Mhlauri puts his head on the block

INDEPENDENT SPORTS VIEW – With Itai Dzamara

I HAVE always admired risk-takers. But I agree with some of my colleagues that there is some risk taking which borders on jumping into glaring danger. In

that case they would be their own worst enemy when they start suffering the consequences of their impulsive actions.


I admire Morgan Tsvangirai for taking the risk of challenging Robert Mugabe for the country’s highest office. Anyone who knows the dangers of trying to share the political space with a former guerilla leader in power for 24 years in Africa will tell you Tsvangirai took a huge risk.


But a fair analysis of the Zimbabwe situation would acknowledge that Tsvangirai’s challenge forced Mugabe to implement electoral reforms ahead of Sadc’s Mauritius summit. Tsvangirai’s navigation of dangerous waters opened a new chapter of political struggle in this country which some believe is leading to the achievement of democratic values.


Tony Blair, the British premier, must also have contemplated seriously before committing his troops to US President George W Bush’s cause in Iraq. But I am sure Blair would be the first to acknowledge the decline in popularity at home and abroad he incurred due to the Iraq incursion. Some of his critics in fact say going into Iraq marked his ultimate test which he is yet to pass.


These analogies came to the fore during our debate regarding the appointment of Caps United coach Charles Mhlauri to take charge of the Warriors.


There we have Mhlauri, a young coach, yet to achieve anything in the beautiful game, but riding on the crest of having guided Caps to an inspired campaign for the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League. Suddenly, Mhlauri has become in the minds of some soccer followers and administrators the best coach on the local scene. Of course this came after his visit to Germany last year for a high-level coaching course.


Before that, Mhlauri was just one of those coaches on the local scene suffering pangs of hunger for success. For a couple of seasons, Mhlauri – founder of the now flamboyant premiership outfit Amazulu – languished in the shadows of Rahman Gumbo and Eddie May as he failed to prevent the dominance of Highlanders.


But it is the risk-taking instinct that Mhlauri has demonstrated by promptly assuming the hot seat at the Warriors that has set some tongues wagging. And the big question is whether he will turn the fortunes of the Warriors.


It is clear the Caps coach is determined to take the huge risk and that he now views himself as a good mentor, but that is one thing. Indeed, determination and ambition is one thing, but the ability to deliver results, quite another. And here we are talking of delivering results by performing an uphill task of pulling the Warriors from the jaws of failure and qualifying for the 2006 World Cup and African Nations Cup finals.


And the immediate assignment in that endeavour being an away encounter against Angola, the task becomes quite daunting.


I have had the opportunity to speak to Mhlauri occasionally on general issues to do with soccer and have discovered that the man has some firm convictions. He believes in himself and indeed regards himself as a good coach, ripe for the grand stage. He, for example, shocked me the other day when he said one of his immediate considerations was taking up a coaching job with a top club in Germany. Of course, I had to be honest with him and tell him my fear that he was hallucinating. But he is one man with confidence and determination.


I admired the dreadlocked mentor when he openly ruled out Highlanders and Shabanie Mine, saying he viewed Amazulu as his only threat in the race for the championship. That was soon after Caps had lost to Highlanders in Harare, but he insisted the Bulawayo giants lacked consistency. One could say Mhlauri’s words are gradually turning out to be true, what with Bosso’s fading championship prospects. Shabanie Mine are almost out of it.


Mhlauri showed the ability to freely speak his mind – inevitably attracting the ire of some of his competitors – in a society where freedom of expression has been turned into a privilege for the few on the “right” political side.


But I still submit Mhlauri could have put his head on the block by taking up the Warriors job at this stage. For starters, he still has nine matches before “really” confirming himself as a championship winning coach.


I differ with the assertion made by others that Caps already have it in the bag. Of course, their competitors are not doing well, but I think nine matches are still a long way to go in soccer. Besides, Caps still have tricky encounters – away to Railstars, away to Masvingo United and at home against Amazulu, Black Rhinos, Shabanie Mine and Dynamos.


So there we have Mhlauri, trying to raise the hopes of a success-hungry nation but who could in the end remain without anything to show as an achievement even on the local turf. And I have reservations about his belief that he will be equal to the double task of seeing Caps through and reviving the chances of the Warriors.


Even if Mhlauri had already won the championship with Caps -which, by the way, his predecessors at the Warriors, Sunday Chidzambwa and Rahman Gumbo have in their cabinets – he still had to prove himself at a higher level. Taking Caps to a successful campaign in the African Champions League would have prepared Mhlauri for the Warriors job, definitely.


In the broader picture, Mhlauri’s possible crumbling at the Warriors post could drag the national team further into mediocrity.


But, for the sake of giving Mhlauri the benefit of the doubt, he probably should be admired for transforming Caps into a formidable outfit comprising a blend of experience and young talent. He could be trusted to use the same positive approach for the Warriors, which Marimo and Gumbo failed to prove.


The Warriors have been yearning for a coach who has risk-taking instincts, although probably not to the extent Mhlauri has shown, but obviously for the sake of transformation and integration of young blood in a focused and coherent manner.


I mean a coach bold enough to acknowledge that long-serving members such as Harlington Shereni, Adam Ndlovu, Kaitano Tembo, George Mbwando and Wilfred Mugeyi must pave way for new blood. And then drop them!


A coach bold enough to resist media and public opinion that implies a certain Peter Ndlovu is the heart and soul of the team – his descending performances never mind – and start building a team around promising youngsters such as Tinashe Nengomasha and Joel Lupahla. In the same vein, having the guts to tell youngsters such as Honour Gombami, Method Mwanjali, Cephas Chimedza and Njabulo Ncube that they can do it and throw them into the fray.


Probably going by what Mhlauri has shown as the core of his personality – confidence, self-belief and courage – he deserves the opportunity to prove his ability of transforming the Warriors.


But again, Caps alone could be a deceiving platform on which to assess the abilities of Mhlauri because, once again, Mhlauri’s “wonders” at Caps are still to go beyond proving against the poor Dynamos, Highlanders, Shabanie Mines and Wankies of this world.


In addition, the constraints that he will face in trying to achieve success while working with the perennially squabbling Zifa will introduce Mhlauri to a new world of challenges.


Mhlauri will need to prove himself as well in a critical area, which is usually ignored until, like in the case of Gumbo, the can of worms opens and issues of gross indiscipline involving everyone including the coaches emerge. The fact that Mhlauri takes over a Warriors team bruised by recent scandals of indiscipline means he has to prove that he can deal with that epidemic by asserting his authority and inducing real values of professionalism. He will have to start by exhibiting the qualities himself and showing us that we now have a Warriors leader, who is not addicted to boozing, clubbing and rock-and-rolling with women.


The risk Mhlauri has taken could forever be regretted by the Caps mentor for it has the potential to annihilate the very little he had achieved through his transformation of Caps. He could end up having to consistently duck banana and orange peels. It would be even be more regrettable from the point of view of the whole nation.


Or he could enter the history books as a young coach who took the huge risk and rode on his instinct towards success.


dzamarai@yahoo.com

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