ON Christmas Day in 2014, Leicester City were bottom of the table in the English Premiership, with just 10 points from 17 games, and — if history was anything to go by — the Flying Foxes were set to be relegated.
The odds were heavily stacked against them because, in the English Premiership, teams that were bottom of the table at Christmas were usually doomed with only West Bromwich and Sunderland bucking the trend since 1992.
The Foxes didn’t look the part in the English Premiership, back then, a 13-match winless streak was the worst by any side that season, a six-match losing streak only made things worse and they had even failed to score in five-and-half matches.
But Leicester, against all odds, fought against the tide and their manager back then, Nigel Pearson, encouraged them to play without fear that the end of their dance with the aristocrats of English football was nigh at the turn of the year.
And they were richly rewarded.
Ten of their 34 league goals last season, representing about 30 percent of the total number of goals they scored, came in their last four matches and, playing with the pace of foxes and the freedom of beasts, they found a way to beat the odds and survive relegation.
And, on Christmas Day last year, Leicester had transformed themselves from the team that was bottom of the English Premiership, at around the same time in 2014, to one that now sat proudly at the top of the table.
An incredible turnaround and one which also brought some rich pickings, along the way, for one of their fans who bet £5 with British bookmakers Ladbrokes, in August last year, on outrageous odds of 1000/1 that his Foxes will be top the English Premiership at Christmas, pocketing a cool £5 000.
Leicester’s stunning transformation in the past calendar year, from a team that was bottom of the table at the turn of the year, to one that not only survived relegation, against all odds, but even powered to the top of the table by Christmas was, undoubtedly, the story of the English Premiership in 2015.
And, of course, even though they didn’t win anything, or they are yet to win anything, or they might not win anything, there is no doubt that Leicester City were the 2015 Team of the Year in the English Premiership.
We all expect Chelsea to win the league at some time, which means that Jose Mourinho and his men’s success last year was not a Cinderella tale, we all expect Arsenal to be top of the table, at some point, which means that Arsene Wenger and his Gunners’ rise to lead the marathon, at the turn of the year, was not something out of the ordinary.
But for Leicester City to emerge out of the dumps where they found themselves, at Christmas in 2014, and not only survive relegation but then battle all the way to the top of the tree a year later, was the stuff that dreams are made of and they were, without a doubt, the English Premiership’s 2015 Team of the Year.
The Foxes’ achievements were better than Chelsea winning the English Premiership, something that the Blues have repeatedly done since Jose Mourinho ended their half-a-century wait for the title, or the Gunners powering back to take the lead in the championship race, something that they have repeatedly done under the guidance of Wenger.
On Thursday night, as I followed the live television broadcast of the 2015 CAF Awards, the incredible tale of the Foxes kept flashing in my mind as I watched African football honour the heroes and heroines who are said to have illuminated this game that means so much for the people of this continent.
And I got so angry, and once again felt so ashamed about African football I almost switched off the television, when they announced that the Cameroon senior women national side were the 2015 CAF Team of the Year.
Okay, the Indomitable Lioness qualified for the 2015 FIFA Women World Cup but, so what, it’s something that we have always expected them to, they were the only African representatives in Canada to emerge out of the group stages — after beating Ecuador 6-0 and Switzerland 2-1 while losing 1-2 to Japan — but that’s the least we have always expected from them.
They won the silver medal at the African Games, after losing 1-0 to Ghana, but so what, for a team that dined with the aristocrats of the globe at the 2015 World Cup, fought their way out of the group games and lost 0-1 to China in the Round of 16?
And two of their players, including Bakary Gassama, who was named the 2015 African Female Footballer of the Year at the same ceremony in Lagos, Nigeria, on Thursday night, made it among the three best female footballers on the continent last year.
Alone, in the tranquillity of my living room, I felt for our gallant Mighty Warriors and wondered what more could our Golden Girls have done, last year, for them to be crowned the 2015 CAF Team of the Year.
And, 18 years after I was a witness to the injustices that ravage African football, when I saw Memory Mucherahowa, the then Dynamos captain, being head-butted out of his team’s biggest match in their history, the 1998 CAF Champions League final, before the game had even started in Abidjan, memories of the evils that continue to stalk the game on this continent came flooding back in my mind.
That the CAF leadership, including its president, Issa Hayatou, had watched from their VVIP seat inside the Stade Felix-Houphouet Boigny in Abidjan that day, pretending as if nothing had happened when the inspirational skipper of the opposition was being assaulted by that mob, taking him out of the match and into a brief stint in hospital, only made me strengthen my belief that the playing field in African football was not level and certainly a mockery to what this game should be all about. And, on Thursday night, 18 years later, there he was again, that Hayatou, towering above everyone else, walking as if he was the greatest thing that has ever happened to African football, especially now that he carries the extra responsibility as the acting FIFA president, the one that survived the tsunami that swept global football and devoured Sepp Blatter and a host of other heavyweights.
Just like that afternoon in Abidjan in 1998, when I left the stadium feeling that Dynamos had been robbed of their finest hour, I could not help but feel, on Thursday night, that the Mighty Warriors had also been robbed.
IN DEFENCE OF OUR
Admittedly our Golden Girls did not qualify for the 2015 FIFA Women World Cup finals in Canada, something that the Indomitable Lioness of Cameroon did, and they did not make it to the African Games, where the West Africans came out with a silver medal.
But the Mighty Warriors qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games, beating the Indomitable Lioness in the final shootout for a place in Rio de Janeiro, and — in the process — writing probably the finest success story in women football in the world last year.
For good measure, we eliminated the same Cameroon national team that they hailed as the finest side in Africa last year, leading for long periods in Yaounde before they staged a comeback to beat us 2-1 and then, of course, beating them at Rufaro to get the ticket for a dance in the Rio sunshine.
Given what our girls went through, just to get to Rio, being neglected by an Association that didn’t care about them and concentrated on the raging battles that were devouring their leadership, being — at one stage — expelled from the qualifiers because they had failed to travel to Cote d’Ivoire before FIFA reinstated us, and arriving in Yaounde just hours before their showdown against Cameroon, surely, they deserved to be honoured for their achievements.
For them to beat the only African team that made it to the Round of 16, at the World Cup, despite all the chaos that stalked their preparations, or rather lack of them, for them to beat the team that was powered by two of the best players on the continent last year, including the one who was crowned the best of the lot, was a grand achievement that should have been rewarded by the CAF leadership.
Of course, we were not, and that is what hurts and we are left to wonder if Cameroon were honoured on Thursday night simply because the leader of CAF, who is also the temporary leader of FIFA, is also from that country.
We are left to wonder whether that decision to honour them was meant to make the dear leader happy, seeing his team being honoured on the night, his ego being stroked by those who voted with their hearts and not their brains.
We are left to wonder if things might have been different if we were also represented, on the same CAF leadership, with someone as powerful as Hayatou or if one of our leaders had, over the years, risen to occupy a position on the FIFA executive committee.
We are left to wonder whether this was all just a belated Christmas gift to the dear leader of African football, who also today occupies a temporary role as the leader of world football, and honouring the Mighty Warriors ahead of the Indomitable Lioness would have been considered an insult to our big man.
For goodness sake, this is a team that was fed on a little portion of matemba and muboora by their leadership, which appeared to work very hard to ensure that they don’t qualify, but against all the odds, they did not only beat the best team, on the continent, but did it playing football that had a certain style that made them an attractive package to watch.
At times, theirs was not a camp, as we know it in football, but some form of detention at the ZIFA Village, cast away somewhere where their patience, let alone their loyalty, was tested to the limit, but — against all odds — they rose like a phoenix from the ashes and floored the best team on the continent in the battle for a place in Rio.
For a team that was given a new coach, on the eve of their final showdown against Cameroon, to find a way to beat their opponents, and win the ticket to the Olympics, was a grand achievement and even though they found a way to steal our Finest Hour, by denying us the glory that we deserved in Lagos on Thursday, it’s refreshing that they cannot take away our ticket to Rio.
After all, this is the same organisation that robbed Yaya Toure of the 2015 African Footballer of the Year because, in their madness, they felt that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did more than the Ivorian, the man who led his country to Nations Cup glory last year.
Aubameyang is a fine talent, no doubt about that, and he had a good season with Borussia Dortmund but it’s a fact that his team struggled, for most of last year, while Yaya was outstanding with Manchester City and, more importantly, he inspired his country to Nations Cup glory.
Yes, Mr Hayatou, you can keep your CAF Team of the Year award and we will keep our Rio 2016 Olympic Games ticket and, for us, that is more important.
Unlike you, we don’t have superstars who can win the CAF Female Player of the Year, like your countrywoman Bakarry Gassama, but we have a team — hardworking individuals who on their day can knock out your Indomitable Lioness from the Olympic Games — and if you doubt that, rewind to the events of last year.
AFTER ALL, THEY DIDN’T HONOUR OUR MKWESHA
Ghanaian football legend, Charles Kumi Gyamfi, the first African footballer to play in Germany when he joined Fortuna Dusseldorf in 1960, who also became the first coach to lead Ghana to success in the Nations Cup in 1963, was honoured on Thursday by CAF.
Gyamfi, a former member of the FIFA Technical Study Group, died in September last year.
But I also expected CAF to honour Freddie Mkwesha, who made it into Europe when African players were finding it difficult, if not impossible, to get there and played in the same league where he rubbed shoulders with the immortal Eusebio in Portugal.
Our Mkwesha, as good a striker as any that will ever come in this game, not only in this country but also on the continent and the world, also died last year, and should have, at least, been honoured by CAF.
That they didn’t even mention him probably means that they either don’t know about him or, assuming that they know, they believe that — given he is from Zimbabwe — he doesn’t need to be honoured or mentioned as a pioneer in African football.
But that won’t take away the fact that Mkwesha was a superstar, as good a player as they will ever come in football in the world, a striker who was ahead of his time, and a superstar who will never be forgotten.
Charles Mabika believes he is the greatest Dynamos striker of all-time and the fact that his skills were able to attract a European team, during those years, is testimony to his talent and —even if the fools at CAF choose not to honour him — it won’t take away the fact that he was out of this world and, of course, a man we will forever call one of our own.
THANKS FOR ALL YOUR MESSAGES
Well, to say that I was inundated with messages yesterday from all over the world, with scores of people saying they were happy that the Asiagate ordeal was over, would be an understatement.
I never knew I had so many people who were praying for me, day in and day out, and believing that this horror thing will come to pass.
Thanks for all your prayers.
But, like I mentioned in previous correspondence, I never considered myself banned from football because FIFA saw it, a long time ago, that I wasn’t part of whatever those people claimed that I did.
Even though I carried a heavy load, over the past few years, I was always sure that it was going to pass and, all the time, I drew inspiration from the Bible, from the scriptures, from the pastors and from the prophets.
And I have to thank my bosses, from the number one himself Pikirayi Deketeke, and the Editors — William Chikoto, Innocent Gore and the current Editor Caesar Zvayi — who believed in me and trusted what I told them that my conscience was clear.
All the time I found myself drawing a lot of inspiration from the Bible, Luke 23:24, from my Lord Jesus Christ, on that cross, and saying to those who accused him, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Even though I suffered a lot, and my reputation was tainted, paid a $6 000 appeal fee that went down the drain with no judgment being given, I bear no grudges and, maybe, it was meant to be, and it’s time to let bygones be bygones.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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