Michelle Abueng: Botswana’s Youngest Export
Michelle Abueng grew up in an extended family with her grandmother. Selibe Phikwe was known as a footballing town back then, but Abueng was too young to be amongst the real footballers.
“We stayed in a ward called ‘Distance’. I am told it basically meant a distance away from the shopping mall. It happened that the boys in our family and hood loved football, so I became part of the squad every now and then. Like any other local mother was not a big fan of a girl child amongst boys.” Abueng remembers. She still gives her grandmother credit for making her mother understand the importance of allowing my talent to shine all the way despite the gender barrier.
As things developed it happened that the traditional sport of football was the order of the day with Abueng. Ultimately two of her cousins also got in the addiction. The parents had no other option but to be supportive. With more children now showing love for the beautiful game it was easier to convince the family to let children be of independence and play football without being accused of neglecting their schoolwork.
“I think the hardest time was when I had some injury problems when I was 16 in 2017. I got hurt at training when we were preparing to face South Africa in the Under 17 World cup qualifiers first round; this was after we played against Zambia and I scored a haul and finished the game feeling the pain but didn’t want to be substituted as we badly wanted to qualify. I missed the first game against South Africa but played in the second leg unfortunately they knocked us out and went on to qualify for the World Cup. That injury never gave me any trouble after that, but our team doctors told me it was really bad and thought that was the end of my footballing career.” Abueng stated
“After that ordeal one of the best things that happened when I was very young was going from my local team to play for under -17 National team after close to only six months.. They were delighted that I had come from nowhere to play for a National team. Yasa FC spotted me when we played against Zambia in 2017 in the under 17 World Cup qualifiers unfortunately I could not join them because I was still a minor, and in 2019 they contacted Coach Tapaphiwa Gaebolae and the rest like they say is history”.
Being a student and a footballer is as challenging as any other profession. The footballer in her and the learner always collide in fight for attention. “In the morning on a daily basis I go to school then come for a quick rest before the evening football training session. I am used to that and doing it both. I’m currently doing grade 12 in Jarmy Christian Academy in Lusaka, Zambia.” Abueng explained juggling between being a pro-footballer and schooling.
Like most football players Abueng still remembers her full debut for senior National team in COSAFA 2019 where she scored the only goal in that game against Namibia. “What still excites me most is that we were still an under 20 team but played under the senior category. We went all out to even qualify for the semi finals as Botswana for the very first time even though we did not end with a gold medal as per our desire. The other one is when I scored against Namibia in the Preliminary stages of under 20 World cup qualifiers, I am the first player to score in all age groups of Botswana’s football national teams. I’ve had some great moments in my career as a player – tournaments, qualifiers. I won two titles in confederation of school sports Association of Southern Africa (COSSASA) ball games, was even the top goal scorer and also silver medallist in 2018 AUSC Region 5. I’ve had some great moments in every year of my career and I’m fond of many of them. Right now I think the ultimate focus is of qualifying for the Under 20 World cup. “Abueng boasts
Asked about how she managed to easily adapt in Zambia she revealed that is was not as bad as it could have been. “I am staying with another Motswana player Mokgabo here in Zambia; she made my stay and settle very easier as I knew I have my country woman then again Zambians are really friendly people. We always encourage each other mostly when one of us is not in the mood we also make sure that we bring out good results for both our teams here and our nation because they are expecting a lot from us as international players.” Abueng explained
Abueng stated that she wishes to be in Zambia for the next three years but if a great opportunity comes, she will consider it. “I really have dreams of playing in Europe for about five years then start my academy in Botswana. I like dreaming because it is only then that they can turn into reality.” Abueng shed light
“My coaches in Zambia are coach Mervis, coach Honest, coach Tafara and coach Ignatius who are also my parents, they encourage me to work extra hard and always remind me that I have a great future ahead of me and must seriously take football which I am doing. At National teams we have Coach Tapaphiwa Gaebolae who advises me a lot even when in Zambia we communicate a lot, Keitumetse Pio Paul the male under-20 coach is one of the best who really assisted us when we were preparing to face Namibia in the Under 20 world cup preliminary. Even now he continues to give me feedback after our training sessions and games I so love him even though people think that he is very arrogant. Jacqueline Gaobinelwe is our under 20 coach and not forgetting my former coach Katlego Snow who used to coach at Big Sisters when I was still playing there.” Abueng revealed
“Playing in Zambia and being young comes with a lot of pressure of its own why because every time I am called for a national duty many people back at home are expecting a lot from me. Then again my team will change my trainings they are always looking on me so I have to work hard during trainings endure the pain during training so that during the game it can be easy for me and bring out good results.” She explained
“The reason why I score lots of goals is that every time during the game I always remember what my father told me that ‘when you are a striker your duty is to bang lots of goals and whenever I’m by the penalty ark and the 18 yard you must be selfish whenever you have the ball and my effort which I put during my trainings is the one which makes me to score more goals.”
“I used to be scared when we played against older players but since I came to play in Zambia It’s not even scary. Botswana women’s football is really growing in leaps and bounds and we will be the first team to qualify for the World Cup because we have a strong, committed team and we are willing to see ourselves in the world cup and mark my words we are going to do that.” Abueng concluded.