Zebras’ striker Jerome Ramatlhwakane’s goals have been an important part of the Zebras qualification for the 2012 Orange Africa Cup of Nations. Nicknamed “The Animal” by local fans, the former Mochudi Centre Chiefs marksman, who now plies his trade at South African Premier League side Vasco da Gama, has struck the back of net 5 times and is joint leading scorer with Mali’s Mamadou Niang who plays for Turkish Club Fenerbache.
What makes Ramatlhakwane’s achievement special is that he did it without playing club football for close to two years. Ramatlhakwana signed for another South African club Santos in 2008 and signed for Vasco da Gama last month to join former teammates at Chiefs Dirang Moloi. Here he talks to Dubani-wa-Dubani.
Can you tell us how it feels to have qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations and playing for a club that is fighting relegation?
These things happen in football. It doesn’t have guarantees. You can be on top of the world today and be down tomorrow. What matters is how you react to it. I am handling the situation as best as I can.
And how it is not to have played club football for two years and yet made the national team?
It delayed my progress as a player. Playing regularly improves ones form.
How do your mates and coaches take the fact that you have done so well with the Zebras without playing club football?
They were all surprised except for my Zebras mates who know me better. I must say however that my mates are happy for me making history!
Why do you think Coach Stan Tshosane kept picking you for the Zebras?
He took a big decision and it worked for the team. I respect him because I think he is the only coach who can take such decision. He knows what I am capable of and trusts me.
What kept you interested in the game during the time you were not playing?
My love for the game as well as support from my family, my friends and the Zebras technical team got me going.
How does it feel to be playing club football again?
It is very good though it has come so late in the season.
Lets’ talk about life as a professional player and how it differs from the Botswana situation where players had to worry about other jobs as well?
Here the focus is completely on football and we can train at any time of the day. For example if we are preparing for a night game we train in the evenings and train during the day when preparing for day games.
Settling at a new club is hard for most players but you seem to have settled fast at Vasco. Did having your Zebras mates Dirang Moloi at the club help you in that regard?
Having Dirang around really helped.
How do you deal with the attention from female fans?
I do not give it much thought.
Who is your best friend in football?
Who is the naughtiest player at Vasco da Gama?
Joseph Kamwendo of Malawi. He pulls a lot of pranks on players.
Do you have an agent and what does he do for you?
I have one and that is all I can say for now.
You surely must have dreams of playing in Europe. If it happens which clubs do you have in mind?
Yes I do have dreams of earning a salary in Europe. As at which club I am not prepared to say.
Playing at the AFCON will surely help you in that respect. Won’t it?
Definitely. It will work for all players involved. It will improve our CVs. If we have more professional players it will make our national team stronger. I am looking forward to the challenge, opportunities and fun the AFCON will offer.