In short he was the perfect number 10.
It was a talent that had been obvious from an early age. From four years old Maipato was running around Pitso Ground and by the age of 15 clubs not just in
were scrambling for his signature. Lesotho
Then, in 2003 aged just 16 “
” – as he became known – signed for South African giants Orlando Pirates, choosing them over Jomo Cosmos. However after years in the doldrums he is back in Chico with Bantu and back at square one. Lesotho
But somehow Maipato is not bitter, nor is he broken. Though he does admit to the waste of the last three years Chico is determined to re-find the form that once earned him a dream move to Pirates. Maipato, still only 23, has featured in each of Bantu’s six league games this season. The Mafeteng side are eighth in the Premier League – a stable start to their elite league return after four years away.
“I left when I was very young,” Maipato says. “This is the first time that I play in
’s premier league and I have seen that Bantu is a team that has a huge a crowd and quite a lot of pressure. Personally when I rate my performance I can’t say it’s been good or bad,” Maipato says of his displays so far. After a brief pause he adds: “I spent two and a half years not playing football. I had left it. Even though people don’t know, I was already not training (at Pirates) – I was going to the field (only) when I wanted. Because of things that had happened I didn’t have an interest in football anymore.” Lesotho
It is in that statement one gets an indication of Maipato’s experience at Pirates, a time that almost destroyed his love of football.
And it had started so well.
Within three months of joining Pirates Maipato was the captain of the under-17 team. By the end of the year his team had won their age group’s league crown as well as two cups. His inspired performances led to his promotion to Pirates’ under-19 side in 2004, which he captained to the under-19 championship.
The end of 2004 then saw Maipato win Pirates’ under-19 player of the season award.
The progress continued in 2005 when Maipato was promoted to Yebo Yes United – the Pirates reserve side which competes in the Vodacom League, South Africa’s third division – after leading his side to the Supersport Under-19 Cup.
Maipato was to then become a vital part of Yebo Yes’ Vodacom League victories in 2005 and 2006.
But progression to the Pirates first team never came.
“It’s one of those things that will surprise you in football. Pirates are a big team, I still love them to this day, (but) there are things which happened that I cannot understand. Still, according to what I achieved I expected something different,” Maipato says. “I performed well, I did my best. In 2004 I took the best player of the season award and as a foreigner it’s not easy to get that award.” he continues.
“I was promoted to the reserve side in 2005 (but) until this year I had been in the reserves. I can’t say I know what happened. Sometimes I think maybe it was because I was a foreigner, but even so, according to how I performed I don’t think that would be a reason,” Maipato says.
But in 2007 being a foreigner did affect Maipato. It was then that non South African citizens were barred from participating in the Vodacom League therefore depriving Maipato of any competitive football. Unable to play and with other South African sides interested Maipato longed for a move. But Pirates refused and he became disillusioned.
“There was nothing I could do; I was supposed to play football. Unfortunately Pirates didn’t want to let me go,” he recalls. “I don’t know what happens behind the doors. When you are a football player you are a helpless because if another club wants you they go to management. They will write to your club and not to you,” he says.
“I was still young at the time there was no way I could talk to teams. Maybe it would have helped if I had someone who managed me,” Maipato continues.
“When I came home it was because I was tired of waiting for something that wasn’t there,” he says. “(The) coaches there had said that by 2006 I would be promoted to the first team but I don’t know what happened. It was painful to see players that I played with get promoted while I was stuck in the reserves,” Maipato says.
Tlou Segolela, Excellent Walaza, Senzo Meyiwa, Lindokuhle Mkhwanazi, and Kelebogile Mabe, all teammates at Yebo Yes, progressed to Pirates’ first team while another colleague in the reserve side, Thulasizwe Khuzwayo, is now at Golden Arrows.
“Yes, the last three years I spent there have been wasted,” he admits. “I was there, I didn’t like football and I wasn’t playing.”
“Football needs luck at times,” he adds. “Sometimes if you don’t have luck you won’t succeed, no matter how good you are. I guess I shouldn’t have given up but I was tired,” Maipato says.
“I was feeling that I’m one of the bad luck guys,” he says with a tone of disappointment.
Maipato was born in 1986 on March 9 in Sea Point,
Growing up in this tough neighbourhood luck was never an excuse not to play football. It was the only way to stay out of trouble. The eldest of three children, Maipato grew up in a Matlama family. Football was in his blood.
“I began going to Pitso Ground when I was four. I went there everyday, playing barefoot all day,” Maipato smiles.
At Pitso Ground – a stone’s throw away from his home – he played for Matlama’s youth sides until they were disbanded in 1998. “I wanted to play for Matlama (but) when their youth team stopped playing I even went to Arsenal,” he says.
Maipato’s talent had slipped through Matlama’s fingers and when Bishop Molatoli formed Likhopo in 1999 Maipato was the first recruit – his prized asset. It was in fact Maipato who recruited many of the players, most his street football buddies, that would form Likhopo.
Playing with a refreshing swagger Likhopo effortlessly won promotion from the B-Division in 2000/01 and then followed it up by winning the A-Division the next year.
But before Likhopo joined the Premier League’s ranks Maipato, Neo Makama and his close friend Katleho Moleko joined Pirates.
“Likhopo were unstoppable, it was an amazing team. People would come to watch us play,” he says. “To show how strong Likhopo were, when Katleho, Neo and I left for Pirates there was no real difference. They went on to win the league for two years. If we had stayed and we were joined by Moses (Ramafole) and (Motlatsi) Shale and Tsepo Hlojeng I’m sure we would have won the league for five years,” he says. “I’m sure Bishop remembers that team, that Likhopo was one of the best.”
It was at Likhopo that Maipato was turned from an unpredictable fun-loving dribbler into a goal-scoring playmaker by Molatoli.
“I can say that Bishop raised me,” Maipato says. “He is one of the best coaches I’ve had. But it’s not just me; he has produced a lot of players. At the time our junior national teams were good because they were filled with Likhopo players.”
It was in those junior sides that Maipato particularly excelled. He represented
from under-14 level through to the under-23s. Lesotho
His finest moment was in 2004 when Maipato was part of the Lesotho national under-20 team which qualified for the 2005 CAF African Youth Championship in Benin – a side that would go within 90 minutes of qualifying for the 2005 FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
“Qualifying for that tournament was very hard; it’s not every country that gets there.
South Africa got there after 10 years,” Maipato says in reference to ’s only two appearances at the championships, in 1997 and this year. South Africa
The 2005 Makoanyane XI side was only Lesotho’s first team to qualify for a major international tournament.
No side has done so since.
Maipato’s teammates included Moleko, Makama, Bokang Mothoana, Ralekoti Mokhahlane, Thabo Masualle, Dlomo Monapathi, Liteboho Mokhesi, and Lieta Lehloka amongst others. The eight-team tournament, eventually won by
, was divided into two groups of four. The top two nations in each pool would qualify for the 2005 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Nigeria . Holland
After losing 2-0 to
Morocco in their opening game, Lesotho then beat 2-1. But in the decider for the group’s second place Angola Lesotho lost 4-1 to . Egypt
“The winner between us and
would qualify for the semi-finals. If we didn’t lose to that game we would have qualified for the World Cup in Holland,” Maipato recalls. “Those guys can run, and they are intelligent. When you face an opponent with that combination it is very tough. Egypt
“Football is not easy,” he adds with a sigh, “Out of 54 African countries just imagine what it means when you are in the top eight. Every team there was strong.”
Then in July 2007
Lesotho, with the same group of players, reached the semi-finals of the now extinct SASOL Eight Nations Under-23 tournament in South Africa before losing to . Cameroon
2007 is according to Maipato the last time he was at his best.
“What I liked is that we could compete with sides from Southern and
Northern Africa. We beat sides like Ivory Coast, Egypt and we dominated against (at the SASOL tournament). We were feared by players who were already professionals,” Maipato says. “The Cameroon game was revenge. That pain we had in Egypt went away,” he adds jokingly. Benin
It is unsurprising, considering the talent in that group of players, that Maipato regards it as a lost generation. Only Mothoana and Masualle have become Likuena regulars.
“Maybe it is this country that doesn’t have luck, I don’t know,” he says. “I think Likuena could have been built from there. It was a strong team. If you look at the strongest national teams in the world it is mostly players that have gone through their youth teams. Not all players make it but most of them.”
“We have a lot of players with talent in
Lesotho, its not just Lefty (Bokang Mothoana), , Bushy (Moletsane) or Scalo (Sello 'Muso) that know how to play football,” he says. Chico
But Maipato does see improvement in
’s top-flight. Lesotho
“When I left
(in 2003) the football was dead, it wasn’t like in 1994, 95, 96 or 97. At that time you knew when you went to Qacha there was Liphakoe, a strong team. In Mohale’s Hoek there was Majantja,” he says. “It is only now that I see that life is coming back, step by step. You can see that through Vodacom and MGC (Matekane Group of Companies) sponsoring and trying to grow football. You can see at the grounds that people are coming back. Teams like Bantu and Lioli are trying,” he says. Lesotho
Still, a lot still needs to be done before
Lesotho can even think of comparing itself with . South Africa
“We can’t even put ourselves on the scale. Here at home there are no grounds. In
you are used to playing on grass. In South Africa you can’t see the true quality of a player. At least if we had five good fields. The only ground that is better is LCS’s (Central Prison),” Maipato says. “Administration also needs to improve. It will take a long time.” Lesotho
On a personal level the season has started well with Maipato showing flashes of his class including a spell-binding free-kick goal in Bantu’s 3-1 win over Butha-Buthe Roses in the side’s first game of the season. “When I came home I just wanted to come cool my head. I wanted to take a break so I can go to school next year. But Bantu approached me and I agreed to play for them,” he says. “I would say there’s a lot of pressure especially for me because I’m well known from the past, so for me I think there is a bit extra pressure,” Maipato continues. “The six games that I have played so far I have not found them easy because every team I play their plan is to target Tefo Maipato.”
An example is a league game against LDF last month at Ratjomose. The game ended 0-0. LDF had a player sent off, after a crude tackle on Maipato, before the new Bantu number 10 was involved in an altercation with LDF’s captain Tumane Lethakha at the end of the game.
“If you noticed from the first minute I was being kicked in that game,” he says. “It’s not easy because there are players that will just try to take you out of the game. They will elbow you or swear at you. But when you are a footballer you cannot let those things get to you, especially if you want your team to win in the field,” Maipato says.
So what is next for Maipato?
“Next year no matter what I need to go to school, Bantu know this. I also want to get back to
and try my luck at football again,” he says. “It’s like I’m at the start because of the things that happened at Pirates,” Maipato says. “But it’s not too late. What has happened had happened I won’t have any regrets.” South Africa
But will Maipato ever be “
” again? Chico
“I think I can get back to that level. It is you as the player who tells yourself whether you want to return to that level or not. I know what I was doing when Pirates saw me. I worked hard, doing things like extra training,” Maipato says.
“Because I love football I still wish to see myself playing in the PSL (South Africa’s premier league) or Europe – even if it is for a few years. It won’t be the same (as achieving nothing). When I’ve left football I want to at least say that I turned professional. I don’t want to be ‘
Chico’ just by name, just as that young kid from Lesotho who played nice football; I want to see myself at ( captain Lehlohonolo) Seema’s level.” Lesotho
Maipato’s plans also include adding to his seven Likuena caps.
“I would still love to play for Likuena. But I have to be at my best level.
Lesotho has under achieved, we haven’t won one trophy and I would be proud to help win something,” he asserts. Lesotho
“One day I want to play for Matlama, I want to play for Pirates. They are teams I have always loved and that I’ve dreamt of playing for,” he adds briskly.
“Never say never in football.”
Indeed. The journey continues for Maipato.
This piece was originally written in October 2009. The Makoanyane XI crop of 2010/11 has emulated their peers from 2004 and will play in the Caf African Youth Championship later this month. Maipato himself is still starring at Bantu; and thanks to his goals, mostly from free-kicks, the Mafeteng side are fourth in the Vodacom Premier League and still in contention to win their first ever league title. The journey continues.