Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor
ZIFA and the Spanish La Liga have upped the game in their growing relationship, with the two bodies on Thursday night sealing a landmark deal set to transform the fortunes of talented Zimbabwean footballers and afford them direct access to the professional European game. It’s also a major vote of confidence in ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa’s leadership ahead of his address to the association’s annual general meeting (AGM) in Harare today which has been preceded by a wave of negativity from some power-hungry hawks who want to take over the leadership of domestic football.

Nine months after they first engaged in talks, ZIFA and the Spanish top-flight league cemented their commitment to work together with a Memorandum of Agreement that is pregnant with massive prospects for the domestic game, being signed by the two parties. Chiyangwa flew into Johannesburg on Thursday to seal the deal with La Liga director for Africa Antonino Barradas.

He was in the company of ZIFA board member finance Philip Machana while Barradas, who has set up base in South Africa since La Liga opened their Africa offices there, was flanked by officials from his league who included Enrique Suay.

Crucially for Zimbabwean football, the MOU which Chiyangwa and Barradas signed has a broader outlook which encompasses the schools and clubs and underlines the ZIFA president’s commitment to development of the game in this country as enunciated in the Harare property mogul’s manifesto when he was elected into office two years ago.

Despite some of his detractors seeking to disrupt focus at the association from key football matters and diverting them to some election madness ahead of today’s ZIFA AGM, Chiyangwa and his board have remained steadfast that they would continue to explore deals that will benefit Zimbabwe’s flagship sport.

The ZIFA assembly will converge in Harare for their annual meeting today. And the ZIFA councillors, Zimbabwean football’s top policy making members, have to their credit resisted attempts to be drawn into meaningless fights that only serve to damage the image of the country’s flagship sport that has been crying out for increased corporate sector partnerships.

FIFA last night also indicated that they had received correspondence from ZIFA over the elections road map issue but the world soccer governing body could not discuss much on it except to confirm that they are now seized with the matter.

“We can inform you that FIFA has recently received a correspondence from ZIFA on this matter, which we are currently studying. We have no further comment to make at this stage,” said a FIFA spokesman.

But on Thursday night, ZIFA business took another positive turn with the association’s boss and the local soccer mother body’s finance guru entering into a massive game-changing deal for Zimbabwean football with La Liga. Part of the MOU signed by Chiyangwa and Barradas reads:

“. . .Whereas both parties are keen on having a mutual relationship to aid the development of football in Zimbabwe through the L Liga Passtheball Project, the signing parties herewith agree on the following:

  •  Training of the trainer projects programmes through La Liga certified and qualified trainers/coaches targeting mainly grassroots coaches in schools, colleges and communities.
  • Donation of La Liga Passtheball balls to Zimbabwe
  • Organising coaching clinics and training camps both in Zimbabwe and Spain
  • Providing exposure to talented Zimbabwean footballers in La Liga
  • Promote enthusiasm in football as well as sports tourism through periodic bringing into Zimbabwe of La Liga ambassadors/ legends
  • Organise football tours for Zimbabwean teams to Spain as well as La Liga teams to Zimbabwe
  • Any other football development initiatives that can be agreed from time to time”.

In the MOU, ZIFA and La Liga also agreed to an initial three-year deal that will also encompass government in the programme.

“The programme shall initially be implemented in three phases in not more than three-year cycle and shall incorporate key stakeholders which shall include but not limited to the government of Zimbabwe and its relevant Ministries, schools, colleges, media partners, relevant ZIFA affiliates as well as corporate partners/ donors, who operate in the communities in Zimbabwe.

“This MOU shall be developed into a fully-fledged agreement once time-lines, budgets as well as stakeholder incorporation have been concluded,” reads the document. The smooth partnership between ZIFA and La Liga has already seen the Europeans donating 1 000 balls to the association, a gesture that was made when Barradas made his maiden visit to Chiyangwa in April.

La Liga official Suay also spoke glowingly about the abundance of talent in Africa, which he believes with the right nurturing, could become mega stars in global football.

Suay told Chiyangwa and Machana that the project would help young Zimbabwean players to have direct access to the professional game in Spain and other European countries.

“The biggest thing in Africa is that the skill is there, the skill of the people or the skills of the children but they lack the training and it needs to start at a young age. “They also lack access to the professional leagues. If they train hard and train correctly and have access to the professional leagues that’s it. . .because they have no access and no growth potential.

“If you play in the Spanish leagues and if you play in the major leagues of big money, so this is a legacy project that starts with donating a ball and training the trainers,” Suay said.

Suay also underscored the significance of having talented payers being exposed to the right technical and tactical training from a tender age, which he said would bode well for the competitiveness of the national team.

The Spanish official told Chiyangwa and Machana of the need for ZIFA and the government to lobby for more corporate support for the initiative.

“You need to lobby the corporations and the mines to support this project. Many of the CSO projects to date have no impact but this is a project that will have massive impact because with the funding, the kids will have right training, the national teams will become competitive, the national pride in terms of soccer goes and everyone will be happy.

“Politically, it is a fantastic move for any political currency for the people, it’s an incredible that can give them the ability to achieve their dreams,” Suay said.

Barradas had in his initial engagement with Chiyangwa revealed that his superiors at La Liga mandated him to explore possibilities for football exchange programmes between Zimbabwe and Spain, engineer grassroots development, foster training of trainers, raise development projects and to support with football equipment.

The ZIFA, La Liga deal also dovetails into the thrust that new Minister of Sport, Arts Recreation Kazembe Kazembe has been placing emphasis on – that of channelling more government resources into establishing community sports clubs.

Kazembe and his permanent secretary Prince Mupazviriwo have already started a programme to identify sports clubs and faculties that have been left unused in such areas like Bindura, Mhangura, Kadoma and Harare with a view to reviving them and turn them into multi-purpose community clubs.

The Minister is aware that ZIFA will be one of the major drivers of that audacious project to the councillors who will meet in Harare today leading the implementation in their various constituencies.

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