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AFCON- My thoughts

By Lot Chitakasha

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon roared again and overpowered the Pharaohs of Egypt. A fifth AFCON title was in the bag for this proud football nation. The tournament was an eye opener for me. I followed it closely because nothing gives more pleasure than seeing the African continent gathered together in a festival of football. Many people assert that the tournament has lost its lustre because we no longer have such stars like Al Hadji Diouf, Kanu, Okocha, Peter Ndlovu among others. I beg to differ, the tournament is in rude health. Lessons were learnt , this article will capture some of them.

Lot Chitakasha
Lot Chitakasha

Let me start with the Zimbabwe Warriors. A post mortem has already been done by many writers, I will not repeat the obvious. That the team under performed cannot be disputed, a quarter final stage was the least I expected . After the blinding performance against Algeria, the defeats by Senegal and Tunisia left a bitter taste in the mouth.

In the Senegal match, the team was overpowered both physically and technically, out fought and out thought. The team failed to control the midfield and failed to hold on to the ball. The basics were lacking, control, pass, defend. The team surrendered the match in the first fifteen minutes. That it did not become an avalanche of goals was down to the acrobatics of the young goalkeeper Tendai Mkuruva.

Our star player Khama Billiat, disappeared, the physical demands of the match proved to
be too much for him. Our defending was appalling and our coach was also exposed. He failed to make the changes necessary and he did not utilise his bench. The same can be said about the Tunisia game. The fight was simply not there and the coach stuck with his underperforming defenders. Why he did not shuffle the pack, only he can answer that one.

However, it would be unfair to ignore the contributing factors to this poor tournament.
The Warriors arrived at the tournament ill prepared. The last minute arrangements of friendly
matches exposed our poor planning. The bonus issue which resulted in the Warriors being labelled mercenaries was allowed to rumble up to the eve of the tournament. Even the playing kit arrived late and the players used an emergency uniform for the first match. This is not how we should prepare for a tournament. We should consign this last minute arrangement syndrome to the dustbin of history.

We qualified for the tournament early, these issues should have been addressed
early. ZIFA should prepare contracts for national team players. I think this is the case in other sports like cricket and tennis. The players will come to camp knowing well how much they will be paid. Any player who is unhappy with the contract should not answer the call up. A fair reward system should be in place and ZIFA should keep their end of the bargain. I am sure this will also ensure professionalism and will allow the coach and players to focus on the job in hand.

The African football terrain is a jungle where only the fittest survive. Eneke the bird said since men have learnt to shoot without missing, I have also learnt to fly without perching. As a nation we need to strategise to survive this jungle, we need to fly without perching otherwise we will continue to be easy prey for the big beasts in this jungle.

Zimbabwe needs to approach football development with a spirit of excellence. The nation should revive the junior football structures which have since been abandoned at club level. We should invest in junior coaches. The successes of the past were built on a strong foundation of junior development. In the past there were reputable junior coaches who worked tirelessly to unearth and develop talent.

Alois Patsika, Ali Baba Dube together with Cosmas “Tsano” Dube, Never Gombera
among others were renowned coaches. Currently this role has been taken over by the football academies. I support the former legends like Alois Bunjira, Stanley Chiramabadare , Thulani Ncube , Maxwell Dube among others who have established academies. They are agents of change and this feels me with hope.

Their passion for football development is amazing. However , they need support from government, the cooperate world and the mother body ZIFA. Academies should fall under the umbrella of ZIFA for better coordination and monitoring. The ultimate goal should be a School Of Excellence run and coordinated by ZIFA.

Ideally, these Academies should be registered with the Ministry Of Education. This is important so that vetting can be done to stop the wolves in sheep clothing. To borrow from the scriptures, “ Not everyone who says Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom…” Indeed not everyone is a true disciple and the same principle applies to football. Legend Stanley “Samora” Chirambadare always says that there is no shortcut to football success and condemns fly by night charlatans. I would not agree with him more.

Community leaders should be more serious with football and sport development in general. It is sad to read that such community centres like Stordart Hall, Mai Musodzi and many others scattered all over the country are now dilapidated. It is sad to read that greedy politicians and councillors have sold off every pieces of land, including football pitches. The onus is on the municipalities to preserve these. Where will the children play?

I also think that Zimbabwe players should stop the Great Trek South, or rather , they should take it as a stepping stone to more competitive leagues. It is my contention that the South Africa League has affected our players in a negative way. Alois Bunjira a man who played in this league thinks otherwise but we did agree that South Africa should be a temporary sojourn.

I have argued and I will argue again, our players get too comfortable in South Africa. Zimbabwe have always viewed South Africa as the Mecca of Africa since the days of WENELA..the days when people used to flock there to work in the mines. Many stories are told of those who went there, on return they would hire a number of taxis to ferry the various goodies acquired from their sojourn.

Our players seem to have fallen into this trap. After one good season in Zimbabwe, they disappear to South Africa, get a descent contract and rest on their laurels. They will then be crossing the border in their brand new cars to celebrate with the folks back home. But is this the best for their careers? I do not think so. These youngsters should be prepared to venture abroad, conquer Europe and they will develop. It is not going to be easy but it can be done.

The agents should work harder to make this happen, they should not be satisfied with a few hundred thousand rands, they can make more if they bring these boys to Europe.
Zimbabwe should also cast her net wider. Teams like Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo, Ivory Coast , Cameroon among others have done this.

Apart from sending players early to Europe, they also look for those who are born abroad ,educated at the best academies and are eligible for the nations of their parents birth. In this regard France has done a sterling job by default, they have developed players for most West African nations. Colonialism was an evil system but out of the darkness, there is this shade of grey. It is a like a bad marriage, abusive even but it can produce beautiful
children..beauty queens.

Zimbabwe now has a large diaspora community. They should be allowed to think Zimbabwe and to opt for Zimbabwe despite the offers from the host nations. In this regard players like Tendai Darikwa and Brendan Galloway should be encouraged to commit to the motherland.

There are many players attached to teams abroad, we just need to find them.
Other than Zimbabwe , I followed Senegal, DR Congo and Burkina Faso. The football was good and Burkina Faso are now household names on the continent. A team with cult hero Aristede Bance will always excite. There captain Charles Kabore is a veteran of many battles. He really impressed me.

Junior Kabananga of DRC, Salah and Gerhazi of Egypt, Christian Bassacong , young goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa and defender Michael Ngandeu were class acts for Cameroon. Piquet of Guine Bissau scored an amazing goal, my goal of the tournament, Togo also scored a fantastic team goal on the counter.

On the downside, the local coaches were knocked out too early. Kallisto Pasuwa, Florent Ibenge, Aliou Cisse and Baciro Cande all failed to make a mark on the tournament. The pitches were also atrocious and the teams struggled. This was poor by the hosts. Some injuries can also be blamed on the pitches.

CAF’s leadership needs renewing. Not once but twice the cameras caught Isaa Hayatou dozing off in the thick of battle. One official on the royal seats was caught reading a newspaper during the Ghana-Cameroon semi-final. The lack of interest was embarrassing.

It is another title for the Indomitable Lions. I enjoyed the tournament, I was glad to watch the Warriors after such a long time. The next tournament is in Cameroon in 2019. I hope the football will be even better, the pitches will be top notch, the leadership will show more energy and above all that the Warriors will be there. The preparations should start now!