Why Zim Players Fail to Make the European Grade

IT’S that time of the year when transfer news dominate the world football scene.


Quite a few Zimbabwean players have gone for trials in Europe, but usual, not any have drawn the interest of clubs in the major European leagues.

Is it that local players are simply not good enough? Is there some kind of conspiracy against the country’s footballers? Just what is it?  

This week IndependentSport sought a range of views from key stakeholders, and came out with remarkably consistent views that can give the nation credible answers on why our footballers fail.

We asked why just a handful of Zimbabwean players only end up, if they do very well, in such minor European leagues like the Polish, Austrian and Turkish first divisions without breaking into the top five comprising the English Premiership, the Spanish La Liga, the Italian Serie A, France’s Ligue 1 and the German Bundesliga.

To date, just four Zimbabweans have played in major European leagues, three of them in the English Premier League — considered by many as the best in the world. Bruce Grobbealar is a legend at Liverpool, Peter Ndlovu started off at Coventry City before hobnobbing from one club to another, and Benjani Mwaruwari has turned out for both Portsmouth and Manchester City.

Harlington Shereni, the former Zimbabwe international, played in France’s Ligue 1 for Guingamp and FC Nantes.

George Mbwando, another ex-Zimbabwe international and fellow countryman Farai Mbidzo came close to playing in the German Bundesliga, but were deemed excess baggage by VfB Lübeck after helping the club gain promotion from the second division.

The first Zimbabwean to play in the Bundesliga, therefore, looks set to be Joseph Ngwenya.

The former US-based Zimbabwe midfield star was signed by the German and European giants Bayern Munich last year before being jettisoned to Turkey on a loan deal to Antalyaspor. It remains to be seen when he will actually play for Bayern, or if he will play at all.

Yet Zimbabweans continue to move into the minor European leagues.

Former Dynamos kingpin Justice Majabvi recently joined Austrian top-flight club LASK Linz. His teammate at the Zimbabwean giants, Edward Sadomba, was loaned to Danish side Brumbies FC soon after signing for South African outfit Bidvest Wits.

Then such players as Takesure Chinyama and Dickson Choto are leading players in the Polish top division, as so are Musa Mguni and Noel Kaseke in Cyprus.

But why not in the major leagues?

“There are a lot of factors,” said Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) development manager, Jonathan Mashingaidze. “The first thing is low self-esteem on the part of the player himself. Coming from a team like Lengthens or Douglas Warriors, the player lacks the confidence that he can make it at Aston Villa or someone like that.”

Mashingaidze cited a critical factor:  player agents.

“The agents themselves are to blame,” he said. “There is very little contact between our local agents and the outside world. We need real football agents, not fly-by-nights agents who network with the management of the top teams in the world. We need well-connected agents who have access to the top managers in the world.”

The level of coaching, he said, is another negative factor.

“The level of technical aptitude is not good enough,” he said. “Our players are only prepared to play in local leagues. They are not prepared to play abroad. We need to expose our coaches to high-level coaching programmes. How do you expect a Premier League coach with Level 1 or Level 2 to produce a player who can walk into Manchester United? That is why we are trying to take our coaches to the top-level, above Level 4. With that we will develop our play and our players.”

To that effect, Zifa will conduct a CAF- licenced Level 4 certificate in May, said Mashingaidze.

“It’s a post-graduate course which covers sports psychology, marketing, man-management and other areas. Equipped with that, our coaches will get to a stage where they will be almost a par with the best in business. “These guys do not just coach football, they groom a player in every aspect of his career, from coaching itself, career guidance and man-management. They prepare the player for the highest level.”

Soccer commentator and analyst Charles Mabika said the agents were largely to blame.

“There is just no exposure,” he said. “We need a sound policy on how players can move from Zimbabwe to the top European leagues, and the national association must formulate that policy. I think our agents are not well networked to give our players the window to go there. The only people who can do that are Zifa because they have the connections.

“Without taking anything away from Justice Majabvi’s agent who took him to Austria — fine, it’s a better league than ours and the money is obviously better — but I think Justice is material for the Italian or English league which are very physical. And Edward Sadomba would fit well in the French league at least.”

Omega Sibanda, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Soccer Agents Association, refuted claims that his group’s membership is not as proficient as it should be.

“Even if you are well-connected, the truth is that the player will not make it if he is not good enough; you cant sell a bad product,” he said.

Sibanda said local players do not make it because they lack what he calls “football education”, which even youngsters without natural ability can be taught.

“The problem start with the coaches,” he said. “Our players are not coached properly at a tender age. Our fraternity does not understand that football can be taught. We are far behind because that is what they are doing all over the world.

“Our so-called coaches go to schools and identify, say Under 13s, who already know how to kick a ball. They then draft them into teams and expect results without training them. The player pushes on natural ability until he succumbs to that natural ability. So when that player goes to Europe for trials he finds that he is semi-skilled. He lacks the basics of football like stopping the ball and passing. But the guy would have been a star in Zimbabwe!

“I’ve seen three different Zimbabwean soccer stars failing to make the grade in, of all places, South Africa.

There was Richard Choruma, who was a hit here; earlier on there had been Tauya Murehwa and Dazzy Kapenya. In contrast, you have someone like Onismor Bhasera who came from an unknown team, Harare United, but is doing extremely well for Kaizer Chiefs. This is because the coaches at Harare United were proper coaches. They taught football, kudzidzisa bhora.”

The general small size of the Zimbabwean players, he said, also works against them.

“Our players are tiny,” Sibanda said. “Zvenyika Makonose is now at Orlando Pirates in South Africa because he is big. But I doubt if he will make it anyway else because he lacks education in football. When Nigeria last came here I met the team at the hotel and their smallest player was the size of Makonese. Our players are there to entertain us here, they are not for commercial purposes.”

Zim players in European top flight leagues.
England: Benjani Mwaruwari (Manchester City)
Turkey: Joseph Ngwenya (Antalyaspor)
Poland: Takesure Chinyama, Dickson Choto (both Legia Warsaw), Costa Nhamoinesu (Zagłębie Lubin)
Austria: Justice Majabvi (LASK Linz)
Cyprus: Musawenkosi Mguni, Noel Kaseke (both AC Omonia)
Romania: Mike Temwanjira (FC Vaslui)
Belgium: Cephas Chimedza (Sint-Truidense), Honour Gombami, Vusa Nyoni, Obadiah Tarumbwa (all Cercle Brugge)
Denmark: Edward Sadomba (Brumbies FC)

BY ENOCK MUCHINJO

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