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.