By Tadious Manyepo
His first speech was to challenge those who had dismissed him as a clown, recruited here to just enjoy the easy money, in the endless sunshine, without adding any value to the Warriors.
It was understandable, hearing him trying to reassure his audience, at his first press conference here, that he was, indeed, a coach the country could trust to deliver in these tough trenches of African football.
Suspicions ran deep, especially among the gathered vultures of football writers and commentators, who wondered whether a man, whose Curriculum Vitae was coaching Sudan, Gor Mahia and some obscure clubs, could be trusted to take charge of their Warriors.
But, if his CV lacked the glowing package of having coached the big boys of the game on the continent, there was no doubting that, when he spoke, he did it with authority.
By the time the media conference had ended, Loga’s box-office show was making headlines in the local media.
Okay, some said, let’s just wait for the real examination — when the games start, and if he can impress against the African champions, then there is no reason for us not to give him the benefit of doubt.
The ball was in Loga’s court.
Then, Covid-19 struck and football was halted, across the continent, with the AFCON qualifiers moved to this month.
When, some promising signs started to appear on the horizon, giving hope that football could be played again this year, Loga — who had retreated to his home in Croatia for a holiday, declared he was ready.
“I am very happy that football is now back. Football is my job and I can only be excited by the news,” said Loga, back then.
However, in the first half of his debut appearance, on the bench of the Warriors, those who had doubted him, appeared to be right.
After all, Algeria were leading 2-0 and the Croat, employing an attacking 4-3-2-1 formation, appeared clueless in the mist of Algiers. But, he changed his tactics in the second half and, for the 45 minutes that followed, Zimbabwe were able to stand toe-to-toe against the Algerians.
The Warriors, for good measure, created four clear chances but only converted one of them.
Zimbabwe lost, those small margins, making a difference.
Then, Loga dropped out-of-form Warriors poster boy, Khama Billiat, to the bench for the reverse fixture at the National Sports Stadium on Monday.
The 30-year-old Kaizer Chiefs star has been having a miserable time, for both club and country, of late.
But, by the 38th minute, Loga’s new-look team appeared set for another defeat as the Algerians led 2-0.
Then, his captain Knowledge Musona reduced the deficit, with a fine free-kick, just before the break.
This was just the signal Loga wanted to ring the changes, to try and chase the game, with the gaffer introducing four players, including Billiat, just after the break.
Another coach would probably not have fielded Ovidy Karuru, who was the subject of some fierce criticism, for his poor performance in the first game in Algiers.
But, the defiant Loga trusted his instincts, and gave his man another run, with Divine Lunga and Kuda Mahachi also coming in to reinforce the left hand of the attack.
That’s a sign of a good coach, one who is quick to embrace that his first option isn’t working and isn’t afraid to go for Plan B, even if it means taking out about half his team.
Another coach would probably have waited for another 15 minutes, into the second half, but Loga chose to go with his instincts and was repaid by a fine performance, from his men, in that second period.
They started taking the game to the Algerians, playing with a spring in their step, and — on another day — they would have been full value for a victory over the champions.
“Let’s take it bit by bit.
“We haven’t arrived yet but look, these are the signs that we can be a great team,” said Loga.
In those final 45 minutes on Monday, he did enough to buy the benefit of doubt he needs, ahead of the resumption of the qualifiers, in March next year.
He is surely one of these — a colourful character, an unorthodox coach, a talkative man.
What he surely isn’t, of all things, is a clown. He is a coach who probably deserves a bit of respect. The Herald