By Lot Chitakasha
They came, saw and they conquered! France departed Russia with the cherished trophy. The next edition of their National Shirts will have one more star, denoting that they are world champions a second time. They still have a lot of catching up with Brazil , winners a record five times, but they can be happy with the progress that they are making.
Considering that it was a Frenchman Jules Rimet who first mooted the idea of a World cup, football did actually come home and the dynamic Paul Pogba was quick to remind the English fans of this, “It is coming home !” he sang. But what lessons can we take home as Zimbabwe?
I try to answer that question in this article.
For starters, full credit must be given to Russia for organising a near perfect tournament. It was a template for the cooperation between government and the football authorities. Fears of football hooliganism, racism and xenophobia turned out to be exaggerated.
For me, the lesson was simple, cooperation brings success. I remember the last time that Zimbabwe tried to host a tournament. In 2000 we suffered the ignominy of having the hosting rights withdrawn from us. Apparently, CAF under Issa Hayatou who did not see eye to eye with then Zifa President Leo Mugabe , were not happy with the progress we were making.
After one inspection, The CAF team delivered a damning verdict about the state of our facilities and with that our dreams went up in smoke. Many fans are still angry but the truth is that we have not improved our stadia.
The National Sports Stadium remains a concrete giant, it needs to be dragged into the modern era, Rufaro Stadium is still Rufaro , while Barboufields despite being well maintained still needs to be modernised. We seem to have given up on Gwanzura and Sakubva stadiums, they are a heart wrenching sight an eye sore.
Without government, City and Rural councils’ cooperation, modernising our facilities will remain a pipe dream. Mandava and Boabab stadiums owned by FC Platinum and Ngezi FC, might be our saving grace but as a Nation, we need to do more. Russia has shown us the way.
On the field of play, there were lessons too. The final match was a masterclass on tactics. Croatia sought to dominate the ball, France waited for their moment and were effective in taking their chances. Paul Pogba delivered, Antoine Griezmann was ice cool under pressure and the lively, pacey and incisive Kylian Mbappe, became the first teenager after Pele to score in a world cup final.
Paul Hayward, the Daily Telegraph writer waxed lyrical about the young man,” the teenager has pace, poise and panache, he is a potent weapon for this French team..” I would not agree with him more.
I picked two lessons from the French team. The French players are products of the Clairefontaine Technical School, it is the National football school of excellence.
Other academies dotted around France also contribute to the player development. The players are well coached and although as Africa we might want to lay claim to some of these players, the hard truth is that they are French products.
They are products of a well organised football system something that most African Nations, Zimbabwe included have failed to do. In Zimbabwe, we live everything to chance, but accidental success is rare in football. Everything must be planned, deliberate.
France also have a lot of youth coaches and these are expected to follow a clear development path as they work with the young players. The Federation was also patient with Didier Deschamps and they gave him time to build a team. The near miss of Euro 2016 was soon forgotten as he delivered the big one. Coaches need time and this we must learn as a Nation.
Indeed, football success must be by design, not by accident. The small nation of Iceland is another case study for any football fan. In an article entitled The Dark Norse, How Iceland grew into a soccer force, Sean Gregory intimates that “Iceland ‘s success is the culmination of a 20 year investment in soccer programme. This included building affordable and accessible facilities across the country and educating hundreds of youth coaches to teach the game properly..”
Sean further adds that 15 years ago, Iceland did not have any Youth Coaches with Grade A or B licences but currently they have 716 . This eliminates the participation of volunteers who are usually not qualified and parents who usually scream at their children. Young players are therefore given the correct football syllabus by qualified personnel.
Definitely we need this in Zimbabwe. I always give the example of The Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield. These grounds can be turned into a centre of excellence for grassroots football. A minimum investment is needed but the benefits will be immense.
I have also argued that former legends of the game should be empowered with coaching qualifications. These will then go into schools and impart the knowledge. The impact will be amazing. The government should work closely with Zifa , they should also bring the private sector on board.
Iceland also operates a sport for all philosophy, no child is left behind. To keep it interesting they encourage the youngsters to do multiple disciplines like basketball and hockey. This builds their confidence.
Organised sport participation has immense benefits for the young. It is linked with improved academic performance, better self esteem and reduces childhood smoking and alcohol use.
Tinashe Mushangwe a staunch Warriors supporter believes that adopting the Iceland model will turn around the sporting and football fortunes of our nation, about this he has no doubts. I am also a fan of this small football nation and its development programme.
One day, Zimbabwe will host the World Cup, this might not happen in my life time. What I might live to see is Zimbabwe qualifying for the tournament. To achieve that, we cannot afford to miss the lessons delivered from Russia. They are many, but I have decided to highlight these few. I hope this will help.