Staff writer OTHUSISTSE TLHOBOGANG catches up with former Township Rollers and Zebras player Mmoni ‘States’ Segopolo to discuss his past career and the current football developments.
When did you start playing soccer?
I played football since I was a young boy, from the age of 5. To your surprise I started as a goalkeeper.
What made you choose to play football?
I always had passion for football when I grew up; that is why I ended up playing it.
Which teams did you play for during your career?
I first started playing for a team called Gunsten United in Selebi Phikwe. It was in 2nd division and I was playing for their B side. In 1989 I got a blue book and played for the senior team. After finishing my JC I relocated to Gaborone where I started playing for Mphatlalatsane which was not even on the league at that time. However it went into the 6th division and that is where Township Rollers saw me playing and signed me in 1991.
When did you start playing for national teams?
I got my call to the national team in 1992 a few months after joining Rollers. I was called after the first round 6-0 defeat of the then Botswana XI to Ivory Coast. I was part of the team that played the second round here in Botswana.
Playing football always has challenges how was it during your time?
There were a lot of challenges during that time. There were no financial assistance, lack of proper equipment and facilities. The other thing was that there were no rewards during that time we had to just play out of passion; there was nothing to show out of football. Most of us who played then could not achieve anything or do anything for ourselves because of this.
What kept you going through those challenges?
Only two things kept me going, love and passion for football. Playing for a team like Rollers was a big thing back then and that on its own helped me to play to keep my place.
You were one of the solid players in the national team. What made you such a strong player?
I always had a dream to play for the national team and that dream made me to become a strong player. It helped me to push hard to keep my position in the team. I could not relax or I would lose that privilege. I was also a disciplined player that is why I managed to do well.
What was the highest achievement you had with the Zebras?
Being selected for the national team was on its own was a big achievement. Putting on the national colours was the biggest achievement.
Have you never had a dream to play abroad? What prevented you from attaining that?
Obviously the dream was there and it was unfortunate that I did not achieve that. The problem was things were different back then. For example during that time there was no enough exposure for players as there was less media coverage compared to today. There were also no agents and managers who could market the players abroad.
During your days which striker always gave you problems?
I played 90% of my career as a striker so I knew all the tricks of a striker. As a result I had no problems when I was a defender because I could easily contain a player since I knew their tricks. No striker game me problems at all.
Currently the beMOBILE premier league is dominated by foreign strikers, why do you think this is the case?
I think this is because of benchmarking from other countries. It is evident that the leagues that we watch are also dominated by foreign strikers. As a result local teams go for foreign players to come and help them win the league, by so doing these strikers are given more priority than the locals and they end up overshadowing them. It then looks like foreigners are better than the locals while in most cases the locals are not given enough game time. This affects the country in the long run as it will show even at the national team. Coaches should use local players more to build them for the national team.
Looking back on football during your days and now what significant changes have the football fraternity seen to this point?
There is a lot of difference indeed. First of all there is more sport coverage and players stand a better chance to be marketed. There are more rewards; players are now employed to play football. Even though not enough, there are improved structures than back then. All these have a push on young players to engage in football. Parents have also got a change of mind towards football and lost the stereotype that it is a dangerous sport which made them to prevent their children to play. Football is growing every time, today clubs are now moving to become professional and run their business better.
Botswana always finds it difficult to compete at high level competitions, for example only qualified once for the AFCON; and is not doing well in CAF competitions. What do you think is the reason for this and what should be done to correct this?
We are frankly still far away from competing successfully with nations around us. First of all we are not yet running a professional league. Players are still working and playing soccer at the same time this means their attention is divided between the two. The other thing is that management of the teams also work on a voluntary basis. This arrangement means that the administrators have divided attention; somehow this is affecting the final product of the teams. For us to go somewhere in football we should have professionally run entities with fulltime management. Some teams are going there but others are struggling, teams should work together to help each other to become professional because at the end we are fighting to grow football in Botswana.
The issue about having foreign coaches in Botswana has always been in the public discourse with some people saying there are equally capable local coaches who can do this job. What is your opinion regarding this?
To be honest we need these coaches to learn from them but as much as we need them they should not overshadow local coaches. They have to work together to improve local football. The problem is football administrators do not give local coaches the support they are giving the foreigners. I urge the administrators to support local coaches as they are the ones who work on the development of players while foreigners only concentrate on the results.
Looking at football developmental structures that are in place locally, are they really effective enough to grow local football?
A lot still needs to be done regarding this. Development is not just by the word of mouth but needs a lot of work. First of all we keep on talking about development but there are no enough playing grounds. Where are we developing these players if there are no grounds? This may seem to be a little thing but it is a big thing. For development to be successful there should be enough resources and equipment and players should go through all the development processes. At times you will find a player at the national team without having passed through other stages. He will perform yes but at some point he will have problems as he will be lacking something. Not everyone can coach young players; kids must have qualified coaches to develop them. If they are taught wrongly from the start, that is what they will keep growing up. The other thing, there should be continuity when it comes to development.
As a soccer analyst you have seen a lot of football locally. Looking at the players that the country has at the moment, what can you say about their quality?
We have very good players with a lot of talent in Botswana. Look at the players we sent to South Africa in the likes of Mogogi Gabonamong, Tsotso Ngele and the others. There are others also like Segolame Boy who is promising to develop into star player. If only there was good infrastructure and adequate resources this country will be blossoming. I urge teams to have their own playing grounds to avoid training at unsuitable fields.
Is the direction local football is taking for the better or worse? Highlight the most desired and urgent interventions that need to be taken to develop football locally.
A lot of mistakes have been made in the past and I have taken them as an eye-opener for us. There have been a lot of fights between teams, especially during the transfer period. These fights show us that set up is still lacking locally. We should be focusing on what can improve the local football and deal away with little things that can destroy it. The administration should start to perform their work diligently and focus on improving the state of local football. The teams should also come together and help each other on turning professional. They can be rivals in the pitch but off the pitch they must come together to help the cause of football development.
Besides being a soccer analyst, is there anything you are doing that is football related?
I am the founding president of Footballer’s Union of Botswana. I am also involved in developing young players in Block 9. Football is my life; I do a lot of volunteering in footballing activities in Botswana.
What advice would you give to players of this era? How should they conduct themselves in order to succeed in their footballing careers?
I always tell young players that football and discipline are close friends. If you are disciplined you can go far in soccer and supporters will always love you. The other thing is commitment. If you are committed to what you do you will have the working drive to fulfil your objectives. The young players also should learn to remember where they are coming from even when they start to make lots of money. The biggest advice is for them to save and invest because football is a very short career. There are a lot of players who at this point do not have anything to show after their successful footballing careers and investing can avoid this humiliation.