THE day was January 7 2002 when crowd favourite Gift Muzadzi was “banned for life” after complaining in his capacity as captain of the Warriors that the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) had underpaid the national team.
Umbro, as Muzadzi is affectionately known, also had no kind words for then caretaker coach Wieslaw Grabowski who he criticised for further “shortchanging” the Warriors after their tour of the Middle East for a couple of friendlies.
But exactly three years, five months and 12 days later, Muzadzi might be guarding the goal for Zimbabwe away to Algeria in a crucial 2006 World Cup/African Nations Cup Group Four qualifier in Oran, 400km from the capital Algiers.
Muzadzi returns to find so much has changed in that period.
Former Zifa chairman Leo Mugabe is no longer there – although we might feel his hand in the game soon. Vincent Pamire, then Mugabe’s vice, is now history. And so are the likes of Ndumiso Gumede and Lazarus Mhurushomana who were in the Zifa that decreed soccer needed “protection from the likes of Muzadzi”.
Umbro returns to find the Warriors under the tutelage of young local coaches, Charles Mhlauri and Moses Chunga, who both have a professional approach and talk, eat and sleep football – probably unlike Grabowski.
The captain is now Peter Ndlovu; though he is no longer the same player who used to be a nightmare to many a goalkeeper during Muzadzi’s budding years between the posts at Darryn T.
But one thing surely hasn’t changed. It’s the way Zifa bungles when it comes to national team issues.
Only last week the Warriors boycotted training while others bunked camp simply because Zifa had not done what it was supposed to. It was the decades-old problem of allowances and bonuses that the football association had not paid to the players as promised.
Was it not the same issue about money that saw Muzadzi being handed the heaviest punishment ever of any Zimbabwean player?
It’s now clear – if it was not then – that Umbro was victimised for raising genuine concerns. He was right but sadly the mandarins at Zifa then were so blinded by their incompetence that they did not seek to address the self-inflicted cancerous problem.
We wonder how many years Zifa want to grasp the basics of running football professionally. Mhlauri and Chunga should not even spend hours trying to calm down players shortchanged by Zifa. They should concentrate on the pitch. Period.
Does anyone wonder why we have some instances of indiscipline characterising national team camping? It’s simply because Zifa itself is too chaotic to instil professionalism and discipline in the Warriors.
Well, enough about Zifa, for the job at hand for the Warriors is more important than the association’s shortcomings.
It’s a big blow that the Warriors will be missing the services of first-choice goalkeeper Energy Murambadoro, who we hear had to be operated on after his appendix ruptured. We only pray that Murambadoro recuperates quickly.
Is it not strange and ironic that whenever the Warriors are to face the Desert Foxes, something happens to Murambadoro? At Tunisia 2004, the goalkeeper was sidelined after conceding five goals in an earlier group match against Cameroon. When the Foxes came to Harare, Murambadoro was ruled out of the game after injuring his head at Hellenic in South Africa.
Now, the goblins rob us of the country’s safest hands again.
The big relief is the Algerians have not beaten us in all those games Murambadoro has not featured. The Warriors humiliated the Foxes 2-1 in Tunisia and the two sides shared the spoils in Harare.
Tapuwa Kapini was in goals in both matches.
Now Muzadzi has entered the fray and tongues have started wagging as to who should be between the posts on Sunday in Oran.
Kapini is a gaffe-prone goalkeeper who many judged could have prevented Algeria’s face-saver during the Tunisia 2004 clash. Although he has distinguished himself as a key player at Highlanders, few trust “Trust” can be the safe bet in the absence of Murambadoro.
He, however, has all the experience and barring any theatrics he is infamous for, Kapini can carry the day for the Warriors. He has stood the heat before in national team colours, though no one has given him due credit.
The Bosso goalminder can draw courage from Liverpool’s Jerzy Dudek who, though underrated even by his club’s fans, brought the Champions League silverware to the Merseyside team.
However, there are many who feel Muzadzi would be a safe bet in goals for Zimbabwe – never mind he was called up as a last-minute replacement for Murambadoro.
Here is a man who has seen it all and Muzadzi has been outstanding for Buymore this season as well. He has played in Poland and also tried his luck in South Africa and Malawi.
The injury-prone goalkeeper has undergone at least five operations that threatened a career that blossomed when Umbro guarded the goals for the Young Warriors during the All-Africa Games in 1995.
He has defied all those setbacks, and the former Dynamos crowd favourite has bounced back into the national team.
Fans from all corners of Zimbabwe have already drawn up their own starting line-up and I have no doubt many have Muzadzi ahead of Kapini, if the debates I heard yesterday are anything to go by.
It will be a tough choice for Mhlauri and Chunga, but I believe whoever they choose will be equal to the task.
Otherwise besides the goalkeeping dilemma the coaches should be relieved they have at their disposal the best players Zimbabwe can boast at the moment.
We will wait to see if the Warriors will prove their number-nine ranking in Africa is no joke when they face the Foxes.
Maybe Ndlovu will choose that occasion to show all of us that he’s not finished as the South African media have been trumpeting since the captain moved to our neighbours’ league last year.
Fiery striker Benjani Mwaruwari is back, and so is midfield genius Ronald Sibanda. With the technical team reporting a clean bill of health, we all wait with bated breath to see if the Warriors can do what Gabon did.
However, the Warriors are best advised not to take the Desert Foxes lightly simply because Gabon humiliated them 3-0 on their home soil in another qualifier last year. A fortnight ago, the Algerians could also not stand in the way of the Angolans in Luanda.
Sunday is a new game. Eleven Warriors versus 11 Desert Foxes. Let the referee not decide the game.