Saturday, 26 November 2011

Dynamos, Motor Action battle for mortality

THE script for today’s Mbada Diamonds Cup final at the National Sports Stadium does not ask for a dramatic potential with recently crowned league champions, Dynamos clashing with BancABC Sup8r victors, Motor Action.
Dynamos and Motor Action can already claim to be the genuine articles, the top dogs of Zimbabwe’s top flight football after having shared the other major competitions.
But all that is history today is a different ball game altogether as both teams will be seeking to emerge as the most successful team of 2011.
Even though, Dynamos and Motor Action have had successful seasons, it is the outcome of today’s final at the amphitheatre of football in Harare that will determine how fondly the 2011 campaign will be remembered by each set of fans.
Dynamos are the favourites to ride into the sunset with a double as they are on-form team and possess star quality with Murape Murape, Denver Mukamba, Archford Gutu, Roderick Mutuma, Cuthbert Malajila, Washington Arubi, Guthrie Jokinyu and George Magariro ranked as being among the best players in the land.
All these players can combine to devastating effect with Murape, Malajila, Mutuma, Mukamba and Gutu having an unparalleled telepathic relationship that gives them the privilege to slice through defenses like a hot knife through butter. Their scintillating performances in the second half of the season left opponents and observers bewildered.
Some fans obviously overcome with ecstasy have gone further to conclude that this Dynamos is the best club of all that. In reality the current crop of players cannot untie the shoelaces of previous vintage teams as they lack the class and finesse associated with the Glamour Boys.
But while they this team lacks the buccaneering style of the George Shaya, Moses Chunga, Tauya Murewa and Memory Mucherahowa, Justice Majabvi legendary teams, it has shown a willpower to overcome any obstacle if faces.
Dynamos have a formidable formula of defensive solidity exemplified by the almost impenetrable combination of Jokinyu and Magariro. Whenever one of the two is injured, substitute Gift Bello has proved to be a perfect replacement. Tawanda Muparati, Leo Kurauzvione and Milton Makopa have taken turns to prove that Dynamos are spoilt for choice when it comes to defensive midfielders with rearguard actions that have neutralised many potent midfields.  
Last time they met in a league match, Motor Action gave up on the title chase as they lost by two goals to nil and Antipas attributed that loss to the absence of Young Warriors right-back Passmore Bernard and Reuben Machaya through suspension.
In that match, Motor Action had defensive headaches as Godfrey Moyo who usually partners Themba Ndlhovu in central defense was pushed to the right while Norman Njelele who has not seen much of the game this season was called from the wilderness and thrown at centre back.
Earlier in the season Motor Action beat Dynamos by a similar score-line but all that is history. This is a different ball game altogether, history counts for naught here, what matters is today not what happened in the days of yore.
This time Motor Action have no injury and suspension worries, they have a full squad complement. Left-back Ocean Mushure who fought a lone battle last time the two sides met will have to be ruthless down the flank this time around if he harbours another winners’ medal on his neck.
With the central defensive pair of Godfrey Moyo and Themba Ndlhovu united again to shut out Dynamos’ raids together with shot-stopper and captain Marlon Jani, Mushure and right-back Passmore Bernard, will be expected to play a roving game, to supply those deadly crosses that were never were last time. If that happens, the Dynamos defense will have to be at its best otherwise after last Sunday’s league jubilation, they will cry us a river at sunset.
Midfield maestro Allan Gahadzikwa will have to undo himself and conduct a masterful footballing opera that he has never before if he wants to make light weight of the Dynamos midfield. He has done it before and if the gods are on his side this afternoon his side will get the $75 000 cheque.
But if there is a player who has the potential to be the general in Motor Action’s midfield it is Conrad Whitby – it’s a pity he is always deployed on the flank. Supersport pundit Alois Bunjira and those who have played with and against Whitby testify that if he is in central midfield he passes the ball like no other.
Isaac Masame who has been one of the stand-out players at Motor Action offers the team speed and intensity in midfield. He has been outstanding through out the tournament and that is exemplified by the screamer of a goal he scored against Blue Ribbon to send Motor Action to the semi-finals.
If the midfield clicks the strike-force of Tawanda Ushe and Kudakwashe Musharu which lacked the cutting edge to trouble Dynamos will have no excuse if it conspires to be anonymous again. Otherwise Tawanda Nyamandwe and the fit again Enasio Perezo will be called upon to turn the game on its head.
Of the two, Perezo is the most capable, as he has shined when called upon. He is a fox in the box and Dynamos are well aware of that as he has won previous clashes for Motor Action against them.
However the match will not only be a battle for supremacy between the two talented sides. It will also be a brilliant and witty battle between two great strategists, Callisto Pasuwa and Joey Antipas. While Pasuwa edges out Antipas in terms of their football careers, Antipas surely knows the ins and outs of the league’s most elite cup competition. Antipas has installed a fearless attitude in Motor Action and their compact game is a treat to watch.
For Dynamos, Pasuwa has proved to be the most effective weapon that they have since he replaced Lloyd Mutasa when the team was on its knees and managed to launch an unrelenting and amazing pursuit of the league when most had given up on the Dynamos ghost. He won nine games, drew one and lost one out of 11 on his way to league glory. Betting against such a motivator and inspirational coach is risky business.
The same can be said of Antipas as he has transformed Motor Action from being a middle tier team to one of the giants in the league. Unlike Pasuwa, who inherited a well-oiled machine, the vastly more experienced Antipas, built Motor Action from scratch and is confident that he has hatched a plan to make sure Dynamos don’t turn Harare into a disco two weeks in a row.
In a capsule, there is literally no bigger event in Zimbabwe today than the Mbada Diamonds Cup final. It will not change your life but it makes this Sunday relevant and interesting for local football lovers.

Friday, 25 November 2011

The best league in Africa … not by a mile

THE media in Zimbabwe, when the occasion arises never lets go of the opportunity to hail the Premier Soccer League as one of the best leagues in Africa.
It’s merits are compared to that of African top leagues, the Egyptian, the South African, the Ghanaian, the Tunisian, the list goes on and on, with the conclusion that in terms of excitement, passion and competitiveness, Zimbabwe’s top division rules.
That bravado stems from the four slots that Zimbabwe was allocated in Africa’s prime club competitions, the Champions’ League and the Confederations Cup. Such a privilege is a preserve of country clubs that do exceptionally well in Africa but it hides a blemish that few acknowledge.
That those four slots that put Zimbabwe club football on a higher plane than our proud neighbours, South Africa, are not a reflect of the standard of football in general, but of one club, Dynamos. If it was not for Dynamos’ impressive record in Africa, Zimbabwe club football would not be chinned up.
The other plus that is mentioned is that Zimbabwe, compared to other Africa countries, has the most football imports, players and coaches, plying their trade in the richest league in Africa, the South Africa league. That is true and that’s a fact but if we desire to be a powerhouse, we should never brag that our best players are just good enough to play in South Africa not Europe.
Still in South Africa, the media is never slow to reaction to virtuoso performances by Zimbabweans. Whenever Nyasha Mushekwi, Khama Billiat, score for their clubs, Mamelodi Sundowns and Ajax Cape Town, back pages of local newspapers make you think for a second that Zimbabwe is in South Africa.
Championship diversity is also ruthlessly exploited to give the league an aura of excitement. In their view a league where big teams can go for three years without the championship with middle tier clubs ruling the roost is not deficient when its comes to fireworks.
Recently they found another pointer to make noise about the goodness of the league. The move by Supersport to flight the league match between Motor Action and Dynamos and today’s Mbada Diamonds Cup final featuring the same clubs, has been seen as an acknowledgement by the TV sport giant that Zimbabwe football is lekker. 
As a patriot one is almost forced to go with the crowd and boldly state that our league is among the best, but as much as I believe that our league is underrated, the reality is that the PSL does not yet come close to being included in the list of the best.
For starters it is among the least sponsored leagues in Africa. Castle Lager was hailed for pouring a $US2 million sponsorship which will run for three years. But a closer look reveals that the amount is peanuts – Dynamos, the new champions were given US$70 000 for huffing and puffing. In total Delta Beverages spent US$600 000 this season.
The winners of the Mbada Diamonds Cup will take home US$75 000, while cup competition winners in South Africa get monies ranging between 6 and 10 million Rands.
Still want more? The average basic salary for players in South Africa’s top flight is R20 000 a month while in Zimbabwe its US500 (R4000).  The average new contract value for a PSL player is R500000 a year, including signing-on fees and bonuses. This translates to R40000 per month. In Zimbabwe signing on fees are around US$3000 (R24 000).
No wonder many South African players prefer to stay home than to move to inferior European leagues such as those of Switzerland, Austria and Scandinavian countries. A Zimbabwean player would thank his gods and sacrifice a bull if a club from those leagues knocks on his door.
Still not satisfied? In Zimbabwe academy graduates or juniors pocket as little as US$100 (R800) a month. In Mzansi, academy graduates are bread winners as they earn R7000 to R8000 a month, which according to the South African Football Players’ Union is far from enough.
The other fact that makes a mockery of the “best league in Africa” saying is that the Zimbabwean fan does not fill the terraces. While in countries like Egypt, big clubs can have an attendance of 70 000, in Zimbabwe it is unheard of for the 60 000 seat National Sports Stadium to have no empty seat in club matches. Even when the two most supported clubs, Dynamos and Highlanders clash a crowd of plus 35 000 is a rarity.
One of the stand-out measures of a good league is its foreign imports. The South African league has players from all over the world, Brazilians included, who are attracted by the irresistible pull of the Rand. Zimbabwe only boasts of a few Zambians and Ghanaians whose football skills are open to question.
Most would state that Dynamos’ runs in the Champions League have not been emulated by filthy rich South African clubs hence our league has the right to brag that it’s among the best in Africa. Better than that of Angola, better than that of Botswana, better than that of Zambia, better than that of Mali, better than that of Senegal.
But the reality is that it is the South African league that contains the most technically gifted players. Watching Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs, Mamelodi Sundowns and Ajax Cape Town toying with the opposition you would be inclined to agree. The number of players who were hailed as brilliant in Zimbabwe but failed to light the stage in South Africa is embarrassing.
Murape Murape the best player in 2007 went down under and failed massively before coming back to Dynamos to win more plaudits and accolades. Kingston Nkhata, a predatory striker, is struggling to find goals at Free State Stars, but at home he banged them week in week out.
Highlanders Captain, Gilbert Banda has trotted to South Africa many a time for trials without success but the media at home sees him as one of the most complete defenders to emerge in Zimbabwe.
Still want more? I will spare you the details.
All the above players and more are of quality but to shine so brightly at home and to fail so badly just across the Limpopo River raises the suspicion that perhaps they are brilliant because they face mediocre opposition.
It is also embarrassing that the clubs that are seen as the foundation of our football are still far away from being professional. Dynamos and Highlanders the so-called most successful, best supported teams in the land are poor as a church mouse. Every year their best players leave for better paying clubs or threaten to leave.
They struggle to pay salaries prompting players to go on strike. The uniforms they wear are of poor quality. Compare all this with South African football giants and you come away with egg on your face. Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns and Ajax Cape Town are astoundingly rich.  Their players are pampered with hefty salaries and live large.
Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns are sponsored by Nike, Orlando Pirates and Ajax Cape Town by Adidas. Unlike Dynamos and Highlanders who use the same kit through the season, these South African giants have the privilege of throwing away jerseys after use. 
Certainly there is nothing wrong to dancing to our own drumbeat and hailing our league as one of the best in Africa but we should not sweep the dirt that screams to the contrary under the carpet.
Let us swallow the bitter pill and admit that our league is far from being the best and most exciting. A lot will have to be done for us to be viewed among the best and for that to happen huge capital needs to be pumped into football.
Unless and until that happens our league will be the best to us not to Africa.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Chaenda Chikwata

IF there is a football club that is now seen as the undisputable yoyo team of the Zimbabwe football, it is Zimbabwe Saints, a team now notorious for making to-and-fro transitions between the Premier Soccer League (PSL) and Division One.
Since the turn of the millennium Saints have been relegated twice and promoted into the PSL two times, in 2001 they survived with the skin of their teeth after being dumped into play-offs to stay afloat.
Their traditional war cry Chauya Chikwata (the team has arrived), which used to intimidate opponents has a new meaning, it is literally now a welcome note used when Saints descend to Division One and the PSL when Saints make a return.
In a nutshell, Chauya Chikwata paints Saints’ quandary as the perennial yoyo club of soccer in Zimbabwe.
This season promises to be no different as Saints are in the drop zone and risk plummeting to Division One with just a season back into the top flight. Pundits have already unveiled an engraved tombstone and identified the yet-to-be-dug Saints’ grave as they believe that chances of the team avoiding the guillotine are as high as the survival prospects of an ice cube in hell.
If the inevitable happens no one will be accountable but Saints themselves as they have repeatedly shot themselves on the foot through out the season.
First they failed to keep the impressive squad they had surprisingly assembled. Players such as Leo Kurauzvione, Philip Sithole and Tafadzwa Maingire left when financial obligations were not meant. A stronger Saints was weakened from that unpleasant incident on.
But what left a bitter taste on the mouths of Saints’ devotees was the failure by the club to respond to the loud overtures of its former sons, Mthulisi Maphosa and Mtshumayeli Moyo who desired to do a double-prodigal-son-act but were met with indifference by a coldhearted father.
The appointment of club legend Agenta Sawu as assistant coach to Willard Khumalo was meant with anticipation but that expectancy of good things to come quickly evaporated as the two were shown the door. First to go was Sawu, accused of bringing chaos into the dressing. Khumalo was hard on Sawu’s heels after relations turned sour over the club failed to pay him what the contract predetermined.
If the appointed of Sawu and Khumalo had been met with optimism what followed next put the Saints’ fan in dreamland of honour and glory. The legendary Ephraim Chawanda, who was part of the Saints dream team that went through out the 1988 season unbeaten, swiping all in its path, abandoned the Kalahari Desert of Botswana to bring order to the madness.
But what happened next was unexpected, Chawanda has failed to sail clear of the treacherous waters because he was given a ship with a malfunctioning compass. The Saints’ ship is not out of the dangerous waters and high chances are that it will hit an iceberg and sink like the Titanic.
Chawanda should be given a pat on the back because any other coach would have walked from Saints before he was pushed. He would say he is not paid enough and would probably claim that he does not need the hassle. He would walk away with a slur that club’s financial difficulties do not give it the right to tie his hands behind his back.
But Chawanda is not that kind of coach, he is no mercenary, he responded to his club’s SOS and is not about to abandon ship without giving it a go. His return might be in vain, but it has proved one thing – that had he been given more time Saints could be safe from relegation and possibly fighting for the championship.
This is exemplified by club’s impressive run in the top flight’s premier cup tournament, the Mbada Diamond Cup where Chawanda has navigated his ship into the semi-finals at the expense of Highlanders and Kiglon. The only obstacle that stands in their way to the final is Motor Action and if they surmount it they have every chance to drag the US$1 million cup to Division One with them.
If that happens, Chawanda would have proved to himself and the rest of the world that he possesses the qualities most deeply cherished and respected by football pundits; outstanding personal courage and the ability to turn a team of failures into winners.
He will fully deserve the acclaims that greet him and the blaze of decorations that recognise his gallantry. He will no longer be touted as just another coach; he will be in the league of the greatest.        
It will mean that Chawanda had stepped clear of the shadow that had hindered him from turning shrewd tactics into positive results in the fight against relegation.     
In all it will confer another legacy, it will confirm that Chawanda is a man apart, a man of destiny. It will confirm that Chawanda and he alone know best. From then on it would be he who would do the thinking and the deciding. No one else and if the Saints’ executive desire a quick return to the PSL they must shut up and listen.
Chawanda is wise enough to know that in order to win on the field, you have to capture the hearts and minds of supporters, the real owners of the club, whose every action the club must not ignore because doing so would see Saints becoming a permanent member of the Division One family.
Adroit and daring as he can be Chawanda is also wise and headlong. Temperamentally he is not out of place in modern football. He sees as the likes of Rahman Gumbo and Callisto Pasuwa see that that modern coaching is a matter of argument, debate, co-operation and even compromise.
 In a nutshell even if Saints go down with or without the Mbada Diamond Cup, it will be an astute move on their part to retain Chawanda as coach. If they do that they will be no need for them to buy another franchise to return to the PSL.
Better still, they will rid themselves of the unwanted yoyo club tag.