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We’re desperate

ANYONE who is hostile to honesty might easily construe South African footballer Benni McCarthy’s comments this week as mere hauteur that borders on malice.
“I’m 30 years old now and I’m still going strong. In all my time, not one single player has come and got as close to where I’ve been with the national team,” McCarthy told BBC Sport last week.

I believe him.

“You’ve got to give young players a chance and that’s what they did for the African Nations Cup,” he said.

“But I’ve been in the national team now since 1997 and in 1998 I became a regular. Ever since then, I have been the number one striker for 10 years.”

That’s right.

“It’s a shame that, for such a great country with so many talented young players, not one of them has put my playing days with the national team in danger,” McCarthy said.

Shame maningi stereki.

“But now I’m having to work extra hard to get back in there because the World Cup in 2010, in my home country, will be the last opportunity for me to play on the biggest stage,” he said.

“I’m still very confident in myself, though. I go back and I’m always going to be the number one, but if you go and play in all the tournaments, you’re never going to give a chance to young players.

“Me not going to the African Cup of Nations opened the door for so many young players, but when 2010 comes around, then I still want to be the number one striker.”

So Benni can shoot from the hip too?

Well, I’m sure former Zimbabwe skipper Peter Ndlovu would have loved to say nearly the same words a few years ago.

Even though the ageing striker is now a pale shadow of the teen sensation that rocked the English Premiership over a decade ago, can any Zimbabwean footballer stand up today and claim he can threaten Ndlovu’s legacy?

Which brings me to the crisis Zimbabwe football is facing.

Tuesday night was just another show of Zimbabwe’s serious predicament.

Even if James Matola had not thrown himself at a harmless flick to beat his own goalkeeper and hand a pedestrian South Africa a 2-1 win, Zimbabwe had already done enough to worry their new Brazilian coach.

At best the Warriors tried to imitate Bafana Bafana’s attempt at slick passing and build-ups and at worst they were the perfect definition of a thoroughly disjointed team.

If an ordinary fan could not be chaffed by the unnecessary tackles and overzealous clearances in defence, the visionless and stray passes in midfield as well the lack of firepower upfront, Valinhos should be a very worried man.

Besides the Zimbabwe Football Association’s well-documented policy and administrative failures which will hamper Valinhos work, do we have players good enough to make the country a force to reckon with on the international stage?

The first player that comes to every Zimbabwean’s mind is Manchester City’s Benjani Mwaruwari, currently third on English Premiership goalscorers’ chart.

Yes, Benjani has captivated us with his exploits in Europe since he first moved to Switzerland en route to France before he signed for Porstmouth.

However, the biggest concern is that Benjani has failed to replicate his club performances at national team level, just as Thierry Henry has failed to do for France what he has done at Arsenal and now Barcelona.

In our desperation, we can only keep on hoping that the 29-year-old Benjani will get better with age like wine and deliver Zimbabwe from the scrapyard of football.

Then the temptation is to say we have, besides Benjani, players such as Honour Gombami, Vusa Nyoni, Cephas Chimedza and lately Obadiah Tarumbwa in Belgium.

The boys have done so well to play in Belgium which, though not among Europe’s big leagues, still affords them an opportunity to play in competitions such as the Champions League.

These guys are by no means poor quality, but being good enough to play in Belgium does not necessarily make them quality players.

Maybe, like in Benjani’s case, their time will arrive too although we can’t pretend we have not seen what they are capable of in national colours.

A good gentleman suggested Valinhos could look elsewhere in Europe for players good enough to make the Warriors.

He had in mind the Romania-based Mike Temwanjira, who he believes has been unfortunate with limited or no media publicity.

In Poland, he fished out names such as Takesure Chinyama and Dickson Choto who are at Legia Warsaw.

He reminded me of Harlington Shereni of Nancy in France as well as Noel Kaseke and Musa Mguni of Omonia Nicosia in Cyprus and Joseph Ngwenya of SK Austria in Austria.

Well, it can never be fair to write off players who never been given proper chances like Temwanjira, Mguni and Ngwenya.

Of course we have seen before what Shereni and Choto can and cannot do in national team colours. But whatever their contribution in the past, there is no doubt that the European leagues can make them better players.

The biggest problem becomes how to monitor those players.

I wonder also if Zifa, who are relying on the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority to pay Valinhos, can pool resources to track such players and bring them home whenever they are needed.

There’s another school of thought that sees the “emergence” of Young Warriors stars such as Ovidy Karuru, Tafadzwa Rusike, Knowledge Musona, Guide Goddard, Archieford Gutu pointing to a great future for Zimbabwe.

By the way, Zimbabwe’s Under-17 and 20 sides won regional titles last year.

But I’m not sure if that means anything for Zimbabwe.

It would be a travesty of honesty to pretend that Zimbabwe’s youth teams have never won regional competitions.

For example, how many of the players in the Zimbabwe side that won the Cosafa Under-20 titles in 2001 and 2002 have gone on to shine in the senior team?

It would be very unfair for me to claim without evidence that Zimbabwe used over-aged players in the youth teams, but there is a worrying trend.

It’s either the youth stars are frustrated out of football because of the well-documented shortcomings of the local game, or their age-cheating simply catches up with them.

You cannot develop a player who in reality is at or beyond his peak at the time he will be showing up as a “promising, talented young player”.

Generally, age-cheating is caused by desperation and poverty.

Some reduce their age so as to qualify for youth teams and gain recognition. Others are influenced by unscrupulous and fraudulent football agents who advise them to reduce their age by so much that it looks ridiculous at times. So it seems like a mixture of ignorance and stupidity on the part of players and pure greed on the part of the agents.

By the way, where is Rabson Masauso, Nqobizitha Ncube, Silent Katumba, Newton Katanha, to name just but a few?

We have heard stories in the past about Tendai (Maxwell) Mwarura, Eddie Mashiri, Danger (Dangerous) Fourpence, Tapuwa (Trust) Kapini, Tinashe (Tendai) Nengomasha, Nyasha Chazika, Tendai (Silent) Tanyanyiwa, Elasto Lungu (Kapowezha), Master (Thomas) Masiku, Pope (Sijabuliso) Moyo, Gift Lunga Jnr (Makheyi Lungu), Kelvin (Mandla) Maseko, Melusi (Phephisani) Ndebele?

Of course people can be malicious and tarnish innocent players by making age-cheating claims. Or name changing if you want.

But there can be no malice, like in McCarthy’s assertions, in stating that no Zimbabwean player has proved he can lead or help the Warriors find their way to glory.

Maybe so far. And so far Ndlovu’s legacy is not under threat whatsoever.

Valinhos has a harrowing challenge and he will work for every precious cent he is getting.

For now, we can only pray for loads of luck.

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