Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
ZIFA yesterday ended months of speculation over their choice for a substantive Warriors coach, with the soccer mother body settling for veteran mentor Sunday “Mhofu’’ Chidzambwa.
Chidzambwa — who had twice taken charge of the Warriors on a caretaker basis this year — was confirmed as the man that ZIFA believe should complete their quest for a place at the 2019 African Cup of Nations.
The 65-year-old coach returned to the Warriors dugout in June, when he guided the senior team at the COSAFA Castle Cup in Sun City South Africa, where Zimbabwe won a record fifth title in the regional competition.
It was also a moment of personal glory for the history-making coach as Chidzambwa became the first coach to win three COSAFA Castle Cup titles, having first won the tournament in 2003 before returning to claim it in 2009. Chidzambwa also has a proud record in the COSAFA tournament where he has never lost a game in that competition.
The outgoing ZPC Kariba coach, however, suffered a dent to his national team record when his Warriors were bundled out of the African Nations Championship qualifier at the first round stage by Namibia. It was the first time since the inception of the CHAN tournament in Cote d’Ivoire in 2009, that Zimbabwe had failed to qualify.
But as they looked to build on the fine start that the Warriors achieved in the 2019 Nations Cup Group G qualifiers under Norman Mapeza, ZIFA seem to have been swayed by issues of experience and availability of the local coaches at their disposal.
Yesterday, the association revealed in a statement issued by their communications and competitions manager Xolisani Gwesela that they had given Chidzambwa a one-year deal with the mandate being to ensure that the Warriors secure a place at the Nations Cup finals in Cameroon.
Gwesela also spoke of the confidence that ZIFA have reposed in the coach to possibly repeat his 2004 feat, when he led the Warriors to their maiden appearance at the Nations Cup in Tunisia.
“The Zimbabwe Football Association is pleased to announce the appointment of Sunday Chidzambwa as the substantive Senior Men’s National Team coach with immediate effect, on a one-year performance-based contract.
“The association is confident that the coming in of Chidzambwa, Zimbabwe’s most successful coach, will steer the Warriors towards the 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations finals as he has no club football distractions.
“ZIFA on its part will endeavour to provide all the necessary support to ensure success for the Warriors. Chidzambwa is the first coach to lead Zimbabwe to the AFCON finals in Tunisia in 2004 and he has won the COSAFA Castle Cup a record three times, with the latest coming in 2017.
“At club level, he led Dynamos to the CAF Champions League final in 1998 and he won three league titles with the club in 1994, 1995 and 1997. We wish him all the best on his full time return to the Warriors fold,” said Gwesela.
Chidzambwa, who has previously had several stints with the Warriors was naturally excited by the prospects of his latest challenge, but said he could not discuss much on his appointment before meeting with ZIFA vice-president Omega Sibanda. That meeting, at which Chidzambwa is expected to have an insight of the finer details of the contract will take place at the ZIFA offices today.
It is, however, expected that ZIFA will follow the international best practices and allow the veteran coach to pick his technical crew rather than impose on the gaffer who his lieutenants ought to be.
The Warriors have been without a substantive coach since February when Callisto Pasuwa threw in the towel following a disappointing campaign at the 2017 Nations Cup in Gabon. Pasuwa had also been linked with a possible return to the Warriors as had been Bruce Grobbelaaar and Rahman Gumbo.
Without any major assignments on the cards as Zimbabwe were not taking part in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and having been knocked out of the CHAN competition scheduled for next month in Morocco, ZIFA sought to take their time to identify their man.
Hopes that the man who opened the Nations Cup campaign with a fine 3-0 triumph over Liberia — Mapeza — could return to take charge of the senior team faded when the FC Platinum coach led the miners to the 2017 Castle Lager Premier Soccer League championship.
That success has meant that Mapeza will have too much on his plate as FC Platinum will be chasing glory on two fronts next year. It is against this background that ZIFA considered hiring a coach who was not weighed down by club commitments and who could easily focus on the national team job.
Before Chidzambwa’s latest appointment, ZIFA have been tasking coaches on an ad-hoc basis, with their technical director Wilson Mutekede also having had a brief stint with the Warriors.
Mutekede took charge of the Warriors when they played two away friendlies against Lesotho and Namibia, albeit on losing causes. But in his new substantive tenure, Chidzambwa, who is getting a performance-based contract is expected to preside over the remainder of the Warriors’ Group G assignments later next year.
Apart from Liberia, Zimbabwe must face Democratic Republic of Congo, and Congo Brazzaville with the latter being the next opponents when the qualifiers, spread over 20 months, resume.
Zimbabwe’s next assignment is away to Congo Brazzaville in September. While Chidzambwa seemed unhappy during his two-year marriage with ZPC Kariba, the veteran coach seems to reserve his best for the national team and his experience with the continental game is expected to come in handy in the 2019 qualifying campaign.