By Robson Sharuko
When Joey Antipas guides his Warriors in Lusaka tonight, he is likely to set a new record, for a national football team coach, after taking charge of FOUR matches, in FOUR different locations, in just a week.
He would have covered a distance of more than 1950kms, including a trip across the Zambezi, in a punishing schedule that can even take its toll on the world’s best coaches.
Antipas would have been in Bulawayo, Harare, Bindura, Harare, Bulawayo, Harare and Lusaka, in just a matter of days, serving two masters, and trying to make the best of both demanding assignments.
This is certainly the kind of stuff that goes into the Guinness Book of Records.
It all started with a 433km trip from his base in Bulawayo, to Harare, last week to take charge of the Warriors camp ahead of their 2021 AFCON qualifier against Botswana.
Then, just arriving in the capital, he had to dash to Trojan Mine on Wednesday, on a 90km road trip, leaving his Warriors alone in camp — just two days before the battle against the Zebras.
Antipas needed to take care of Chicken Inn’s interests in their quest to be league champions this year.
And, with their coach barking orders from the bench, his Gamecocks scrambled a priceless 1-0 win over Mushowani Stars in that match, with the hosts missing a penalty, to keep themselves in the race for the league championship.
Then, after that, Antipas had to dash back to Harare, another 90km road trip, to rejoin his Warriors as they prepared for that AFCON qualifier against the Zebras.
“We only had two full training sessions with all the players (ahead of the match against Botswana),’’ Antipas told a media conference in Lusaka yesterday.
“The last time the boys played together was at the AFCON finals, so, we are trying to find our feet.’’
Maybe, it explains why the Warriors produced a lifeless show against the Zebras on Friday night, just two days after their coach had taken charge of his club side’s league match at Trojan Mine.
A number of analysts have questioned why a coach, making his debut in the AFCON qualifiers, should have been allowed to let the midweek assignments of his club’s match distract him from concentrating fully on the demands of Nations Cup football.
“The irony is that all the local-based players who were summoned for national duty — the likes of Prince Dube, Ian Nekati and Partson Jaure — were barred from representing their clubs in those midweek matches because the authorities wanted them to fully focus on the national team match,’’ one of the analysts said.
“But, the coaches, who shape the mood of what happens when the players are in camp, were allowed to leave and be with their clubs for the midweek games.
“Surely, that disrupted preparations.’’
On Saturday morning, just hours after receiving a baptism of fire at the National Sports Stadium where he earned the full fury of fans disappointed by the team’s poor showing against Botswana, Antipas was on the road again, another 433kms, back to his base in Bulawayo.
This time, he took charge of Chicken Inn in their league match against Hwange — his third game, three days — two for his permanent employers and one for his casual employers.
The emotions of the previous night might have taken a toll on the coach as the Gamecocks failed to hold on to their lead, against the Colliery side, and conceded a penalty at Luveve with the match ending 1-1.
Disappointed by his team’s failure to secure maximum points, and storm back to the top of the Premiership standings, Antipas was back on the road again to the capital, another 433kms, to rejoin his Warriors for the trip to Zambia on Sunday for tonight’s AFCON qualifier.
Then, another 470kms to Lusaka, for this evening’s match.
Of course, he flew there but that doesn’t change the distance and the strain it all takes on someone who also deserves rest in this job that takes out a lot — both emotionally and physically — from those who work on the front-line as coaches.
To his credit, he looked very positive when he addressed the Zambian media in Lusaka yesterday, showing very little of the strain he has endured in a week that has challenged him to the limit.
Of course, he spoke about the disappointment of being afforded just two full training sessions with his men, ahead of the match against Botswana.
But, he should also have discussed how his trips, up and down the country to take charge of the Gamecocks, also had a bearing in making it difficult for him to concentrate fully on preparing his Warriors for that game.
He spoke about a cautious approach tonight, which probably means he will again go with two players forming a defensive shield in midfield, which some questioned in the game against Botswana.
“We respect Zambia, enough respect to the Zambians, we going out there to fight,’’ said Antipas.
Of course, that what those who appointed him expect, that’s what the nation expects and that’s what his Warriors expect.
Whether he is in the right frame of mind, after a taxing week in which he has been challenged to the limit, is another thing altogether.
And, he knows, the whole country is watching his every move and failure today would virtually end any hopes he had of getting this job on a permanent basis in January. But, even more importantly, it could significantly damage the Warriors’ hopes of a third straight appearance at the AFCON finals. The Herald