Benjani set to bounce back for AFCON
Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
EX-ZIMBABWE skipper Benjani Mwaruwari is set for reunion with the Zimbabwe senior national football team as one of the assistant coaches at next year’s AFCON finals in Cameroon.
Zimbabwe currently have no technical team to lead the Warriors at the continental football jamboree. But indications are Norman Mapeza, who held the fort as interim coach for the last three months, is likely to return as the head coach.
Mwaruwari had his first stint in the national team’s technical set up in September when he was named as one of the three assistant coaches to prop up the underperforming team under expatriate coach, Zdravko Logarusic.
But he only sat on the bench twice before he was caught up in the sweeping changes, when the Croatian was sacked by ZIFA for a poor run of results with the national team.
The Warriors find themselves without a coach again following the expiry of caretaker coach Mapeza’s short-term contract at the end of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers last month. “The issue of the coach is yet to be finalised. Of course, engagements have been going on and hopefully by the end of this week we should know which direction things are taking,” said a highly placed source.
“But what is likely to be certain is that Benjani Mwaruwari will be returning as one of the assistant coaches. In fact, the idea was to give Mapeza a contract after the World Cup qualifiers and then allow him to choose his assistants. “This time he was supposed to have three assistants, including Benjani, because there was a general feeling that he did not have enough time to make his contributions.
“So, whoever is coming as coach, even if the plans to re-engaging Mapeza fail, should include Benjani in the set-up. His experience is needed and his influence is critical, especially when going to such a tournament as the AFCON finals,” said the same source.
The 43-year-old Mwaruwari attained his UEFA A coaching licence this year and immediately declared his interests in a new career path in football.
The former Manchester City forward, who has always regarded himself as a loyal servant of Zimbabwean football, was appointed to join the Warriors ahead of their opening 2022 World Cup Group G qualifiers at the beginning of September.
He was roped in to work with strikers in the squad. The long-term plan was for Mwaruwari to monitor the Warriors players in Europe, where he would go and watch them play, talk to their club coaches and other key members of the supporting staff at their bases. But after two games against South Africa and Ethiopia, Mwaruwari found himself jobless again. His first stint lasted only 18 days. Mwaruwari said he was not shutting the door despite the setback.
Many also felt he still had unfinished business after sitting on the Warriors bench for only two games, which included the 0-0 draw with South Africa at the National Sports Stadium and the surprise 0-1 defeat to Ethiopia.
“I have always said, everything to do with my national team I will commit. Even in the future, if another opportunity arises, I will be available because this is for Zimbabwe,” he told our sister paper, The Sunday Mail, in a separate interview.
“Yes, I sat on the bench for only two games, but in football nothing is ever guaranteed. Coaches come and go, so I have no qualms at all.”
Even after the humiliation, Mwaruwari said he had no hard feelings when he was left out of the interim technical department assembled by Mapeza.
Instead, Mwaruwari landed his full support behind Mapeza. The FC Platinum coach is also said to have agreed to working with the ex-Manchester City man, if given the opportunity at AFCON.
“(I have) no qualms whatsoever. In any case, what happened was normal in any normal football situation,” said Mwaruwari. “Norman (Mapeza) had to be given the prerogative to choose his own assistants. He is a local coach who knows the terrain very well, having also coached the squad before, so it was only fair to let him hunt with his trusted dogs.
“Mapeza knows the players as well, so he has to fight the battle with his trusted soldiers and he has to be given that opportunity.
“It is normal in coaching for a head coach to have his own trusted lieutenants.
“In any case, I am fully behind Mapeza. We all have to support him because this is all about Zimbabwe, not individuals,” Mwaruwari said. The Warriors are in desperate need for a technical team ahead of the AFCON finals, which kick-off in Cameroon in just under five weeks. The appointment of the coaches has been delayed following the suspension of the ZIFA board by the Sports Commission recently.