Mochudi Centre Chiefs’ 7-0 drubbing at the hands of African giants, TP Mazembe in CAF Champions League in 2013, birthed a surprise flow of local talent exported to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
It sparked a rare switch as Jerome Ramatlhakwana, Phenyo Mongala and Dirang Moloi penned enormous five deals with relatively unknown Don Bosco in 2013.
The trio were not new to playing abroad but had to test waters in the jungles of the largest sub-Saharan country, where civil wars have raged.
A six-figure annual pay was enough to convince Ramatlhakwana, Mongala, Moloi to pack their bags and board a plane destined for the DRC whilst bosses at Magosi cashed in handsomely.
However, the local boys had to wait a while longer to make their debut and performed well when handed the opportunity.
Furthermore, they found it difficult to adjust to life in the DRC.
Reports came in from the mineral rich nation that they had to share a house while they failed to open bank accounts and had to keep their fat pay cheques under the pillow. Playing minutes became harder to come by and 12 months in to their 60-month deals, they decided their time in Congo was up.
After a couple of loan moves back to Chiefs, the trio finally broke free in 2017. A year earlier, then youngster Onkabetse Makgantai took an old move and signed for AS Vita. He like his seniors failed to cement a place in the starting line-up and came back home to Orapa United.
The quartet has failed where a number of African players have strived and left with handsome cheques.
“Things started off well, we started in the hotel for three months. You know how hotels are, the services were good with we no complaints. Things got bad when we moved to our (rented) house, the worst part was the electricity and water, and we could go for days without those,” Ramatlhakwana reminisced. “The language also, the culture and almost everything else was different. We resorted to Zambian food since we were leaving near the Zambian border. You really cannot do anything else, you just go to training and come back home.”
The Big Animal had to wait three months to make his debut and notched three goals in 15 outings in front of zealous crowds.
“You would enjoy the match days, the people that side live for football. They are very passionate they fill up the stadium. There is nothing but football,” he said.
As time went by, the environment became very hostile and Ramatlhakwana and his entourage left on a P30, 000 monthly pay for a loan moves to Chiefs.
“The money was good, very good. We were paid P30, 000 per month with an increase of 5% per season, but you cannot enjoy it in that sort of environment.”
Despite just spending a season in Congo, the former Zebras marksman recommended local youngsters to the Western African country. “Firstly, the money is good, those teams pay very well. Secondly, the type of football prepared you for Europe. They are very direct, the way the Europeans play, so I say it is a good place to try book your ticket to Europe as a youngster. You need to be brave and take a risk you have to experience that. Even if you come back home, you will come back a better player,” he said.
Television and radio football pundit, Baboloki Mokete shares the same sentiments as Ramatlhakwana.
“The league, I think is ranked within the top 10 in Africa. That says a lot that it might be a very good league for our players to go and ply their trade there. The national team is also doing very well in AFCON, even the teams are performing well in the Champions League,” Mokete said.
“Teams there keep getting some of the best players in Africa and produce quality players. It would be a very good destination for our players only if the conditions there can be rectified. The league lies in the top 10 so it must be a very competitive league and could be a good destination for our players.”
The Botswana Television and Yarona FM analyst opines there has been a decline in the production of quality players in the country and advises that northern African leagues should be the target for local players.
“It was a welcome move for them to go and play in that league. We know there is no stability around the politics and there was nothing to write home about. But in terms of the football, we know TP Mazembe and Don Bosco, though they are not a successful side. So the acquisition of our players was a good one,” Mokete said.
“We declined in producing quality players to go and play abroad for a long time. We need to pull our socks in terms of producing quality players to play abroad. There are many leagues, we cannot keep on sending players to South Africa, remember (Modiri) Marumo went to Egypt. There is also Tunisia and Algeria, but it is difficult for them to scout our players because our teams are not doing well in Africa, even the Zebras are not performing well,” he added.