In football there exists a model that suggests that club form leads to national team selection, despite that, three Zebras players have reversed that notion by overcoming club struggles in order to succeed at national level.
Jerome Ramatlhakwana 2010/2011
The first Zebras player to shine at national level while undergoing club struggles was Jerome Ramatlhakwana from 2010 to 2011. He struggled to nail down a place in one club due to transfer disputes, as he switched from South Africa’s Engen Santos to Vasco Da Gama. The striker was sidelined at club level for 18 months as Santos played ‘hard ball’ by delaying his move to Vasco.
During that period, Ramatlhakwana displayed his best ever form for the national team. He scored five goals in eight AFCON 2012 Qualifiers to lead the Zebras to their first ever AFCON appearance. His goals came against Tunisia (2), Malawi, Togo and Chad.
He accounted for 63 percent of the national side’s goals during his hot streak, the performances even resulted in a nomination for the 2011 CAF Player of the Year award, becoming the first Motswana player to earn that honour. Ramatlhakwana also scored a brace against Zimbabwe in an international friendly during his club football exile, in total he scored seven goals in nine games during that period.
In many ways he dispelled the notion that club form was the only key to national team recognition, his form despite going through club frustrations served as an inspiration to his fellow professionals.
Kabelo Dambe 2012/2013
The Zebras goalkeeper began life at Platinum Stars as a back up option behind Siyabonga Mpontshane. He was rarely involved during the first half of the 2012/2013 season but that did not deter him from producing impressive performances for the national team.
Zebras’ first choice stopper made crucial saves in Botswana’s 3-2 win over Central African Republic in a 2014 World Cup qualifying match, he was powerless to prevent South Africa from recording a 4-1 victory over Botswana but he made numerous top class saves to prevent them from embarrassing the Zebras further.
His national team form reminded Stars’ technical staff of his abilities, he was later promoted to a first team role during the second half of the season. Dambe also played in five of the club’s last six games of the season.
Mogakolodi Ngele 2015/2016
Ngele’s brace against Eritrea last week means that he is the latest player to follow the steps of the above mentioned players. The forward is yet to win a place in the Mamelodi Sundowns first team picture, he has been involved in only three matches so far.
Work permit issues had delayed his debut for the club but the form of his fellow forwards has also seen him get limited chances.
Despite the club struggles, Ngele served the Francistown Sports Complex with a virtuoso performance as he scored twice in a 3-1 win over Eritrea to confirm Zebras’ passage to the next round of the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers.
Prior to his heroics against Eritrea, Ngele also made an impressive performance against Burkina Faso as he helped Botswana preserve their 1-0 lead with his tireless efforts. He is not renowned for his work rate but exceeded expectations as he provided a link between midfield and attack.