He might be slowly drifting away from most soccer fans’ minds, but at his peak, he was a menace even to the meanest of defences with his piercing runs, close ball control and trickery. Sekhana ‘Nandos’ Koko’s flying runs saw him play for the country’s top two teams and has made a telling contribution to the beautiful game, writes, MQONDISI DUBE
Koko has a deceiving demeanour, unassuming off the pitch, but a slippery customer on it with some fine dribbling skills and penetrating runs.
Growing up in Molepolole, Koko’s football career took a life changing turn when he had a smashing game for his school team, Kgari Sechele, and he was swiftly whisked from his home village team, Molepolole Stone Breakers to join Uniao Flamengo Desportos under Sexton Kowa.
“After watching me in that game against Naledi, Kowa approached my family and I moved to Desportos. Kowa really introduced and exposed me to football’s higher levels,” Koko recalls.
The team was later to merge with Gabane Santos to form Uniao Flamengo Santos, and Koko was instrumental in the team’s promotion. However, it did not work out in their debut season as they were relegated back to the First Division, but a laudable project with a number of young players, Santos were soon back in the Premier League the following season.
Koko did not last long as Township Rollers came knocking in 2006 and snatched him.
His ability to run with the ball firmly under control at an incredible pace and still, intricately weave past defenders caught the Rollers technical bench’s eye, with Madinda Ndlovu in charge.
“Madinda was the coach then and it seemed they had kept an eye since my time in the First Division,” Koko says. And it was not long before Rollers fans were dancing to Koko’s rhythm as he announced his arrival on the big stage.
While on the blue side of the capital, across town Mochudi Centre Chiefs were putting together final pieces to an all conquering side, which swept the title unbeaten in 2008. The lure was too much to resist and the Chicken crossed the road.
“I wanted growth in all aspects; player status and monetary. Chiefs were doing very well then and joining them would challenge a player to up his game and make the first 11,” Koko says.
It was at Chiefs where he had a devastating impact, alongside fan favourite, Dirang Moloi. In one of the season’s best games, Chiefs beat Notwane 5-2 in the Coca-Cola Cup in 2009, with the twin threat of Moloi and Koko shredding the Notwane rear back to shreds.
Koko was such a marvel to watch with his close dribbling and mazy runs, which had the Toronto defence in sixes and sevens.
After a successful two season spell at Chiefs, Koko headed home to Rollers where he continued to flourish, and was crowned the Players’ Player and Supporters’ Player of the Year in 2011.
“Going back to Rollers was merely based on the love for the club. The Rollers offer was way below what Chiefs offered,” he says.
He also earned his call-up to the national team,
But there was a heartbreak ahead when the AFCON squad was named. Before a group of sports journalists at the Gaborone Sun (now Avani) Zebras coach, Stanley Tshosane stunned the nation when he omitted Koko from his travelling squad. When winger, Joel Mogorosi was injured and forced to fly back home, most thought Koko was the obvious choice, but no, Tshosane had other ways and instead, drafted in Abednico Powell.
Koko was devastated.
“That was the lowest point. It was just so unbelievable, but I think people had issues with me. I am okay and have let it go. It is difficult to tell you how my relationship with Tshosane was, as I thought everything was okay, but I was surprised in the end.
“May be he had to do his job and realised that I would not help in the tournament. I had no problem with him though. Even now he calls and checks how I am doing with my injury, so I take it we are okay,” Koko says.
Post the AFCON heartache, Koko continued with his duties at Rollers, until 2016, when he had to part ways with the club. Again, it was not a pleasant experience.
“Look, I am hurt how things turned out at Rollers. When I was elevated into player-coach, my benefits were actually reduced. For the love of the club I agreed, although one would have expected an increase since responsibilities had doubled. When my contract ended, I was told that my services as a player were no longer needed, and therefore I should join the coaching staff. I had no coaching badges, so I felt it was best to remain as a player-coach.
But the offer for extension was way too low. It was below half of what I used to get.
“I pleaded to at least get the same amount, but unfortunately my reasons were not considered. Sadly, I had to leave Rollers.”
Koko then moved to Jwaneng Galaxy, but a nasty injury put paid his hopes of reviving his career and he has been sidelined since.
But he is looking forward to returning to the field next season, and the 34-year-old said there have been enquiries for his services.
However, whatever the future holds, Koko has done enough to leave a mark that cannot be erased. His career has thus far, yielded four league titles, two Mascom Top 8 honours and over 20 Zebras caps.