Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The vanity of Moses Chunga

In 2006 and 2007 Moses Chunga proved to himself and the rest of the world at large that he possessed the qualities most deeply cherished and respected by football pundits; outstanding personal courage and the ability to lead players out of discomfort and danger when he saved Dynamos and Caps United from the unforgiving jaws of relegation.      
He fully deserved the acclaims that greeted him and the blaze of decorations that recognised his gallantry. He was no longer touted as a promising coach; he was now in the league of the greatest.      
It meant that Chunga had stepped clear of the shadow that had always hindered him from turning shrewd tactics into positive results.     
In all it was a fateful legacy, it confirmed in Chunga’s mind that he was a man apart, a man of destiny. It bolstered his vanity; displayed in his obsession with self-praise – once claimed in a local paper that people hate him because he is a “yardstick for local coaches”.      
It confirmed in Chunga that he and often he alone knew best. It was he who would do the thinking and the deciding. No one else but since Dynamos and Caps United are clubs that do not allow their coaches to have a free, unsupervised reign Chunga left in a huff.         
After leaving Caps United Chunga 2007 revealed that he had quit coaching at club level and would only return to the job if he was offered an assignment with national football teams. 
 “I will not be involved in coaching clubs. I have just decided to retire because it’s just frustrating,” Chunga said then letting slip that he was now going to concentrate on grass root coaching.   
He did not stay away too long, adjusting himself to the role of coach of Lengthens in 2008 – the reason for his return? Apparently Ghanaian coach Ben Kouffie convinced him to rethink his decision. He chose to bounce back into coaching at Lengthens because he felt that the club would suit his demands: “Just like Jose Mourinho you need good eggs to make good omelette. So we will shop around for a few quality strikers.”       
Such sentiments made people believe that Chunga was finally home surprise in 2009 Chunga found himself at Gunners, a club that he had co-founded.  
At Gunners Bambo had more powers and influence than at any other club he had previously coached. And to his credit he did allow that to get to his head, with an occasional wobble he toed the line.        
The task suited him and he did it well culminating in him wrestling the league championship from Dynamos.    
While Elvis Chiweshe the Dynamos coach had to endure a frustrating season that had promised much but yielded little, Chunga fizzed to the top.
He was going to lead Gunners to the holy grail of the African Champions league. But Chunga being Chunga had a surprise for us, he quit the post without giving a reason and set up base at Shooting Stars, a club that he coached before.   
Gunners did well without him making history by being the first club in Zimbabwe to beat Egyptian giants Al Ahly 1-0 at Rufaro through a Norman Maroto strike. Unfortunately they failed to finish the job in Egypt as Al Ahly romped to a 2-0 victory, people believe that the score line would have been different had Chunga stayed but we will never know.    
Always emotional and often melodramatic throughout his career, Chunga has tended to swing between extremes of despair paraded in his almost hysterical demands as the Warriors assistant coach for the ZIFA leadership to quit live on TV and extremes of elation displayed in the theatrical celebrations of winning the championship after beating Dynamos 2-0.                                                      
That 2005 TV outburst did not go down well with the Rafik Khan leadership, which quickly moved to fire Chunga for lambasting it. Where ever Chunga has gone he has always left in a cloud of controversy. 
Witness his recent ungraceful departure from Caps United after a two-year love-hate relationship with Makepekepe fans. As he walked out the door he accused Twine Phiri, the club president of instigating his resignation.
“Twine Phiri never wanted me because I am a Dynamos son,” said Chunga with the taste of sour grapes still strong in his mouth.
He even had the nerve, in fact the stupidity to trigger his fall to grass from grace by calling Caps United fans “baboons” for giving him more jeers than cheers during his flirtation with the green side of the capital.
He was not wise enough to know that in order to win on the field and in the boardroom you had to capture the hearts and minds of supporters, the real owners of the club, whose every action the club could not ignore because doing so would have spelled disaster.
Adroit and daring as he can be Chunga is also headlong and precipitate. Temperamentally he is out of place in modern football. He does not see as the likes of Sunday Chidzambwa, Norman Mapeza, Charles Mhlauri and Rahman Gumbo see that modern coaching is a matter of argument, debate, co-operation and even compromise.                                                                                                                                     
In a nutshell, Chunga lacks the necessary humility to be more than just a good coach. Yes he launched the careers of the likes of Eddie Mashiri and Norman Maroto through his kids net project, saved Dynamos and Caps United from relegation before winning the league with Gunners, but his pride will always see him falling short of being out of this world.                      
Over the years the local media has been frank at times sympathetic to Chunga. But their analysis of Chunga’s coaching credentials so far hardly justifies the conclusion that he is a coaching genius second only to Chidzambwa. 
Surely if Zimbabwe coaching parallels are to be pursued there is less in common between Chunga and Chidzambwa. Chunga strives for greatness but because of his vanity he will always fall short of it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The rebirth of short cat

THE words teenage sensation are thrown around far too often in football these days, but if there is a player who really can be that good and is already exhibiting signs of being the best thing since sliced bread then it’s Pride Zendera.
The Cat as he is known has been on the radar of all the top clubs for a while now even though he is still just 18. Much of the hype surrounding him started as early as age 16 as he progressed through the ranks to become the first choice goalkeeper at Sparrows Football Club in Bulawayo.
He did not stay long there as he was snapped under the noses of local top flight clubs by Moneni Pirates of Swaziland and ever since then he has never looked back as he his name is mentioned in the same breath as Sandile Ginidza, the Swazi National team goalie.
In his debut season he helped Moneni Pirates to survive relegation by putting up an unbelievable rearguard action that even Zimbabwe’s number one goalkeeper Washington Arubi could have been proud of.
Swaziland’s only two newspapers, the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer have compared him to two of Zimbabwe’s greatest shot stoppers, Japheth ‘short cat’ Muparutsa and Bruce ‘Jungle man’ Grobbeller.
Can he follow the path the these greats of the Zimbabwean game, or is he destined to walk in the footsteps of Tapuwa Kapini and Energy Murambadoro, two goalkeepers who promised enough but only did much to be counted as good enough to feature for the Warriors.
“I am the first choice at Pirates and it only took me three games to become the first choice and at the time of my debut I was just 17. The media thought I was too young but my coaches believed in me and soon after that everyone was praising me after we won with me being voted man of the match.
“I am not good by chance but because I have the talent and you can not take away that, I am going to be counted in the league of Bruce and Japheth before I remove my gloves or I am going to die trying,” said Pride.
The goalkeepers’ production line in Zimbabwe has always produced good goalkeepers, who have gone on to do well for themselves, but few have been compared to the short cat. Pride’s height deficiency inevitably invites comparisons with Muparutsa.
And Pride didn’t help matters as kept three clean sheets in a row in his first three games with astounding saves that saw sports writers in Swaziland running into the English language archives in search of superlatives to describe what they had just witnessed.
The cat has been quick to dispel the talk that he is the new Muparutsa. Though he retains similarities with the Dynamos great, just like Muparutsa is lack of height, a disadvantage for many goalkeepers’, is his greatest asset as he makes up for it with unmatchable reflexes and a jump that takes him to the birds.
So far so good, yet many skeptics will refer to many promising players whose flickering flame was extinguished before it turned into an inferno. That said the cat is a better player. As the Swazi MTN league takes a Christmas break, Pride has kept eight clean sheets and has only conceded four goals in 12 games, making giant strides from the previous season where he only managed seven clean sheets out of 20 games.
Some journalists in Swaziland have even gone on to say that Pride is the best goalkeeper in the Swazi MTN league, although flanked by much more experienced players. It is plainly clear that strikers have to think twice when they face him, his agility, flexibility and annoying confidence matched with his handling ability are most of the time too much for the opposing teams.
He has the same reflexes a certain Tapuwa Kapini had at that age but with a better end product.
It is always important not to get too carried away with young players or to expect too much, it’s true he has done well in Swaziland, which is not the same standard as the Zimbabwean and South African Leagues, but he can only play the teams that are put in front of him.
He has already greatly impressed in his stint in foreign lands thus far. Young Zimbabwean players generally create more hype than others in foreign leagues due to the strength of the Zimbabwean league and its ability to produce great players and the danger is that they might get carried away, but it seems that Pride has his feet firmly grounded. He has a strict self imposed curfew; he also remains an avid Christian and does not drink. He is very much a shy young man and prefers to do his talking on the pitch, a breath of fresh air in an age where controversy seems to follow young footballers around.
It is not a question of if he leaves Pirates but when, it has transpired recently that he will most likely leave for the next two as he wants to first become a complete goalkeeper another good sign about the temperament of the boy. It is reported that he snubbed a move to Mbabane Highlanders as he believed that would undermine his rapid development.
Not only did he turn down Highlanders but the Swazi National team as former coach Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba tried his patriotism by trying to talk him to play for Swaziland.
The only blight in Pride’s football journey is that he has failed to represent Zimbabwe in the under 20 and 23 squads and that is not because he is not good enough but because the Young Warriors selectors are wearing blinkers that prevent them from looking beyond the borders.
“All most all the players who have been selected to play for the under 23 were my team mates in the under 17 national team. I was the first choice goalkeeper then but I failed to feature for the team because I did not have proper travelling documents.
“I believe I am good enough to play for the under 23, I am not the best goalkeeper in Swaziland by mistake but because of my hard work and ability. I could have been the Swaziland National first team goalkeeper but I turned the offer down because I want to play for my country and  I am prepared to be a last minute inclusion in under 23 national team that has been called into camp,” said the confident cat.
He is still very slight and needs to bulk up to become a top player but with his raw attributes, he could be moulded into a superstar.
There is no doubt that he is currently the most exciting young player in Swaziland but he is not that publicised because he does not score goals like Knowledge Musona – that is the ugly side of football only goal scorers are glorified.
But there is no doubt that whichever league and club is able to lure him will have a player who, if managed correctly, will eventually become one of the best players in the world and obviously the best thing since sliced bread.

Bosso, Dembare on the brink of extinction

THREE seasons have passed since the big clubs won the league championship, and if the moving and shaking of players in the transfer market is anything to go by, expect another long and cold lean spell for the country’s two biggest football clubs.
For the past three years, three sets of fans have turned out to celebrate championship glory, except they were not Dynamos or Highlanders supporters but Monomotapa, Gunners and Motor Action followers.
Dembare and Bosso, clubs who had acquired the habit of being serial winners of the league, which they took turns to be top dog of, are becoming increasingly worn down due to a championship drought that has bred all sorts of pent up frustrations.
Frustrations that have more to do with empty coffers than anything else and empty coffers that have seen the clubs failing to pay players, players who were then forced to suffer the ignominy of a broke festive season with their families putting on semi-permanent frowns of disapproval.
The failure to fulfill promises made by Dynamos and Highlanders and the emergence of teams with enough money in the bank has triggered an exodus at the two clubs that has pushed them to the edge of doom, to the brink of extinction as the teams have been left with skeleton playing personnel.
For years Highlanders and Dynamos have been using their popularity to out muscle, out play and out bid middle tier teams, but the outlook at the moment is not promising as players want out. In plain terms all the players who have left and are threatening to leave have probably had to fight the affinity that attracted them to the teams in the first place. They are not leaving because they have sold their souls to the devil but because teams such as Black Mambas, Mimosa, and Chicken Inn and of course Hwange and Caps United have acquired the ability to pay astronomical salaries. It is salaries such as the $1000 that Mimosa has laid on the table that are motivating the players to emigrate, not the ambitions of the clubs.
In today’s money driven sport, motivation is the force that drives players on and creates a sense of loyalty that makes them give their all to the club that cares about their welfare as much as it cares about silverware.
But it seems Dynamos and Highlanders still miss the point, they still live in a bygone era where players slaved for a wrist watch and a pat on the back. They still think that their proud history will carry them through another day. They are out of touch with reality and if they are not careful they will wake up one day in the league of average if not mediocre teams.
In a show of unshakable stubbornness and rudeness the two old ladies of Zimbabwean football will point out that there have been here before with Sporting Lions and Amazulu, two clubs that went down the toilet bowl with their monies. Money can not buy success they argued yesterday, they do so today and they will scream themselves hoarse with the same rhetoric tomorrow.
But that will not take away the fact that the football landscape is changing and that as much as money can not buy success it is one of the key components needed to achieve greatness.
Of course to get the best out of a collection of individuals is a complex cocktail that involves more than their individual motivation. There needs to be a sense of unity, a joint operation meant to transcend the club from the class of mediocrity to the league of achievers and ultimately over achievers.
Dynamos and Highlanders have that with the exception of the money. Their success was a product of understanding of how to harness individual motivation and skill to a strong and enduring collective effort, backed up by a brilliant tactical football family.
But that football family has failed to adapt with the changing times, they have chosen to remain in the past but something important left. The fans no longer recognise their most favoured clubs anymore.
The modern day clubs known as Dynamos and Highlanders do not have the means and the ambition to remain empires of the game. What has happened over the last few weeks demonstrates how the two are unaccustomed to dealing with clubs with serious money and are finding it difficult to acclimatise to the changing environment.
They have opted for the easiest reaction, accusing other clubs of poaching their players, but what did they do to make the players stay - nothing. Their actions in the 2010 season were a demonstration of how to turn champs to chumps. Players were not given their signing on fees and their salaries came in batches. Players who choose to stay in such clubs after being treated like nothing need to have their heads examined.
Those players who have decided to leave should not be hanged because they did not do so at their own volition, they were pushed out by a bunch of executive men in suits who seem to have forgotten that footballers are people too.
When these players signed contracts last year they reckoned that they and the clubs were committed to each other for richer for poor and for better for worse but it seems there was more of the poor and worse than the riches and the better.
In such a marriage institution even the most faithful and loyal wife would run for the hills given the least of opportunities.
Yes playing Dynamos or Highlanders is an honour and a personal achievement for players, but in this world where money talks, they are painfully aware that after the cheers and the standing ovations from the terraces have died down, they have to take something tangible home.
For players to stay, maybe it’s about time Dynamos and Highlanders sale their souls to the highest bidders and discard the “community team identity”. They should stop being yesterday’s teams and become tomorrow’s like others.
We are not saying that they should be out rightly sold to some spoiled rich buggers with fat pockets, but they should have a man in charge like Motor Action do with Eric Rosen and Caps United do with Twine Phiri. Or better still sell shares like Real Madrid and Manchester United – the richest clubs in the world.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this, Bosso and Dembare cannot pretend that it is their self-reliance that keeps them among the best. Their balance sheet is the fans that always pay to watch them play. But even the fans are now not that committed to the cause because they are frustrated by the happenings at their favourite clubs. At one time Highlanders made a paltry $1000 from gate takings, shared by the players who each took home $50.
The corporate sponsors (Savanna Tobacco) have also left because their association with the two giants was not yielding the desired results, largely because of the off field drama that characterised the two’s season. What a circus indeed.
The fans and the executives of the teams like to pretend otherwise, but Dynamos and Highlanders should be run along business lines. The troubling player exodus might make them think again about being “community teams”.
At the moment they remain the people’s teams, poor like the majority, clogged with never ending problems and deeply flawed. They might think highly of themselves, but if comparisons were made, they would be nothing different between the two clubs and social teams.
At least social teams do not pretend to be sitting on lofty chairs, frowning at the world below them with disdain.

Paper ball - the root of African football

DIDIER DROGBA bulldozes through defenders to score for Ivory Coast and Chelsea, Samuel Eto’o saves the day for Inter Milan and Cameroon with a last gasp winner. Osamoah Gyan writes his name in the history books of Sunderland and Ghana, while our own Benjani Mwaruwari gives Blackburn fans reason to believe.
What do these players have in common? They are not only great ambassadors of African football in Europe’s top flight leagues, they are goal scoring machines who are as good as the Wayne Rooneys and the David Villas of Europe.
Over and above all they are players whose football skills were cut and polished in the dusty streets of Africa. Players who woke up every morning to kick and dribble, not a Jabulani ball or any other decent ball, but a plastic ball. A ball made by collecting papers and wrapping it with a plastic bag.
Football academies and club junior policies are credited with producing players who grow up shine locally (In African leagues) and abroad and few if any remember the role that the paper ball played.
Few remember that the paper ball was the launch pad; most forget that Knowledge Musona’s cool grace on the ball was acquired kicking that plastic ball on the dusty streets of Norton. Most believe that Marc Duvillard’s Black Aces Academy is responsible for Musona’s scoring touch.
If you thoroughly interrogate the legendary Peter Ndlovu or his rival for the best player after independence, Moses Chunga, they will give thumbs up to the paper ball. They will tell you that it laid the foundation for their astounding exploits.
Even Abedi Pele and Roger Milla will tell the same story. They will tell that that ball which does not bounce, that ball with the awkward shape, that ball which has to be surgically repaired after every match is the one that made them into cult heroes and legends of African football.
Any child who desires football greatness should know that the roots of African football are found in that underrated paper ball, which ends up in the rubbish bin after being used. A paper ball confers advantages and raises a budding footballer’s skill levels. It makes success for those who are serious inevitable because if you ask how to walk the steps of legends, Africa provides a short answer: paper ball.
Granted, the paper ball has its disadvantages in that when a footballer makes the transition to the standard ball he will take time to master it, but you can not take away the fact that the shooting ability and the ball control on display were horned by a paper ball.
In a continent where little money is invested in football and where the majority is poor, the plastic ball is more than a stopgap measure; it can be the gateway to riches. At home the likes of Peter Ndlovu, Mwaruwari, Musa Mguni, Esrom Nyandoro, and the likely Messiah of Zimbabwe football, Musona are living large because of the plastic ball.
The paper ball can be likened to pre-school. While that academically gifted child starts showing signs of his prowess at crèche, that next superstar starts shining on the streets. His graduation to school football is similar to the professor’s primary school stay. His elevation to a football academy can be compared to that doctor’s time high school. You get the analogy.
Africa was introduced to football in the 19th century but it was not meant for Africans as it arrived as a by-product of colonialism.
British, French, Portuguese priests, sailors, soldiers and missionaries brought a game unseen and not played by any in Africa. Traditional sports abounded but there is no record of anyone kicking a ball until the brutal transformation of the continent.
No record because the pioneers of African football, those unsung heroes who were denied the chance to play by a brutal and suffocating system used the paper ball when the standard football was not availed to them.
The plastic ball gave birth to African football and football proved vital in both providing a space for self-organisation and even resistance.
From Algeria to Zimbabwe, as the empires crumbled, football became essential to nation building. Think Highlanders, aligned to PF Zapu and Dynamos then believed to be an extension of Zanu PF, two clubs formed at height of colonialism.
The struggle for Africa’s place in world football, which began through the paper ball, has been intensely political and has reshaped not just the politics of the game, but also the globalisation of sport. It is a story rife with intrigue.
So when that innocent boy who has dreams of emulating Peter Ndlovu runs into the make shift football field, on the dusty streets of his neighbourhood, how much does he know about the unique history and impact of the paper ball he is about to kick?
Not much really, but that does not take away the fact that the paper ball is the be all and end all of African football. For, for all the paper ball’s faults it remains one of the most effective tutors of junior football.

Asiagate scandal: a wakeup call

ANDRES ESCOBAR, a Colombian defender, was murdered shortly after his return from the 1994 FIFA World Cup, where he scored an own-goal as his country was knocked out 2-1 at the first phase by USA. In the most believed explanation, the Medellin drug cartel bet large sums of money that Colombia would advance, and blamed the Medellin-born Escobar for the loss.
In June 2004 in South Africa, 33 people including 19 referees, club officials, a match commissioner and an official of the South African Football Association were arrested on match-fixing charges.
In May 2006, perhaps the largest match fixing scandal in the history of Italian Serie A football was uncovered by Italian Police, implicating league champions Juventus, and powerhouses AC Milan, Fiorentina, and Lazio.
Teams were suspected of rigging games by selecting favorable referees, and even superstar Italian World Cup team goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was charged with betting on football games.
Initially, Juventus were stripped of their titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06, all four clubs were barred from European club competition in 2006-07, and all except Milan were forcibly relegated to Serie B. After all four clubs appealed, only Juventus remained relegated, and Milan were allowed to enter the third qualifying round of the Champions League and went on to win the tournament.
While all these scandals that turned the beautiful game into the ugliest sporting institution in the world unfolded Zimbabwe watched from a distance with an indifference that bordered on disgust.
Little did Zimbabwe - a minor in world football, know that a few years down the line it would attract the football world’s attention for the wrong reasons after failing to do so with its abortive exploits on the field of play.
In what is now known worldwide as the Asiagate Scandal, the Zimbabwe national team had numerous flights to Asian countries to played fixed matches just for the sake of enriching a few individuals at the expense of the nation’s pride.
High-ranking officials, coaches, players and even journalists have been fingered to have fattened their pockets during these shameful games and there have been calls to severely punish all who partook in the dishonour.
Pleas have been made and continue to be made for players to be pardoned from a life ban as they  were nothing but pieces on a chessboard and these appeals should be heard because the players were innocent partakers in a rotten and corrupt ring.
However, this mercy if found guilty, should not be extended to administrators, coaches and journalists but they must without fail be thrown down the bottomless pit of football because their actions have shaken the very foundation of football.
Football has lost significance in Zimbabwe because match fixing has robbed it of the core values which make football popular and unique to other sports disciplines.
On the face of poor administration coupled with poor remuneration in Zimbabwe football the Asiagate Scandal was inevitable. Zimbabwe, at the height of these shameful trots to Asia, was at the crossroads with inflation in hyper mode and the nation on the brink of doom.
This lack of money, real American dollars in a country where football was in financial doldrums resulted in a nagging desire to make money whether by hook or crook.
At that time people from all sections of society, high class and low class made a living through corrupt activities, thus with an all round atmosphere of corruption it was only natural that such an attitude would rub on to the players as well.
With such a scenario it should not surprise anyone that the national team was part of a betting and match fixing racket. And the nation should not fool itself that it will not happen again for as long football is played match fixers will continue being on the prowl for players willing to throw a match for a quick buck.
As the match-fixing revelations, or allegations, rage on, Zimbabwe’s football culture has faced intense, and deserved, scrutiny but both the players and ZIFA have lessons to learn.
ZIFA need to establish a security department that will look into future threats and opportunities that promote match fixing and work to undo such weaknesses.
A security branch may not end match-fixing but could, most certainly, reduce the likelihood of match-fixing attempts, and probably make policing by FIFA and Interpol more effective. Of course, this will require action by the Government, and not just ZIFA and its affiliates. But in this age of reforms, it’s something that should get a fair hearing.
ZIFA also needs to stop treating journalists like kings and should cut off the influence that certain journalists have on the national team for it is this influence that allegedly resulted in some reporters sitting on the technical bench, assisting in the committing of match fixing crimes that have soiled the country’s football image.
If ZIFA act on the Asiagate scandal as expected, the post Asiagate era will bring colour and glamour to football. Already FIFA have promised to pour in millions into ZIFA coffers, this will result in positive change, much needed for the bright future of football in Zimbabwe.
Admittedly match fixing has brought a lot of turmoil and lifted a dust that is threatening to suffocate the life out of football but it should be regarded more as an opportunity than a curse. It’s an opportunity the right more than the wrongs of Asia, it’s a change to reform our football.
There is no denying that football in Zimbabwe has not been tapped, its full potential has been retarded by lack of corporate support. This is the time for ZIFA president Cuthbert Dube and his board to impress the business community that has shunned football because of perceived corruption and maladministration.
The Ndumiso Gumede led Asiagate investigating team has done well and the prayer of the day is that its findings will not be thrown into the dustbin with just a few scapegoats punished while the major players walk away with the proverbial cigar in their mouths.
The Asiagate scandal was a wake up call, a reminder and an obvious example that our football is in need of drastic changes now not tomorrow. This opportunity must not be lost otherwise the vultures will circle again when the dust has settled.