JACKPOT TIME. . . This picture shows the K250 000 (about US$25 720) prize money which was handed over to Zambian champions ZESCO United during the FAZ/MTN Zambian Super Division awards-giving ceremony in Lusaka last month

JACKPOT TIME. . . This picture shows the K250 000 (about US$25 720) prize money which was handed over to Zambian champions ZESCO United during the FAZ/MTN Zambian Super Division awards-giving ceremony in Lusaka last month

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
THE new El Dorado for Zimbabwean footballers appears to have shifted from Tanzania to Zambia, but is their adventure across the Zambezi a plunge into a Premiership of fabulous wealth and opportunities or — as their journey into East Africa ultimately proved — just another grand pie in the sky?

In the past two years, a number of Zimbabwean players had been trekking to Tanzania following the footsteps of Thabani Kamusoko and Donald Ngoma, amid promises of rich pickings in that country, but the majority of them have since retraced their footsteps back home in frustration over promises that were not fulfilled by their employers.

Images of some of them, including former Dynamos centre-back Elisha Muroiwa, getting their signing-on fees in bundles of cash after putting pen to paper with their Tanzanian clubs last year provoked a lot of questions about the professionalism of the set-up of the domestic league in that country.

Muroiwa is one of those who have cut short their stay in Tanzania and returned home in a mass exodus that includes Simba Nhivi, who has reunited with his old club CAPS United, Wisdom Mutasa, Method Mwanjali, who was highly-rated during his stay at giants Simba SC, and Ngoma who even courted the interest of some Egyptian clubs during his stay there.

Recently, a new avenue for Zimbabwean players has opened in Zambia, with midfielder Nqobizita Masuku dumping domestic champions FC Platinum, widely regarded as the richest football club in the domestic Premiership, for modest Zambian side Buildcon FC.

Zimbabwe international defender Patson Jaure, who had a stint in South Africa before returning home to join Ngezi Platinum, has also moved to Zambia where he has joined Buildcon who have also plucked goalkeeper Tatenda Mukuruva from his South African adventure.

Former Golden Boot winner Nelson Maziwisa has become a regular at Kabwe Warriors while Tafadzwa Rusike joined Zanaco after his acrimonious departure from CAPS United last year.

Football Association of Zambia secretary-general Ponga Liwewe told our digital sports platform, Sportszone, that the wave of Zimbabweans arriving there was part of a football revolution taking place in that country.

‘’There has been a resurgence in Zambian football since winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012. This win reignited the passion for the local game which had been in decline since the late 1990s,’’ he said. ‘’More recently, success in winning 2017 Under-20 Africa Cup has seen crowds rise to new heights. The heightened passion for football has given the game a huge boost.

“Success on the field feeds into the desire for more companies to be associated with the game. In Zambia where many clubs are owned by companies, they see the growing passion and this makes football a good investment for them. There is increased sponsorship and marketing, bringing in more revenue. Football’s increased revenue now makes it possible for clubs to look beyond Zambia’s borders to strengthen their teams.’’

Local football agent George Deda, who has been behind the moves of Mukuruva, Jaure and Masuku, said it was all about the money.

“To me, football is about making money when a player is still able to play. If you look at it, some SA clubs pay around R50 000 (US$4 000) per month but in Zambia, you find that some clubs are paying as much as US$6 000,” he said.

But questions remain as to how the Zambian clubs can manage to run such huge bills given that the sponsorship package that is injected into the FAZ/MTN Super League is far less than what is poured into the domestic Premiership.

l Last year ZESCO United received K250 000 (about US$25 720) for winning the Zambian championship, almost FOUR times less than the US$100 000 which FC Platinum pocketed for being champions here, and the comparison of these figures could be telling.

l Deda suggests that the Zambian clubs are well sponsored, making them afford to pay their players US$6 000 a month, but how come the financial package which is poured into the league championship itself — in that paradise of sponsorship — is so little that the winners get just about US$25 000, which is a quarter of what the champions here get?

l If US$25 000 is what the league champions can get at the end of the season, does it make sense or would it be sustainable, both in the short and long term, for the same clubs to pay their players US$6 000 each a month which means a club can spend $72 000 a year per player to try and win US$25 000 at the end of the campaign?

l With clubs having an average of 25 players or 30 players, this means they can splash US$2 160 000, for one with 30 on their books, or US$1.8 million, for one paying 25 players, in wages only to try and win US$25 000 at the end of the season?

l How can a player who earns about US$6 000 a month, which then translates to about US$72 000 a year in wages, then be paid K25 000 (about 2 572) for winning the Footballer of the Year award as was the case last month when Augustine Mulenga took the honours?

l How is it possible that a footballer who pockets about US$6 000 a month ends up being rewarded with a cheque of K20 000 (about US$2 057) at the end of the year for winning the Golden Boot award in that Premiership as was the case with Chris Mugalu last month?

l How is it possible that the best referee in a league that can afford to pay its best players US$6 000 each a month can receive K15 000 (about US$1 543) which was handed over to Janny Sikhazwe for being the best referee in that country?

l How is it possible that a major sponsor like Atlas Mara, who are the parent company of BancABC, can unveil a sponsorship package of K800 000 (about US$82 304), for this year, to earn the rights of being the flagship sponsors of the champions of a league that can pay its best players about US$6 000 each a month?

l How can the league, whose clubs can afford to pay their best players US$6 000 each a month, pay its Coach of the Year K20 000 (about US$2 057) at their annual awards giving ceremony last month as was the case with Beston Chambeshi?

l If Buildcon’s share from the prize money last year was just K11 000 (about US$1 131) for finishing ninth in the championship, how can they justify spending, for example, US$6 000 a month on one of their players and US$72 000 a year?

Something just doesn’t add up as was the case last year when some Tanzanian clubs realised they could not keep their wild promises to their Zimbabwean recruits after the new title sponsor, Kenya Commercial Bank, who replaced Vodacom Tanzania in September, unveiled a package of 325 million Tanzanian shillings (about US$144 000) for the league.

If the Zambian clubs are running their affairs on huge lines of credit or financial injections from elsewhere, how long can they then sustain such projects given the limited returns they can reap from the projects?

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