Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Morena Ramoreboli: Jwaneng Galaxy are ready for CAF Champions League

Posted on 11 February 2022 by Alasdair Howorth
Coach Morena Ramoreboli

Months after being out of a job, Morena Ramoreboli is leading Jwaneng Galaxy to the highest point in the club’s history.

Speaking to the Sports Gazette from his hotel in Tunis on the verge of their CAF Champions League debut, the South African coach is feeling confident. Even 24 hours of travelling from Jwaneng to Joburg, onto Tunis, via Doha will not dampen his spirits.

The side from a mining town in rural Botswana has a baptism of fire on Saturday as they take on Espérance Sportive de Tunis, one of the most decorated sides in African football history.

Ramoreboli’s technical team

Jwaneng Galaxy were founded just seven years ago but have rapidly risen to the top of the Botswanan football pyramid. The side, that was created by the amalgamation of Jwaneng Comets and Debswana Youngsters, came second behind traditional giants Township Rollers three seasons in a row from 2017-2019.

In 2020, with a stroke of luck, they did one better. Just over halfway into the 2020 season, StarBoys were top of the table, one point ahead of both Rollers and Orapa United, when the league was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The league never resumed, and  Jwaneng were declared winners.

The club was unable to celebrate because of the pandemic, and would not play again for 18 months. All football in Botswana was cancelled for the 2020-2021 season. Because of recent CAF regulations, head coach Boyo Radipotsane would not be able to take charge of the 2021-2022, as he did not have a CAF licence (CAF coaching courses have only been introduced in the last few years and not yet completed in Botswana).

Ramoreboli was brought in on a temporary contract with one goal, to qualify for the CAF Champions League at the team’s first attempt having not played football in 18 months. Having narrowly dispatched CAR side DFC8, the team faced Simba SC, one of the giants of African football who last season beat Al Ahly in the group stage and beat Kaizer Chiefs 3-0 in the knockouts (losing 4-3 on aggregate.)

Galaxy lost the first game at home 2-0 and the tie was seemingly over. When the side went into half time in the return leg 1-0 down, all seemed lost. But after scoring a sucker punch goal just after kick off and two set piece goals, the team stunned the Tanzanians and Africa to come away with an away goals victory.

It was at this point that Ramoreboli first sent shockwaves across the continent. But what struck viewers more than the match, was his post-match press conference. A measured Ramoreboli went into detail on the Botswanans’ preparation and analysis that his technical team carried out, with a focus on hurting Simba at set-pieces.

Ramoreboli and his technical team on route to Tunis (image courtesy of Jwaneng Galaxy Facebook).

This is Ramoreboli’s defining trait. He is meticulous in his preparation and obsessed with improvement, both in himself and his team.

He is also not afraid to take a different path. The South African has been an assistant at Premier Soccer League side Bloemfontein Celtic, but spent most of his time as a head coach in the lower leagues of South African football.

Having struggled to get work higher up in the South African pyramid, in 2019 he tried his luck abroad. He took a big pay cut and moved across the border to Lioli FC of Lesotho. The biggest risk of his career, but one that paid off.

“To be honest, going to work in Lesotho was a blessing in disguise. I learned so many things in Lesotho. I learned how players behave. So when I came to Botswana is easy for me to learn as quickly as possible,” he told the Sports Gazette.

After his spell in Lesotho he returned to South Africa to join the technical team of the U-17 national side. He would work with the juniors until July 2021. For the 2021 Confederation of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) Cup, Ramoreboli joined the South Africa senior team as an assistant to Helman Mkhalele.

But in the knockout stage Mkhalele contracted COVID, so it was Ramoreboli who led the side to their first COSAFA Cup title since 2016.

Off the back of the cup win, the South African trainer was picked up by Jwaneng on a three month contract, which thanks to his exploits against Simba, has been extended to a longer-term deal.

Ramoreboli credits much of his success to his time in Lesotho. Despite not winning any silverware, he reflects on the importance of moving abroad and pushing oneself out of their comfort zone. He is an advocate for South African coaches trying to travel to new countries to hone their craft, citing Pitso Mosimane (now at Al Ahly) as the best example.

“Go and learn how other people are doing things. And learn how you as a coach are going to adapt to a new environment. Your profile is built on experience and the mileage you get as a coach. For me I had to take a financial knock by going to Lesotho, but I said to myself, let me go and learn what I can about Basotho and it will make me a better person.”

Most Jwaneng players have never played outside Botswana (image courtesy of Jwaneng Galaxy Facebook)

Ramoreboli’s passion for the beautiful game is infectious, but so are his ambitions. Despite coming into the Champions League in a difficult group with three North African giants, he is bullish about his team’s chances. On the game on Saturday against Esperance he said, “We’ve seen their strengths and weaknesses and we know what to expect.”

Ramoreboli, and the team are relishing the chance to compete with the best of Africa. For a team like Jwaneng, a continental cup run has a far wider reaching significance. They are not just representing Jwaneng in Tunis, but they are representing an entire nation on the African stage.