On a Sunday in June 2011 – at the township grounds in Ficksburg, Free State – a hopeful wearing purplish boots turned out for trials and impressed the coaching staff of Maluti FET College football club.
The then head coach of Maluti, Morena Ramoreboli, recalled how Thembinkosi Lorch was so good that he had already made up his mind to sign the player after just a few touches on the ball.
The connection went beyond that of a player-coach relationship at the now defunct club. Ramoreboli facilitated the relocation of Lorch to the club’s base in QwaQwa, where he was enrolled in high school.
Ironically, Ramoreboli came to prominence with Maluti in 2013, when the then third-division campaigners eliminated Orlando Pirates from the Nedbank Cup first round, which remains one of the local game’s biggest upsets.
Little did Lorch know he’d play for Pirates one day.
He was one of Maluti’s unused substitutions when the minnows from the Free State ran out with a 4-1 score at the Charles Mopeli Stadium.
A few years later, Ramoreboli and Lorch are still in touch, despite going separate ways in the later stages of their respective careers.
The coach said he had been following the progress of his former charge and Bafana Bafana player, who often calls for advice.
Ramoreboli said the best moment was the day Lorch came to show him the PSL footballer of the season and the players’ player miniature trophies that capped the 2018/19 season when he helped Bucs to finish second behind champions Mamelodi Sundowns.
Much was expected from the 26-year-old, especially after his impressive statistics of 15 goals in 40 matches in all competitions, including five assists. But he has struggled, particularly in the first round of this campaign.
He had earned cult status after his goal eliminated Egypt in the Afcon Last 16 at the continental championships in the north African country in June and July last year.
Such exhilarating performances fuelled talk about Lorch heading overseas, but the move did not materialise.
He was linked to French side Toulouse FC last August, and there was reported interest from Belgian champions Club Brugge and Turkish powerhouse Besiktas in January.
Ramoreboli confirmed this as the reason the Bafana midfielder did not reach full throttle in the opening quarter of the campaign when Lorch needed 12 matches to open his scoring account.
“He was hoping to go overseas and I knew that if he didn’t go, the following season would be difficult for him. I even told him that it might be difficult to be as consistent as last season,” Ramoreboli told City Press.
“If there is one thing about local teams, they know how to profile their opponents and I warned Lorch that he would be a marked man. But I am glad that he opened up throughout our conversations. I still believe, with his attitude, his time will come.”
Ramoreboli (40) coached Lorch for three seasons and he cited the different environments as having prepared the player psychologically.
“He was sent out on loan in the first division at Cape Town All Stars and later at Chippa United before he actually settled at Pirates. When Pirates loaned him to Cape Town All Stars, he wanted to join me at [first-division side] Africa Warriors in Welkom.
“So I think this also played a role in toughening him up.
“There might still be a few things missing, but his game has matured. He releases the ball quickly and gets into spaces well – the element of dribbling not so much. He was regaining his form just before the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak and he was satisfied with his progress.”
Lorch had played 21 games in all competitions, nine of them under new coach Josef Zinnbauer.
In another revelation, Ramoreboli shared how Ajax Cape Town were close to signing Lorch, but Pirates snatched the player from right under their noses – the Mother City club had followed Lorch’s progress for some time.
“There were some scouts who approached me during the play-offs [the national second-division play-offs in 2013], saying they were scouting for Ajax and that they badly needed the player to join. They said I must not play him because other clubs will see him,” Ramoreboli said.
“At that time, Lorch had a knee problem, but he insisted that he can’t take the team to the final and not play. He played in that final against Baroka,” said Ramoreboli about the day Maluti and Baroka were promoted to the National First Division.
“It has been a good journey for Lorch, even though it was frustrating at times.”
Ramoreboli coaches in Lesotho at Lioli FC. Among a few other local premier and first-division clubs, he has had spells with include Bloemfontein Celtic and the Royal Eagles. He also worked with Bafana head coach Molefi Ntseki before..