration side of football. It is a chance to go back to the drawing board and rectify the mistakes that we have been making because the last two-years have been very difficult for us as far as international competitions are concerned. I thank the leadership of LeFA for trusting me to take on that big task to lead the team following the departure of Mr. Senong. It showed that they still trust my abilities as a coach.