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ZAMBIA: A young and promising referee shocked the football fans and supporters after officiating two top flight teams, Zesco United and Forest Rangers.

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Life is a lesson and struggles are the tests to evaluate how far you can go in the life. But, it takes readiness and self-awareness to overcome trials and bring the best results out of them. Raphael Mbotela is a 16 years old from Zambia who always dreamed to be a professional footballer, however, his dream disappeared after he sustained a serious injury on the ankle. It was so hard and overwhelming to the young talented man who couldn’t achieve his vision at the moment. With the love and passion he had and still has for football, Raphael decided to change his career but stick in the same industry to make sure he is living the same life he always wanted. He chose to be the referee at the age of 13.

Raphael Mbotela caught the attention of different people across the world especially football lovers and fans on Wednesday when he officiated a friendly match between Zesco United and Forest Rangers. The 16 years old told the BBC that he firstly wanted to be a player, but the hope vanished when he broke his ankle.

He told BBC, “My love of being a referee started three years ago after I was asked to be a referee for the junior teams.” He continued, “One day, I was approached and asked to be the referee of an adult men’s friendly match as if everyone saw how I knew it.”

“I am really enjoying this, especially after I couldn’t continue to be a football player due to ankle injury.”

The young referee said that he is now very excited that teams in Zambian’s top flight can trust and call on him to officiate friendly games. “I feel happy but when I make mistakes during a game, I calm myself down. It’s all part of the game. Every person makes mistakes,” he said.

Photo: Raphael Mbotela officiating Zesco United Vs Forest Rangers.

Raphael says that the friendly match was his biggest breakthrough and anticipates that Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) can provide trainings to nurture him. “I was completely unfazed. Once I step on the pitch, I don’t look at my age or the big players’ name. I am the man in charge.  Janny Sikazwe (Zambian FIFA referee) is the person who inspired me, and I want to be like him some days after completing school.” He told BBC.

As many of us, Mbotela still lives with his mother, and wants to resume his education so that he can be able to concentrate on being a referee. He dropped out from school due to financial issue, and he couldn’t proceed with his education. He said, “My parents are no longer together and right now, I can’t even go to school because I don’t have books, a school uniform and other necessities.”

It is so hard for a single mother to raise children and be able to provide all needed supports to her kids. It’s so undeniably that her mother has tried her best to raise such great young person who already knows what career path he has to follow. But, it will be a waste of talent that can represent the country one day on the international level if the people in charge (Football Association of Zambia) don’t support him to become the best version he always envisioned in the future.

Zesco United media Officer Desmond Katongo told the BBC that the club had full confidence and trust in him to officiate that friendly match. He said, “The technical teams from both teams weren’t worried about his ability to handle the game due to the fact that he has developed quite a reputation for officiating in such games.”

He continued: “It is exciting to see a young boy with an ambition to become a referee at a time where many of his peers would have wanted to be Lionel Messi, Ronaldo or Enock Mwepu (a Zambian International Footballer).”

“Referees can also be a great inspiration to many people like Mbotela. It would be great if this boy receives some formal training from the local FA. This is a potential success story for Zambia,” he added.

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