Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
AS the Warriors prepared to return home yesterday after their doomed AFCON finals adventure ended in humiliation on Sunday, the hotshot striker who could possibly have kept them here longer, Macauley Bonne, was just across the Mediterranean in Spain for some warm weather pre-season training.
If things had gone otherwise, the 23-year-old forward would have had his first AFCON finals adventure for his country, and according to the man who has been instrumental to try and get him to play for Zimbabwe, Marshall Gore, he would certainly have scored some goals at this tournament.
When Bonne declared in May via Twitter that he was on his way to this football showcase, it triggered a wave of expectations among the Warriors fans who have been crying out for a gunslinger with a good record of scoring goals for their team.
“To counter the Press reports, I have completed all necessary documents to get my #Zimbabwe passport. I will be travelling to #AFCON2019 this summer, representing my country,” he said.
But, Bonne’s dreams didn’t come true and complications in securing a Zimbabwean passport that would have enabled him to play for the Warriors here, elbowed him out of the tournament.
The Warriors scored just one goal at this tourney, their lowest return of goals since making their debut at this football festival 15 years ago, with Khama Billiat on target against Uganda.
In sharp contrast, the Class of 2017 scored four goals, two against Algeria in a 2-2 draw, and two against Tunisia, in a 2-4 defeat, in their group games.
Former captain Peter Ndlovu scored three goals at their debut show at the AFCON finals, and in just one game against Cameroon, he scored twice, more goals than the Warriors scored at this tournament.
Gore still believes Bonne will be part of the Warriors future even though he is disappointed the striker didn’t get a chance to introduce himself to the fans at this tournament.
“There is no doubt that Bonne will play for the Warriors, he is one of the future of the team and by the time we start the World Cup qualifiers, hopefully, everything would have been sorted,’’ said Gore.
“But, there is obvious disappointment that his dreams to play here were dashed because when one looks at how things unfolded, there is no doubt that he would have made a big difference to our campaign and chances are that we would still be in the competition.
“He is a good goalscorer and we missed a person like him, the one who just finishes off the chances, the one who roams the penalty area and the player who keeps the opposing defence on their toes.
“When you look at our group, all we needed was just one win and we would have been through to the next round and I think we had chances against Uganda and no one knows what a player like Bonne would have done in terms of making a big difference.’’
While the Warriors were preparing for the trip back home yesterday, Bonne was with his new English Championship side Charlton Athletic for warm-weather training in Spain.
His absence from this tournament meant the Warriors were the only team with a player good enough to sign for an English Championship side, who did not use him at this tourney.
For now, Bonne has been focusing on his new environment.
“(I’m) tired, that’s the least I can say. It’s been a hard day, but it’s something you’ve got to do when you’re a footballer to come out to these hot countries and work hard to get where you want to be come the start of the season,’’ he told his club’s official website yesterday.
“I am feeling the step up because I was playing non-league (with Leyton Orient) for the last two seasons and Colchester United before that.
“On the run there, when I had nothing left in the tank, you find stuff because people are pushing you on. There’s a real togetherness.
“It helps me coming where I’ve come from, I’m going to need people helping me along the way because I’m not going to be the perfect player, I’m not going to be the fittest player.
“The gaffer (Lee Bowyer) and all the staff around me are just helping me along and it’s really nice. There’s been a real team spirit around the place, everyone’s buzzing. It was the right club to come to, coming from a team with such high spirits, I’ve come here and matched it almost.
“You look back on it, after they won promotion last season and the pre-season in Portugal for (the team) was a blur. All that hard work has been worth it now in helping them to get where they want to go to and I’m happy to do the hard work to get where I want to go to which is to play in the Championship.”
Bonne scored 23 goals last season and has scored 44 in the last two seasons.
Reports indicate his transfer to Charlton Athletic has a clause where, if he scores a minimum of 15 goals this season, he will move to Premiership side Leicester City.
The Foxes have been monitoring Bonne for some time and believe he could be the next Jamie Vardy, the player who rose from non-league football to play for England.
Last month, everything appeared set for Bonne to join the Warriors at this AFCON finals before ZIFA then dropped a bombshell when they revealed they had failed to meet the CAF deadline for the submission of the striker’s name in the final 23-member team list.
“The CAF deadline for the participating teams to send their squads is tomorrow (today). We have been following closely the processes (Bonne’s passport application),’’ said ZIFA spokesperson Xolisani Gwesela.
“We know he submitted his papers to the relevant authorities in accordance with the standard procedures. We are also aware of the challenges and necessary engagements have taken place, but some of the things are beyond us.
“It’s unfortunate we haven’t received any news on the issue, and because of the time, the coach has since announced his team and the guys are now in Egypt, getting ready for the AFCON tournament.’’
Warriors head of delegation Farai Jere said he was certain Bonne would have made a huge difference had he played in this tournament.
“He is a good striker and we have to continue pursuing his case, but we feel he could have made a huge impact here if he had come and it’s unfortunate he wasn’t here,’’ he said.