By dissolving the senior national team and the whole coaching structure after failing to qualify for the African Cup of Nations in South Africa early next year brings to the fore two interesting competing narratives of the general management of the game at national level and the dearth of grassroots football programmes.
The first narrative posits the overnight mantra, “Restructuring”, which has became the buzzword across our football fraternity as Zifa sought to arrest the decline, the obvious targets accordingly were the junior national teams of Under-23 and below to Under-17s.
This top down approach and its midway focal point of targeting the junior national teams is systematic of previous attempts by every other leadership that prevailed since the days of the late Nelson Chirwa and many others who only identified our “solutions” as being embedded in these youthful structures.
Restructuring, yes I agree, but how? A top down approach that inherently indexes its solutions on the youth structures that have been poorly developed during their golden years is simply a recycled failed policy that needs to be thoroughly scrutinised, debated and dismissed forthwith with all due diligence.
The inertia to implement a robust policy that gives birth to a new charter of how we want our grassroots and kids get coached, training of quality coaches and the general management of football at all levels has seriously exposed our lack of insight.
As predictions became ultra clear as to what the general football citizenry knew, the appointment of Pagels ties in with all strategic failures of the past that bought time and hope in anticipation of some magic wand from a foreign coach.
Steadfast belief in foreign coaches is a common feature across the face of the African continent as most countries have gone for the jugular without assessing their grassroots in their own backyards — in a modest way, charity begins at home. A very interesting recent football phenomenon in Brazil was about the appointment of Filipe Scolari for the second time as national coach over the looming caricature of the total football perfectionist (popularly known as tika takka) coach Pep Guardiola, the former Barcelona coach.
Most players, who openly canvassed for Guardiola to take over, felt that the culture of football in Brazil is an extension of what Barcelona does brilliantly albeit at club level.
The football DNA of Brazil is supreme to all and sundry — players (past and present), fans, coaches, administrators, clubs and sponsors — so it was an edifying act to juxtapose their football culture over a tika takka guru, Guardiola.
This is what good football should be about, philosophy prevailing over self and minority feelings and being governed by altruism of the beautiful game.
Our appointment had nothing to do with our backyard assessment but more of the same, buying time and hope of some magic wand.
At every turn l have been grilled as to why l spare thoughts about Zimbabwean football and l remain stoical about a stupendous generation of Under-23 Zimbabwean players who reached the dizzy heights of knock out stages in the then Coca Cola World Youth Tournament.
They lost to Argentina in the quarter finals through penalty shoot outs and guess what? Maradona starred against our great footballers none other than Stanford “Stix” M’tizwa, Joel “Jubilee” Shambo, Archieford “Chehuchi” Chimutanda, Stanley “Sinyo” Ndunduma, Felix Ntutu, James Takavada, Ephraim Dzimbiri, Edward “Madhobha” Katsvere, Peter “Captain Oxo” Nkomo and others in 1981 in Moscow, Russia, just after our Independence.
I remember one day in training at St Peter’s Kubatana in Harare’s high-density suburb of Highfield when Chimutanda coached us as juniors and he recounted how they lost to the tournament favourites but in a gallant way, when he mentioned the name Maradona l realised how great these guys where individually and collectively. This is still the best achievement for Zimbabwean football and shockingly, we are being led as if there was a football apocalypse, no history or DNA, later day saints of “the new” football epistle are crusading and we should hallow their “preachings”.
Divided approach that is placed in many top professional academies and grassroots football of the most of successful teams in Eastern and Central Europe and South America.
In Argentina, they are obsessed with discovering and developing the new “Maradona” at every turn of the new generation of their footballers and they always highly concentrate on the golden age groups.
It is almost identical in Brazil. Their new “Pele” is sought-after in similar set-ups and not forgetting the Dutch, they place so much interest in nurturing young talent in the shadows of their great artists like Yohan Cryuff, Marko Van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rikaard, Ronald Koeman and many others.
The above narrative at best gives any football scholar, coach, fan or administrator hope for the future and confidence that all things being in equilibrium to the philosophy of modern day development of players, these programmes and systems do produce some of the exciting players though they could be different from the actual patterns of their talismen, the Peles and Maradonas.
Ronaldinho, a creative and artistic the world has ever seen, was more than welcome in Brazil as he showcased his witty flip flops, flicks, dummies and mesmerising step-overs.
Once they reach a certain level of accepted minimum standards, they are routinely engaged in competitive games through leagues, local, national and international tournaments to give them more exposure and confidence.
This trend is both common with professional academies, grassroots clubs, schools and junior national teams so as to pervade all football programmes involving all those age-groups. A good example of our “ruins”, buried, ignored and forgotten youth centres, the likes of Zororo Youth Centre, Mufakose, Mbare, Makokoba, Mzilikazi etc, this is where Joel Shambo, Archieford Chimutanda, Sinyo Ndunduma, Peter Nkomo, Felix Ntutu and many others got nurtured their talents, with a then competitive school sporting curriculum aiding their development.
Our approach borders on the worst form of negligence and blankness of simple ideas of how to turn around our fortunes in the national game before the sunset of modern football consumes us away in the darkness of ignorance and hesitation. Amen.
Phillip Zulu is a Zimbabwean coach who is based in Leeds, UK. He is currently heavily involved in scouting and coaching talented young players in England.