The Warriors, our national soccer team, are once again, right on course for another ignominious exit out of the AFCON finals. That the nation’s hopes and expectations are again dashed is quite remarkable and also quite typical of a nation that appears incapable of understanding the meaning of the adage, “you reap what you sow”.
Ours is a nation that relies on miracles. Small wonder “ministries” that promise overnight success are thriving businesses in our land. Buying “anointed” bricks is believe to be the gateway to success and ownership of a believer’s own house. Bank accounts are promised to suddenly fill up with “miracle money” on the basis of “true belief” and faith.
The majority of our citizens are in the middle of what has been given the “January Disease”. This affliction is nothing more than a lack of planning and indiscipline that is considered acceptable in our society. We don’t seem to have grasped the fact that we can actually abandon this behavior. This attitude is found in just about all we do as a nation, which brings me to the matter of our football.
I will not bother attempting to unpack the tactical blunders that the technical team and players may or may not have committed. I am far from being qualified to make such an analysis. Of course this lack of knowledge or training never stops the majority of so-called soccer “fans”. Few appreciate the fact that coaching is a specialized field and profession. All that I can point out are what should really be rather obvious and glaring causes or our perennial failure, not just as a footballing entity but a nation that lags behind others in many spheres of our existence.
SUCCESS IS A PROCESS, NOT AN EVENT. This is a statement that should be written in big bold letters and broadcast on all platforms and mountain tops so that all can hear. Zve Zimbabwe zvinowanzova zve mombe inoda kukorera pa market!
Success is born, bred and maintained via a culture and tradition that more or less guarantees that success. It should not be a result of luck or over-reliance on divine intervention. Our soccer teams usually scrape through to AFCON in the middle of shambolic “preparations” and numerous off-the-field drama and yet all and sundry will, without fail, expect the team to perform wonders at the tournament. Many a time I have heard a consensus that says that, we need someone who played soccer at the highest level to be at the helm of our football association, ZIFA. Well, I beg to differ.
I am not submitting my application for the chairmanship of ZIFA, but I do declare that, even though the height I reached as a player was high school level, I could run ZIFA! My declaration stems from the fact that I believe the blueprint for developing our football and achieving success is quite basic and straightforward. It is not rocket science! What do I claim to be the modus operandi? Or where are we getting it wrong? Let me point out a few things.
What is the relationship between our sports ministry and the Zimbabwe Football Association, ZIFA? EVERYONE and their mother knows that FIFA does not brook what it terms “interference” in football matters, so, how does our Sports Commission, on the eve AFCON “suspend” those running our football, knowing fully well that they risked having our team disqualified from the tournament? I am not saying that the ministry should have no input in such affairs of national importance, but, talk about the 11th hour! This kind of behavior is akin to wanting to terminate a pregnancy when the baby is about to be delivered!
ZIFA, on the other hand, behaves like a political party that only becomes active just before elections are held. The success of our national senior soccer team does not merely hinge on the selection of the best players in the land. Potential stars must come through and be identified via a well-oiled conveyor belt that starts and is fed through the schools, academies and clubs, from the very young up to the senior levels. Nations like Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil et al have achieved success at senior level after having nurtured the talents of equally successful youthful teams, some of whom will have won regional, and global competitions. ZIFA has been dismal in creating and oiling this conveyor belt of development.
Every once in a while ZIFA will appoint a foreign coach to be the one to lead us to the Promised Land. Most of the time, these coaches’ credentials will be sketchy if not non-existent. There is never any method to the madness. No plan exists whatsoever pertaining to continuity, longevity and, or creation of a recognizable national style of play. Local coaches are often engaged on the cheap, often at the last minute through sheer desperation. And yet history has proven that EVERYTHING we have won and tournaments qualified for have been under the stewardship of our own citizens!
Nothing stops ZIFA from having a recognized, consistent method of appointing national team coaches and ensuring that we always have the best technical teams for the games our national sides at all levels play.
ZIFA should have a system in place where they work with the Premier Soccer League to make sure that, not only do our coaches attain the relevant paper qualifications, but that these coaches get opportunities to be attached to respected international clubs and national football teams. These coaches will then be qualified to be in the pool from which we choose those that form part of the technical teams of our national sides. This method also helps in developing our club football where our players come from to play for the national sides or are discovered and end up playing for foreign sides at a higher level, which also proves beneficial for the development of our national teams.
Different football administrations have set up technical teams to support and help the coaches who sit on the bench during matches. Whilst this setup can get complex if the roles are not well-defined, such a team would be of benefit if it acts as a think-tank on the identity and development of our own style of play that suits our attributes and talents.
Does ZIFA know how to make use of the FIFA calendar? ALL FIFA-sanctioned tournaments and the dates set aside for international friendlies are always made available to all nations, Zimbabwe included, and yet ZIFA always acts as if their calendar somehow got lost in the mail!
The reason why Zimbabwe has won many of the non-prestigious COSAFA cups is simply because, whilst other nations in the region use this as a developmental competition for discovering and nurturing those knocking on the door of the senior soccer squad, Zimbabwe usually goes full strength in the players they field for the tournament. The reason for this is because our coaches know that ZIFA does some things that would be comical if they were not so tragic. Whilst serious fellow African footballing nations will organize friendlies against notable opposition, ZIFA will have a local football club or some lowly national team play our national team in preparation for a regional or global competition!
Knowing which tournaments are played at what dates and potentially against which teams from where is supposed to make it easy and possible for ZIFA to plan adequately not only in terms of organizing appropriate, useful friendlies, but it gives them ample time to budget and organize finances for all these requirements. ZIFA can also make proper plans on time concerning scouting for players around the globe plus the logistics for bringing these players home for all requirements needed to create and give adequate preparations for formidable national football teams.
Many in this country don’t seem to be aware of the fact that a good team is not just a selection of great individual players. A team is exactly that, a team. This means that the players need to work within a particular system that they all understand and these players need to combine well. This gelling gets the best chance to happen through the players playing together often not only in training but against competitive opposition, preferably teams that are above their own rating in the world rankings. The reason why Egypt for example, managed to build formidable team that won many tournaments was because the core of their teams would be players used to each other. Perhaps it would be their defence that would be entirely made up of players who were together week in week out as part of, say, Zamalek and perhaps the same applying to the strike force being from one club.
Victorious German teams were built around Bayern Munich whilst Spain obtained much success when the backbone of their team turned out for Barcelona football club. Success for national teams seems to be less consistent now because starting 11’s can be composed of players plying their trade in 11 different leagues and they only get a few days together to gel and become a team. Do I need to have played for Chelsea football club, the champions of Europe to figure this out and to be the chairman of ZIFA? I think not.