The Simple Conclusion

IF you ask local soccer pundits, Peter Ndlovu was the most successful captain the Zimbabwe soccer team has ever had, and Sunday Chidzambwa, the most successful coach.

 

Ndlovu was an outstanding captain and player. He led from the front, was hard-working and was well-respected by the team. He demanded nothing of them that he wouldn’t do himself and he inspired confidence. My Mutare homeboy Lazarus Muhoni says whenever they looked at him on the field, his demeanour suggested they were going to win, even with defeat staring in the face.

Few matched the mental strength of the “Flying Elephant”, which seemed to grow with every outing. He was courageous, rarely losing an opportunity to attack or take a calculated –– often worthy –– gamble, a rare quality in the captain of a team that is often the underdog.

Whatever the needs of his team, Ndlovu always worked hard to fulfill them. He was always neatly clad, a perfectionist in all he did.

A great player does not always, or perhaps often, make a good all-round person. Ndlovu’s infamous fist brawl with his successor, Benjani Mwaruwari, and his flirtations with several women are but some of the blemishes in his over-a-decade-span international career.

But the way he was respected by teammates and fans alike prove that his private life never encroached the training ground or the stadium on a weekend afternoon. The goods he delivered on the field outweighed the controversies off it.

As for Chidzambwa, he was an excellent man-manager, with a rare appreciation of the strength and weaknesses of each player and the ability to draw the best out of even the most average player. He inspired confidence.

During his tenure, there were players with the talent to represent Zimbabwe –– but due to Chidzambwa’s shrewdness –– failed to do so because they wouldn’t submit their game to his demands. But that is a coach’s prerogative and he has to have a side that will pull with him.

These nostalgic reflections draw comparison with the current Warriors pairing of captain Benjani Mwaruwari and Brazilian coach Jose Claudinei Georgini –– otherwise known as Valinhos.

Benjani has failed to carry the team the way Peter used to do; taking matters upon himself when the chips are down.

Perhaps it is unfair to compare the two both as players and as leaders. Ndlovu was a genuinely gifted footballer, a natural athlete; while on the other hand, Benjani gets by with a high work-rate and plain determination.

But as a professional footballer and national captain, Benjani must live with having to be compared and scrutinised because it is part and parcel of the responsibility he accepted.

As for Valinhos, I still feel there is too much interference in his job from backroom staffers whose own ability raises question marks.

There is too much distance between him and the players, having to communicate through a translator. He does not seem to inspire confidence and he certainly does not look as if he is in control of the team.

But blaming Benjani and Valinhos alone for the Warriors poor form will be tinkering on the periphery.

It has become clearer that the coach does not have the material to work with.

Most of the players lack the basic comprehension of modern football: controlling the ball, accurately passing it, quick decision-making and tackling. The margin of error and lack of cohesion and pace is unacceptable at this level of the game.

Someone suggested to me that instead of wasting breath trying to analyse the team’s poor run, we must just do ourselves a favour by swallowing the reality that our players are mediocre. I agreed.

If someone is going to convince me that this is the best Zimbabwe national soccer team we can raise, then the conclusion is simply that our players are just not good enough.

enockm@zimind.co.zw