I know Where the Problem is — Charlie Jones

CHARLIE Jones, who aspires to become the next Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) president, has for the first time spoken in-depth about his vision for local football in an interview with IndependentSport.

Jones, who for close to two decades has been involved in football as a player, coach and administrator, will contest the elections in March under the banner of the newly-formed Zimbabwe Football Legends Association, a body comprising some of the country’s ex-footballers.

The “legends” have embarked on an ambitious project to take over the running of Zimbabwean football across the board. They will field candidates in all influential positions of the game, including the Premier Soccer League (PSL) and national provincial offices.

“The place is in a mess at the moment,” says Jones this week in reference to football administration in the country.

“We want to reignite the core passion of the sport, reignite junior leagues, reignite synergies between PSL and Zifa.”

Born in Harare 49 years ago, Jones’ leadership qualities emerged early in his career, captaining Morgan High School’s first team as a youngster. He played top-flight football for Arcadia United and Caps United, distinguishing himself as a speedy forward, hence his nickname Kabhasikoro (bicycle).

On hanging up his boots he took up coaching, first with his boyhood club Arcadia. The height of his coaching career was guiding the now defunct Air Zimbabwe into the PSL.

His administration record includes being chairman of Arcadia and a post in the Caps executive.

The former greats are banking on their knowledge of the game and their appreciation of “what makes a footballer tick” to convince the electorate that they are the right people to be trusted with the future of Zimbabwean football.

“I know where the problem is,” says Jones. “I know when a player comes to you and says ndakakuwara (I’m injured). When I interview coaches for national duties, they can’t bilk me because I’ve been there.

“A doctor goes for a degree, but he has to go for practicals. At the end it’s the hands-on skills that matter. Without hands-on skills you can’t perform your duties.”

However he says other professionals, not necessarily from footballing backgrounds, will not be sidelined under his leadership.

“We will invite people from professional backgrounds to help us, but not in the key positions of president, vice-president (in charge of national teams) and development.

The board is big. We want people with other skills, yes. But these key positions we want for ourselves. We don’t want laymen in those positions.”

The current Zifa board, led by Wellington Nyatanga has come under fire over its administrative style. Critics say the Nyatanga administration has dragged the local game to an all time low due to the lack of football aptitude in the board and management.

“To be honest with you, I got my own system. I don’t want to talk about anyone else,” comments Jones.

“My system is continuity. We have run away from the core business. When I played football I went through the ranks: Under 10, Under 12, Under 18, seniors and stuff like that.

Right now we are feeding off amateurs. What happens when there is a talented player? He goes into a social league and develops bad habits. He thinks Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are when he goes out to have a beer. There’s no conditioning whatsoever.

“Have you noticed that in the last seven years or so no soccer star has performed like he performed the previous year? It’s the attitude. Kids are not growing up in the proper manner. When we played, I grew up with Moses Chunga and others. We developed together. We became mature together. When we became seniors, the brand was still right. Upcoming players looked up to us.”

The current crop lacks drive and role models, he says.

“Kids are lacking passion. No one wants to be like George Shaya or Freddy Mkwesha. We want to reignite that passion, reignite the passion of the parents to encourage their kids to play football.”

Several areas will be addressed to bring the country at par with the rest of the continent, which has moved far ahead of Zimbabwe in many ways.

“Transport, football courses, doping control, age-cheating. We need to move into the 21st century. We need all these kinds of things.”

Under the outgoing board, Zimbabwe has remained stagnant in some areas, and in others plunged. The Warriors failed to qualify for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, this year’s edition currently underway in Angola and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Recent loses to sides such as Syria and Thailand in one of the national side’s questionable regular trips to Southeast Asia have not helped matters.

“What judges the success or lack of success of an association is the African Nations Cup and World Cup. We are number 109 in the world and 29 in Africa. This is pathetic. Those standards are not for us. We must be in the top 10 in Africa and the top 50 in the world.”

He says lack of strong grassroots has reflected in the national team.

“We’ve got so much talent in this country. Our national team is not selected, it’s picked. There is a difference between picking and selecting. We need a wide selection of players.”

One of the major downers under successive Zifa administrations is the failure to upgrade stadia throughout the country.

“Sakubva Stadium is still the same as when I played there!” says Jones. “Clubs should take ownership of stadiums. City councils can’t run them anymore. Once you have ownership, you know the standards you need. City councils don’t know the standards required by Fifa. We are the ones who know.”

 

Enock Muchinjo

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