IT wasn’t beautiful, football’s version of a Berlin Wall built on the green grass of the National Sports Stadium, the Glamour Boys — like Muhammad Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle 41 years ago — adopting the rope-a-dope strategy and soaking in the punches thrown by a spirited rival.
It wasn’t pretty, an hour-and-a-half show of defence, defence and more defence, where attack became a luxury, lost in that iron curtain of defence — seven in-field players with a defensive mind, employed to repel a rampant opponent whose pace had torn them apart just a week earlier.
Scars from that humbling defeat at Mandava, which could have severe consequences in the Glamour Boys’ quest for the immortality of securing an unprecedented fifth straight league title, were still fresh and in this sequel, which came just seven days later, there was no room for mistakes.
Tonderai Ndiraya’s inexperience had been laid bare at Mandava as he tried to take an opponent, with a rampant attack that was destroying opponents at will, powered by a group of younger, hungrier and fresher starlets picked from either side of the Zambezi, toe-to-toe and blow-for-blow, in their fortress.
The result was a comprehensive 1-3 defeat, with one of those starlets Obrey Chirwa, an explosive Zambian youth international, the star of the show, with two of the goals that destroyed the champions that afternoon, as FC Platinum made a huge statement about their championship ambitions.
And, to their credit, which is something that you don’t get so often coming from the DeMbare camp, there was an acknowledgement from the Glamour Boys that they had been beaten, fair and square, overpowered by rivals who thoroughly deserved their victory.
Given they had a date against the same opponents, barely seven days later, Ndiraya had to react quickly, mature quickly, understand that every opponent was different, acknowledge that FC Platinum were going to still possess the same pace, and youthful exuberance, upfront, and find a way to deal with everything that they were going to throw at his men.
For a change, like Muhammad Ali going onto the Rumble in the Jungle on October 30, 1974, Ndiraya found himself as the underdog, the sympathy was with his men, torn to shreds just a week earlier, the momentum was with the opponents, an irresistible force that had gone into Barbourfields, Sakubva and all the other places, in the past few weeks, and destroyed everything in its wake.
This was an FC Platinum side that was domestic football’s version of George Foreman, ahead of the Rumble in the Jungle in the then Zaire, whose sheer power was blowing away all the hurdles thrown before him, and — just like Ali in that classic fight described as “arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century” — Dynamos needed a strategy, a unique way to counter the ferocity of the opponent’s attacks.
Ironically, while Ali’s defensive style won him his greatest fight in the eighth round, Ndiraya’s defensive masterclass helped his men win the match against their rivals, with the eighth kick of the penalty shootout drama, at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday.
While, 41 years down the line, Ali’s defensive strategy, which helped him find a way to beat an opponent of such raw strength, continues to be celebrated around the world, very few gave Ndiraya credit this week for adopting a strategy, no matter how boring it made the contest against FC Platinum look, which helped his men defeat their rivals and win a big battle.
Very few analysts gave Ndiraya credit for the way he, in just a week, grew in leaps and bounds, from a carefree coach who just threw his men into battle, into this methodical gaffer, who planned every phase of the contest, devised a way to confront this rampaging beast and, ultimately, was rewarded for his technical brilliance, even if it produced a battle that was not pleasing to the eye.
Those who were rooting in Ali’s corner in Kinshasa in 1974 did not enjoy what they saw, their man being pummelled from all directions as he hung on those ropes, by an opponent whose brute force and merciless pounding bordered on savagery, because it wasn’t a pretty sight.
But, when it was all over, their man fittingly feted like a King in his Finest Hour, as the globe cheered not only his resilience but a strategy that had won him his biggest battle, they all erupted in the joy of celebrations that echoed around the world, a victory so special it is still celebrated more than four decades later.
In that one-and-half hour show, so defensive it was an insult to the disciples of attacking football, who believe that the beauty of this game is not found among those who roam the backlines but among those magicians, whose trickery and goals power them into the headlines most of the time, Ndiraya developed from just another coach on the domestic scene into a thinking gaffer who could use tactics — no matter how negative — to subdue an opponent.
In a country where the quality of coaching is something that is consistently criticised, a nation that is still battling to find a gaffer, who thinks, to fit into the shoes of Charles Mhlauri, a nation that is still struggling to find a coach who knows his stuff, to fit into the big shoes of Sunday Chidzambwa, a nation that now loads both the Young Warriors and Warriors’ assignments on the only coach who has shown promise, Callisto Pasuwa, it was refreshing to see a coach — in a huge battle — who had planned for a big game and whose tactics worked.
Those who believe in Ndiraya will be hoping that this represents the first major statement, from their man, that he is now ready for the big occasion, that he has finally shed his coaching milk teeth, that he can grow and grow into the gaffer they always thought he was destined to become, as he undergoes his apprenticeship in the toughest way possible, in the hottest seat in the domestic game.
The ball is in his court, to show those who still doubt him, that this was not just a fluke, his tactical approach that produced that defensive master-class wasn’t something that happened by accident and, if his men are thrashed in Bulawayo this week, when they battle table-toppers Chicken Inn in a duel that could either end their championship hopes or blow wind into their sails, his critics will be justified to believe that Sunday’s events were just a fluke.
If he finds a way to beat the Gamecocks in their backyard, mixing that defensive discipline with an attack that gets his goals, not in a penalty shootout but in 90 minutes, then those who believe in him will be right to feel that, maybe, he is the latest product of the Glamour Boys’ coach-making factory which has already given this country legends like Sunday Chidzambwa and Shepherd Murape and special ones like Pasuwa.
A MINISTER WHO COULD BE A GAME CHANGER
Well, well, well, things are happening, not only in Zimbabwe football, but also in world football and yesterday’s dramatic announcement that FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, was now facing a criminal investigation sent shockwaves around the globe.
The FIFA strongman dramatically cancelled a media conference, which had been set for Zurich yesterday after a meeting of his executive committee, and reports then exploded around the world that Blatter was, at that time, being questioned by police over dodgy payments made under his watch.
At the centre of the storm that has brought Blatter into the equation is a questionable payment that was made to UEFA president, Michel Platini, whose image as one of the people who were likely to take world football forward, after Blatter leaves, is set to take a huge battering in the next few weeks.
Interestingly, while FIFA battles with a tsunami, which has now dragged their leader into the controversy that has been raging on for months, with money at the centre of it all, we also have our case, related to the funds generated from gate receipts our Nations Cup qualifier against Guinea, which just refuses to die.
It has emerged that the Sports Commission, just like the nation a few weeks ago, were also sold a dummy by ZIFA who sent a doctored income and expenditure statement, when the documents were requested for an audit, so that the Association could conceal some of the questionable transactions that happened in the night after that game and a few days later.
What I can’t understand, though, is how the Sports Commission could be fooled by ZIFA to say that the Association paid their employees, men and women who have not been paid for about a year now, from proceeds from the gate receipts.
Surely, if the Sports Commission authorities who audited those figures needed to find the truth, they would just have gone to ZIFA and talked to the employees and they would have heard their stories about how they have been ignored by their employer and that they don’t remember the last time they were paid.
What is very clear is that the winds of change are blowing across world football and only last week, the Democratic Alliance party in South Africa, filed criminal charges against SAFA president Danny Jordaan and former SAFA leader, Molife Oliphant, over the controversial $10 million that South Africa paid to the Caribbean nations ahead of the boardroom battles for the right to host the 2010 World Cup.
United States authorities claim that the payment was a bribe, which was blown away by Jack Warner, a former FIFA vice-president, although the South Africans claim that the money was meant to help develop football in the Caribbean.
Our football leaders find themselves at the mercy of the people who voted them into office, just over a year ago, with disgruntled councillors intent on kicking them out of the game because they have failed to discharge the mandate as they had promised.
It’s easy to understand why the councillors are not happy because when you are part of an Association, which is saddled by a debt of more than $6 million, whose representative national team is the only one that will not be part of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, which has been turned into a closed shop that is run by just a few individuals, reduced from a national organisation into one that is run from a private home, they have reason to be angry.
Only yesterday, it emerged that ZIFA House at 53 Livingstone Avenue, for long the home of our football, is set to be auctioned next month to service one of the debts, the Association’s House in Kensington in Harare, is also set to go under the hammer at about the same time, and the office in Bulawayo is also set to meet the same fate.
Against that background, questions have to be asked as to why our football leaders seem intent on holding on to their positions, even when it has become clear that they can’t pluck the Association from the quagmire that it finds itself in right now, and — unless fresh faces come along with fresh ideas — it’s only likely to get worse and worse?
Refreshingly, we now have a Minister of Sport who, unlike his predecessor, is not sleeping on duty and wants things to change, for the better, and he has charmed a lot of people, in the brief period that he has been in charge of the Ministry, with his commitment to ensure that it won’t be business as usual.
Young and energetic, Makhosini Hlongwane, only returned home from a business trip in China on Monday and, in just one week, he has shaken domestic football to the core and, if what we have seen in his first five days in office in anything to go by, then our football, in particular, and our sport, in general, will not be the same anymore.
And the ZIFA leaders must be wondering why all this is happening right now — those who used to back them at FIFA are either gone, going or have their challenges to deal with, the Minister who used to have a soft spot for them is gone and the fires are raging everywhere.
A BIG WEEK FOR ZIFA, ZIM FOOTBALL
Next week is a very big week for ZIFA and Zimbabwe football and you know that the tide has turned when someone like Brian Chishanga, the longest serving ZIFA councillor who has been one of the pillars of the current leadership, comes out in The Sunday Mail to declare that the leadership’s time is up.
You know that something has changed when provincial leaders, for long the backers of the current ZIFA leadership, tell you that, for the sake of their game, it was important that they dump those who are leading the game and open a new chapter.
Interestingly, those who are in charge of ZIFA appear not to be seeing all these signs, somehow just hanging on, thinking that in just the next seven days, they will do something in one week that they have failed to do in five years, and the mood among the Councilors will change and they will get the benefit of doubt.
The die is cast guys, those guys are not going back, and the winds of change, which have rocked FIFA and SAFA, have just blown across the Limpopo.
And not even adopting Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope defensive strategy, which worked in Kinshasa 41 years ago, can help those caught in the tornado.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(Oh, by the way Chicharito is gone)
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