Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
THE Warriors have said their acceptance of ZIFA’s Z$30 000 (about US$1 500) winning bonus, for the two 2021 AFCON qualifiers against Botswana and Zambia, shows they are not a group of individuals inspired by monetary gains. Instead, the players say, this demonstrates their quest to do well for their country.
The players also hope this will remove the myth that they are a bunch of mercenaries, who are only concerned about reaping huge financial rewards, rather than flying their national flag with pride by winning matches.
The country’s senior national team lost the support of their fans, during the chaos which blighted their camp at the 2019 AFCON finals in Egypt, where the headlines were generated by frequent protests as they pressed to be paid huge sums of money for representing their nation.
The team’s humiliation exit, during the group stages where they suffered a 0-4 thrashing at the hands of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was blamed by some of their supporters on the lawlessness that haunted their camp with focus being deflected from trying to win matches amid the battles for rich financial pickings.
It was the worst campaign by the Warriors at the AFCON finals and, given they arrived in Cairo with genuine hopes of making history and going beyond the group stages, for the first time in their history, the fallout from that embarrassment was widespread back home.
This evening, the Warriors start another AFCON qualifying campaign with a date against the Zebras of Botswana at the National Sports Stadium at 6pm, and the senior national team players have been on a charm offensive to reach out to their fans to repair the bond of trust broken by that Egyptian nightmare.
It’s the first time that such key players like skipper Knowledge Musona and Aston Villa midfielder, Marvelous Nakamba, will be playing for the team since that Nations Cup debacle.
“I think it’s very clear that our commitment to represent our country in the best way possible can never be doubted and that is why we have accepted what the ZIFA officials have laid out on the table even though, when you look at the figures, it’s a far cry from what other teams earn,’’ said one of the players who chose not to be identified.
“Since we reported for camp, you guys have not even picked any reports that there were problems because we are all committed to bury the past because we acknowledge that, while we believe we were not wrong in Egypt, what happened there was not right for the image of us, the team and our country.
“Everyone learnt their lessons, we the players we picked some lessons, ZIFA also picked some lessons, because we are a single unit and the only way we can succeed is when we pull in one direction and that means focusing more on what we can do on the pitch, because that’s what we know, rather than what happens outside the field.
“We are professionals and we have never said that our aim is to make money out of playing for our country, we get some decent salaries at our clubs and this is national service and we are proud to do it because, in life, there are more important things than money and nothing beats making an entire nation feel happy and proud.
“We talked to each other when the squad was named and we reminded each other that we owe the fans, who have been very supportive of us, and the best way to repay them is to just concentrate on playing well for the Warriors, winning games, and even when we can’t win, we have to show that we gave it all that we had.
“There is a different mindset among the players right now and we want to open a new chapter because we all believe we can get back to the AFCON finals, our team is being strengthened by some new arrivals every day and it’s getting stronger and who knows, maybe we can go all the way to the World Cup.’’
The players signed the new contracts this week after their arrival in camp and the cash-strapped association, who have been battling serious financial challenges, have come up with a proposal that will guarantee the Warriors Z$30 000 in bonuses, per player, if they win the two opening Nations Cup qualifiers.
All the Warriors have agreed to the new pay structure, which translates roughly to Z$15 000 per player per win during the two games against Botswana, at the giant stadium this evening, and Zambia next Tuesday.
It’s an improved package from the one which ZIFA had come up with in August ahead of the 2022 World Cup preliminary round qualifier against Somalia.
However, it represents vastly-reduced payments schedules for the Warriors who enjoyed what was termed the Arabian feast during the 2019 AFCON finals in Egypt in June.
Back then, the Warriors enjoyed rich pickings, earning as much as US$5 000 in appearance fees alone for each of their matches at the AFCON finals in Egypt.
However, this huge financial commitment came at a huge cost as it ended up creating conflict between the team, and ZIFA, as the association struggled to finance the financial requirements of the campaign.
Their camp as transformed into a theatre of chaos, with players repeatedly threatening not to fulfil their Group A assignments, including the opener against hosts Egypt, unless they had been paid their dues.
ZIFA said they agreed to pay the players US$1 500, per game, in appearance fees, during their 2019 AFCON finals campaign with the other US$3 500 set to be secured from proceeds from the fund-raising committee, bringing the total to US$5 000 per player per game.
The players were also meant to get a daily allowance of US$100 during that tour of duty in Egypt and, while they did not win a single match in Cairo, their draw against Uganda fetched them a cool US$3 000 each.
After the chaos in Cairo, things changed.
From earning as much as US$5 000, in appearance fees for every match at the AFCON finals, players now had to settle for all payments in local currency with appearance fees, for the World Cup qualifier against Somalia, reduced to Z$200.
The new ZIFA pay structures showed that if the Warriors had won both legs of their World Cup qualifier against Somalia, they would pocket Z$2 000, representing Z$1 000 for each victory.
When they were in camp, at home, the players were to get a daily allowance of Z$75 and, when they reached foreign soil, the payment was then increased to Z$85 a day, too.
The appearance fee, for the match against Somalia was just Z$200 and, had the game ended in a draw, the players would receive Z$500 each.
But, ZIFA have since improved on that and dangled a Z$30 000 winning bonus for the Warriors, which the players have accepted, in the event they win both games against Botswana and Zambie.