The winds of change are definitely blowing in Zimbabwean football. Felton Kamambo is now President of the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA). The less said about the previous administration, the better! This is a most welcome development for the transformation of the “beautiful game” in that country. Zimbabwean football has always flattered to deceive. Change of leadership is needed to give the association a new strategic direction.
As the old adage goes, “For one to be declared a big fish, you have got to swim with the sharks”. This saying also applies to the world of sport and in this case, football. For you to be deemed great, you need to play with the best, not just on the African continent but at world level.
There is no doubt that the lucrative football leagues are the ultimate measure of success for any aspiring footballer. While other countries of Africa, especially in West Africa remain fairly represented in the big leagues, Zimbabwe has fallen way behind with virtually no players competing with the best in the world. With regard to the English Premier League, the best marketed in Europe, Zimbabwe can only boast of Peter Ndlovu and Benjani Mwaruwari who raised the Zimbabwean flag in the English Premier League.
It is now a fact that Zimbabwe does not have world-class players at the moment. The development structures in several countries in the southern African region are not simply producing respectable talent that can get coaches, agents and scouts from Europe excited. Gone are the days when Zimbabwe was represented in top leagues in Europe by the likes of Bruce Grobbelaar, Adam Ndlovu, Peter Ndlovu, and Benjani Mwaruwari. These were outstanding performers who could fit into any team in world football.
The decline of Zimbabwean football is also illustrated by the fact that the country was barred from competing in the FIFA World Cup qualifying rounds due to a debt owed to one of the former national team coaches. This is absolutely scandalous. The Zimbabwean national team lost an opportunity to compete with the best in Africa in the qualification rounds and benefit from that experience. It is surprising that the ministry responsible for sport in the country did not take drastic action at that time to stop the country being embarrassed in that manner.
Given current trends and status of football development programmes, it is indeed safe to bet that Zimbabwe will have serious challenges to make it to the final group of teams going to Qatar in 2022. Zimbabwean national teams, both men and women, at junior and senior levels are always inadequately prepared and ill-equipped to compete with the best in Africa, let alone in the world. The reasons for this malaise are quite obvious to any lover of football. To begin with, the environment established by the football leaders is not conducive to the development of the beautiful game. The football leaders do not provide dynamic and visible leadership for the acquisition of skills at a tender age through well-structured grassroots programmes. Furthermore, the adoption of modern scientific means of talent identification and development is alien to most of the various football administrations.
There is an overwhelming tendency to opt for quick-fix solutions for success by hiring and firing national coaches. A quick survey of the various football administrations will most probably reveal that very few of them have a 10-year technical development programme for the production of players who are capable of competing with their peers on the continent and beyond. The football leaders think that players like Sunday Chidzambwa, Moses Chunga or Peter Ndlovu are simply going to crawl out of the woodwork, somehow, through some kind of astonishing miracle. Well, this is time for a reality check! In addition, most of the football leaders are quite comfortable to sit back and relax, waiting for the government to use public funds to bail them out of their problems. They do not have viable strategic plans and marketing initiatives to make the association financially viable. Even with the abundant financial support that, over the years, has been extended by the world-governing body, FIFA, ZIFA has no clue as to what is really needed to transform the game in the country. That needs to change and that is where Mr Kamambo and his team come in.
This stagnant state of affairs is also painfully illustrated by the fact that there has never been a Zimbabwean team at the CAF or FIFA Under 17 and Under 20 tournaments, despite the abundance of raw talent in the country. Zimbabwe’s continued failure to qualify for these junior tournaments speaks volumes about the ability and capability of the region’s football leaders. The results speak for themselves! There is no amount of public relations or political gimmicks that can hide this state of abject and utter failure. However, the good news is that this sad situation can be rectified. The new ZIFA leadership is going to need all the support it can get to bring the association and Zimbabwean football back on track. Welcome to the hot seat, Mr Felton Kamambo!