For the longest time, Morena Cuthbert Ramoreboli had to get used to the question: ‘Who the hell is he’?
Not that it bothered him. After all, the man from Botshabelo, the largest township in the Free State, has mastered the art of answering that cheeky question without even opening his mouth.
The first time he would have had to answer that patronising question was 24 February 2013. His distinct answer was an unforgettable 4-1 drubbing of a then high-riding Orlando Pirates side. He dumped them out of the Nedbank Cup.
The coaching enthusiast was in charge of little-known Vodacom League side Maluti FET College when he pulled off arguably the biggest upset in South African Cup football history.
Not only did his charges scrap off a win. They did it with style and panache. Everyone who watched that haunting tie will agree that Maluti fully deserved their victory and outplayed the Buccaneers. Captain Lucky Baloyi and Mashale Rantabane scored a brace apiece. Oupa Manyisa scored Pirates’ face-saver.
THE QUESTION WAS SOMEWHAT VINDICATED
The sweet memory of that emphatic victory didn’t stop fans from probing who he was when he was appointed to stand in as Bafana Bafana coach in July 2021. Granted, ‘resurfacing’ in the senior national team eight years after the demolition of the Buccaneers, the question was somewhat vindicated.
In any event, it was all by default that he found himself in the Bafana dugout. Fresh after his appointment on May 5, Belgian tactician Hugo Broos had returned home for his second jab while his local assistant Helman Mkhalele was ruled out of the tournament after testing positive for COVID-19. Ramoreboli was left in charge of the team, begging that question again. Starting with a depleted squad due to injuries and COVID-19 cases within the group, Bafana limped over the line to lift their fifth regional title after beating West African guest nation Senegal 5-4 on penalties after a goalless draw in the decider.
Straight after that triumph, Botswana side Jwaneng Galaxy came calling. They handed him a three-month contract to guide them in the Africa Safari. That short-term contract perhaps indicated that they never envisaged their journey in the Caf Champions League would reach the group stages.
Understandably, Batswana had asked the same question upon his appointment as a ‘consultant’ who would sit in the dugout as their coach during Caf games. Who is he? They asked.
UNMISTAKABLY ANSWERED THAT WIDELY HELD QUESTION
Against the odds, Galaxy, starved of competitive action for over 19 months due to COVID-19, qualified for the first round of the Champions League after a 2-1 aggregate win over Central African Republic giants Diplomat FC.
His next assignment was against Tanzanian giants Simba SC. The Reds from Kariakoo Ward went to Gaborone and got a comfortable 2-0 away win.
Wekundu wa Msimbazi then took the lead in Dar es Salaam in front of a boisterous crowd at their fortress, Benjamin Mkapa, when Larry Bwalya, now at Sekhukhune United, drilled home from close range in the 41st minute. But, the 43-year-old Ramoreboli was about to unmistakably answer that widely held question. His charges struck thrice in unstoppable mode in the second half to draw level at 3-3 on aggregate. The result meant, for the first time, the mining outfit qualified for the group stages of the prestigious tournament.
“Morena Ramoreboli!!!!! The coach who won the Cosafa Cup for Bafana Bafana in July ,” wrote prominent football journalist Velile Mnyandu on a WhatsApp group with 249 journalists from across the continent straight after the final whistle. It was as though he was answering that notorious question on behalf of the modest coach.
Ramoreboli had done the unthinkable 3965 km from his kasi Botshabelo, located 45 km east of Bloemfontein.
Perhaps that was his lurid answer to those questioning who he was back in Jwaneng, home to the richest diamond mine in the world.
HOW MORENA RAMOREBOLI’S COACHING JOURNEY BEGAN?
Two years later, Ramoreboli is still in charge of the ambitious side. In the 2022/23 season, he piped giants Gaborone United to the Botswana Premier League title.
On 29 September 2023, he was back to haunt the Bucs, booting them out of the CAF Champions League after the dreaded penalty shootout at Orlando Stadium. Again, he guided them into the group stages of the prestigious competition.
Growing up in Botshabelo, a large township set up in 1979 by the then apartheid government, the youngest of the Ramoreboli boys would often follow his brothers to go and play football in neighbouring settlements. It all started around the age of nine.
“At first, my late brother would ask me why I followed him, and I’d tell him I overheard him saying he was going to play football,” Ramoreboli tells FARPost.
Interestingly, what caught his young eye at the time was not necessarily the boys exhibiting their nifty skills. He would move closer during halftime to snoop on the team talk. He recalls a coach drawing a soccer pitch on the soil as he dished out instructions. That left him spellbound.
Of course, like any other boy, left-footed Ramoreboli would still play as a striker at Tsoseletso High School and then form the defensive line with his two brothers for their township team.
In 1991, his family moved to Bloemfontein, and two years later, aged only 14, Ramoreboli and his older brother assembled a team of youngsters aged between nine and 12.
“My late brother, who was very close to Morena, used to coach us, and he encouraged him to assemble a team of youngsters. He was quite young when he started the team,” his elder brother, Lefa Ramoreboli, tells FARPost.
Whenever the youngest of the three Ramoreboli boys needed a few rands for money games, he would gift himself from Lefa’s wallet. It could be where he mastered the art of winning crucial games.
“While I was asleep, he would come and open my wallet, take money to go and play money games with his team. Sometimes, I’d be at work, and he would rock up to ask for cash-for-money games.”
Eight years later, after failing to win a promotion to the SAB League, the champ in him decided to let them go.
Bloemfontein Young Tigers swooped on most of those youngsters, leaving him pondering his next move.
“I was 22 then, and I had to decide whether to continue playing or focus on coaching. While I was busy pondering, Ntate [British] Khoarai asked me to come and coach his development side,” Ramoreboli, who did his introductory coaching course in 2003, recalls. That marked the beginning of a new chapter in Morena Ramoreboli’s career. Serious coaching had begun.
After a season of working with Kagisho Dikgacoi, he was promoted to the senior team. He is credited for converting Dikgacoi from a defender to a central midfielder, who went on to play for English sides Fulham and Crystal Palace.
Interestingly, Teboho Ramakoa, a fellow coach from the Free State, recalls how their boys would sometimes come to games seemingly exhausted on Saturdays. A determined Ramoreboli was eager to get to the bottom of the matter. His investigations exposed that the players would party all night on the night before a game.
ALL THE FIVE TAVERNS
“So, on a Friday night, he would go to all the [five] taverns in the neighbourhood, round up all the boys, and take them home,” Ramakoa tells FARPost.
His journey then took him to African Warriors, whom he found in seventh position, leading them to a first-place finish. With the help of Kaizer Chiefs coach Molefi Ntseki and Serame Letsoaka, who were brought in at his request, they won the National First Division promotion playoffs.
“I felt the stage was too big for me and wanted someone to learn from. So, I suggested that the club have me work with Coach Molefi. We worked together until he resigned in 2009,” he says.
Two years later, he took over at Maluti FET College, where he carved a niche for himself. “I had an opportunity to learn and grow at Maluti,” says Ramoreboli, who helped Maluti to NFD promotion in 2013.
His journey then took him to Bloemfontein Celtic, where he served as an assistant coach before guiding Lesotho side Lioli to a second-place finish behind Bantu FC during the 2018/19 season.
While assisting Vela Khumalo in the national team, they claimed the winner’s trophy at the Cosafa Qualifiers for Under 17 Afcon in 2020. South Africa was lifting the regional title in this age group for the first time since 2002.
“He’s a student of the game, so passionate about the game. He wants to learn and wants to grow. There’s not a single day without us talking football,” Khumalo tells FARPost.
Slowly but surely, Ramoreboli does not have to answer that prevalent question. Those who often beg for answers are getting to know what the man is about.
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