EDITORIAL COMMENT: Let’s give Brito space and support
PORTUGUESE coach Baltemar Brito begins his journey as the Zimbabwe national senior football team head coach today when he leads the Warriors in a friendly game against Botswana in Gaborone.
The band of locally based Warriors will play the Zebras in a match to commemorate Botswana’s 57th Independence anniversary celebrations.
Brito was only appointed nine days ago and had to immediately assemble a squad based on the knowledge he has gained for the past year as Highlanders coach.
Of course, this is not the best he could settle for since the game falls outside of the FIFA calendar, which makes the bulk of the national team hopefuls unavailable for selection.
However, the expectations remain the same. Zimbabweans want to see good football with positive results.
Of course, it could take longer to reach that stage of excellence considering the depths from where Zimbabwean football is coming from following the protracted years of maladministration and the suspension by FIFA that stretched 17 months.
So, Brito is almost starting from nothing considering a lot of dynamics took place during the period of FIFA sanctions.
Some of the players who were the backbone of the team – the likes of captain Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat – have since retired from international football while others are now past their peak.
A new crop of young players is also on the rise and a fine balance is needed to build a strong Warriors side, able to compete against the best teams on the continent.
The rebuilding could take time, but Brito has under one year to achieve whatever goals he needs to since his contract will end in June, at the same time the tenure of the FIFA-appointed ZIFA Normalisation Committee comes to an end.
The prospect then is that Brito will help lay the foundation for Zimbabwe to build their new team on, and for that reason he needs the support from all the football stakeholders.
Whether he is the right man for the job or not, that’s a story for another day.
The fact is Brito is now the new Warriors coach and the game in Botswana today will give the expatriate coach an appreciation of what to expect ahead of serious assignments like the 2026 World Cup qualifiers coming up in November.
Like any other coach, Brito will be judged on results.
He will have to make a difference and there will be no reason to continue keeping him in the job if he cannot measure up to the task.
An overview of his curriculum vitae would show he has the qualifications, good enough on paper to be considered for the job.
The widely travelled coach is a UEFA Pro coaching licence holder with vast experience, having worked as legendary Jose Mourinho’s assistant at FC Porto in Portugal, Chelsea in England, and Inter Milan in Italy.
The Portuguese gaffer helped transform Bosso from a mediocre outfit to championship contenders after going on a run of 19 games unbeaten at the start of the campaign.
But Brito has his weaknesses. Despite his impressive curriculum vitae, the 71-year-old is new to the African terrain.
The closest he was with African football was his short-lived stint as assistant coach at Esperance in Tunisia and twice being appointed head coach at Al-Ittihad Tripoli in Libya.
He has never coached a national team in a managerial career stretching almost four decades.
Club football is far different from international football, worse if you have not coached international football in Africa before.
That’s when names such as Herve Renard who had success with Zambia and Hugo Broos who won the 2017 AFCON with Cameroon but now coaching South Africa, come in. Coaches that are tried and tested on the African terrain.
Brito on his part has been involved largely with smaller clubs in Europe, apart from his associations with Mourinho. But he made an impression at Highlanders, which probably convinced the ZIFA Normalisation Committee to give him the Warriors job under an arrangement in which he remains head coach at Highlanders and only called upon when there is a national team assignment.
This arrangement has long been criticised by domestic football stakeholders.
It has been tried before by previous ZIFA leadership and it proved ineffective since the coach will have divided attention.
Brito right now is involved in the Castle Lager Premiership title race and at the same time will be tasked to shepherd the Warriors to success in the 2024 CHAN and the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.
Zimbabwe are expected to return to international football when they play Rwanda away from home before they host Nigeria in group encounters of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.
They will also play South Africa, Benin and Lesotho with the top team at the end of the round robin qualifying for the World Cup finals to be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026.
It’s going to be quite a big ask; it is going to be a long and winding road and the best the nation can do is to render maximum support.