‘I believe in myself’
MorenaMorena RamoreboliRamoreboli isis justjust 4141 years old but with more than two decades of coaching experience in South African football. He is known for his passion for developing young talent, thrashing Orlando Pirates 4-1 in the Nedbank Cup with Maluti FET College and unearthing the likes of Kagisho Dikgacoi and Thembinkosi Lorch. But his career has suddenly reached remarkable new heights after he won the 2021 COSAFA Cup as caretaker Bafana Bafana head coach and helped Botswana champions Jwaneng Galaxy reach the CAF Champions League group stages. KICK OFF’s ’ Lorenz Köhler caught up with the eccentric tactician.
KICK OFF: Coach Morena, congratulations on your achievement of qualifying Jwaneng Galaxy to the CAF Champions League group stages. Firstly, where did it all start for you? Morena Ramoreboli:
I started following football when I was very young. We were five at home. I’m the fourth born, but we’re just two now with my one brother. The second-born brother of mine was a footballer, he loved it. I believe if he was still alive, he would have been one of the top coaches in South Africa. He was very intelligent, when you watched him, you could see he was not just playing. We discussed football a lot where we grew up in Botshabelo, a place in Bloemfontein. We lived in Section E, and he played for a team in Section B. As much as I also liked playing, I really enjoyed coaching.
Interesting, so you obviously started coaching at a very young age then?
We moved to Bloemfontein in 1991 and I started coaching in 1993. I started my own team for small boys, that was while I was still playing too. I was there until 2001, we graduated together, grew together as players and as a coach. I was still at school, playing club football but I would arrive early, sometimes even dodge school just to have a training session with the boys, who I was with until senior level when they turned around 17 and 18. I was about 20 or 21, meaning I started this team when I was 13. I eventually left because we couldn’t get promotion to the SAB League, so I allowed them to find clubs in the fourth division because they were dominating. I thought it wasn’t fair to hold them back. Bloemfontein Young Tigers took 80% of the team and eventually they came for me too, where I met players like Kagisho Dikgacoi. That’s how he started to grow. I met him there as a right-back and centreback, that’s when I converted him into a midfielder. I realised then that something special might happen in my [coaching] career. I could profile to a level that when some things started to go right, I would tell myself, I saw this happening in my head. With Kagisho, I thought it wouldn’t be fair with his body and height to play him as a centre-back, he’s going to be slow to be a point where he’s not going to play. Imagine Kagisho as a right-back? He would struggle! In the middle, he wasn’t going to cover that sort of distance, even when he got older. I knew he could still play in the midfield and the profiling was correct because he went on to play in England. So that’s how this coaching thing started and developed for me. That’s where I also did my introductory coaching course in 2003. I was already in the mix, coaching in the second division teams.
Except for Dikgacoi, which other talents came through your hands?
I coached Lehlohonolo Majoro at Tigers, Tshegofatso Mabasa in the Celtic development. I worked with players like Thembinkosi Lorch at Maluti, and Kabelo Dlamini and Neo Maema. All of this just from starting a team for kasi football.
“I KNEW HE COULD STILL PLAY IN THE MIDFIELD AND THE PROFILING WAS CORRECT BECAUSE HE WENT ON TO PLAY IN ENGLAND.”
How did you get roped in by SAFA that led towards you leading Bafana Bafana to the 2021 COSAFA Cup title?
The COVID-19 pandemic affected me in Lesotho and at Royal Eagles, but also, that time the owners [Sbu Mpisane and his ex-wife Shauwn Mkhize] were going through some personal issues which led to me resigning. But on the SAFA thing, I was contacted by Under-17 national team coach Vela [Khumalo]. I came in because the person who was supposed to do the analysis for the Under-17s was not available and it was getting late for Vela to prepare for the  COSAFA Under-17 Championships. He called me in as an analyst and assistant coach. We did a good job together and beat Zambia in the final. It’s true that all this happened by chance. I was COVID-19 positive in December 2020, I was coaching Mpumalanga United. I was really ill, and I remember praying that I would get back and get these sorts
of opportunities that I have received now. I feel God used COVID-19 to make me see a hospital ... it was the first time in my life I went to a hospital. The effects of the pandemic also led me towards leading the South Africa national team.
So the fact that you were in hospital meant things were quite bad? You were on a ventilator just a few months prior to stepping in for the unavailable Hugo Broos, Cedomir Janevski and Helman Mkhalele?
Yes, I was in a hospital bed. When it started, I brushed it off and told myself I would be fine, but it got worse and I was hospitalised for 10 days before I started my recovery at home. But I thank God for the recovery, I saw people die in front of me, with my own eyes. It told me if I wasn’t the one dying now, there’s a reason I am still here. When things like this happen, these good things, it makes me feel God had a plan for me to see there’s a better path for myself and my future. COVID made me realise you don’t own life; you can be gone any minute. People you were talking to yesterday, you get a call the next day they are no more. This makes you understand, while you still have life, do your best and respect the job you are given.
How much influence did you have on the team selection and tactical set-up during the COSAFA Cup?
To be honest, the team was there. But some players could not honour the call-ups, so we had to call some players like Victor Letsoalo, Lebo Maboe, Aya Konqobe, and Vusi Sibiya from Baroka. I called them in collaboration with the technical team, but I was tasked to make these decisions. I had to think of the players that would suit the type of football that we as a technical team decided we wanted to play in the tournament. When you bring in a Maboe it was about maturity, saying he’s experienced and can control the game, calm things down and think for us alongside the more inexperienced ones. Konqobe, for example, has a background in the junior national team, and other COSAFA tournaments. He knew the pressure, he could come in and just do the job. You look at Letsoalo, he had been doing well at Bloemfontein Celtic, scoring goals, he was just unfortunate that he never had an opportunity at senior national team level. The system allowed the players we called to play better and in natural positions. Thabani Dube, Rushine De Reuck and Njabulo Ngcobo were some of the quality options we had in the three-man defence, the wingbacks Nyiko Mobbie and Sifiso Ngobeni were excellent breakout talents too. This was due to the profiling. They suit the type of football Bafana Bafana wants to play now. We also knew South Africa doesn’t have many tall players, so the back-three idea came from me to strengthen us at the back and hide our weaknesses with a lack of height. We had at least three players who could compete aerially in the box and that allowed us to have the shorter more technical players elsewhere on the pitch. That’s how we managed to win the trophy.
From where you came from, kasi football; how much did that mean to you to win the COSAFA Cup for your country?
You won’t believe the scenes at home after the final. The community where I live, they came together, they were so happy at my mom’s place. It was a big thing. I think I need to say, I’ve been very patient for what is happening right now. It’s been up and down, First Division job, then being without job here and there. But it’s a process that
I’m still learning, I’m hustling. That’s how we grow, and the biggest mistake some people make is that many coaches don’t want to go through this process, we don’t want to go through the process where things become hard. We want easy stuff and maybe turn to other careers, or maybe become agents rather. Many of us are worried about immediate success and do not understand that we need to be patient and that there’s a queue in front of you. While you are in the queue, there’s moments where you will fall down. But you need to stand up, dust yourself and keep pushing. To be where I am today, it was not easy. I sat down and asked myself at times, as good as I know I am, as hard as I work, what’s going wrong? But I told myself it’s part of the process until I get what I want. Also, what’s been great is that I married a woman that understands my dream in football. I’m in Botswana now and she’s taking care the family and everything at home while I’m this side fighting to make sure that I can grow in this coaching profession. She understands that, supports my dreams. I also have a mother and brother that prays and supports me unconditionally, you know my brother will cry when I lose a
“THEY SUIT THE TYPE OF FOOTBALL BAFANA BAFANA WANTS TO PLAY NOW.”
match. When your ‘why?’ is strong, your how becomes easy.
Any offers from SAFA after your heroics? If not, how did you end up at Jwaneng Galaxy?
Firstly, the Jwaneng thing was through Serame [Letsoaka], he’s rated very highly and respected in Botswana, and Galaxy were looking for coach because of the new CAF rule that coaches need a qualification requirement of an A License to sit on the bench. They needed someone who can come in for that. Serame put my name forward and said, ‘this is someone I know and worked with, and I know what he can do’. They approached me before COSAFA, we agreed in principle but I said let me focus on the tournament. We were in constant communication, sometimes very late night calls, but they showed they wanted me. After winning the COSAFA, I had to decide to I stay in South Africa with a local club or go to Botswana ... but I thought, ‘let me get this experience of continental football, let me take this opportunity to prepare me for the level I want to be at here at home’. A coach that competes in continental football. I need to know what is happening, how other countries operate in Africa. At SAFA, perhaps getting something permanent was not going to happen overnight. If they said, ‘Morena, come and work full-time in this position’, I would have loved that, I feel I owe it to my country. But I need a position where I know I can contribute positively and develop players with a winning mentality. I feel I did that a little but in the short space of time I worked with the group of players at COSAFA.
Simba’s home venue, the Benjamin Mkapa Stadium, is a fortress. What did you say to your team when you were losing 3-0 on aggregate at half-time of the second leg tie?
I remember when I was at Maluti and we beat Orlando Pirates 4-1. Big games need big attitude. When we played Pirates, I said we have three 15 minute stages in each half, let’s try to get a goal in the first 15 minutes. Let’s be defensive and organised in the second 15 minutes, because they will come at us, and in the last 15, we go for another goal. Against Pirates it happened that way, we got one early and late. We led 2-0 at half-time, the first 15 in the second half we defended again, got a goal, and last 15 we got another goal.
Against Simba, wow that was crazy, everyone in the streets even those outside the stadium were Simba fans. But we did the same, they scored two goals at our home ground and got one goal in the first half at the Mkapa, but now was our chance [to throw everything at them]. We scored in the first minute of the second half, two minutes later we got another. The first 15 minutes we already accomplished our target of scoring two goals in two quarters, now we had to go for the winner and we pushed it defensively for the last 15. When we got the 85th-minute goal, it was about shutting the back door. Credit to the squad, they were hungry, fearless and willing to die for the club.
What are your goals now after qualifying for the group stages? It’s only the second time this has happened for a team from Botswana after Township Rollers in 2018.
We have to set targets that are achievable, we are learning ... If it’s possible for us to reach the knockout stages, let it be. But the most important thing is whatever we do, we leave a mark. The boys need to make history and names for themselves, go out and deliver. Maybe in an arrogant way, we don’t care who we’re going to face, the most important thing is to go there and compete, and make sure we represent the country and club with respect.
“YOU WON’T BELIEVE THE SCENES AT HOME AFTER THE FINAL.”