Agony of Zim’s ‘pro’ footballers

IN African countries, a footballer flourishing in a foreign land, especially in Europe, is a cause for celebration.

It’s confirmation that talent still exists within their borders, confirmation that the social and political problems bedevilling their country cannot prevent someone from daring to dream.

What then if the rush abroad is to such countries as the DRC, Sudan, Mozambique or even, of all places. Swaziland? Can that be cause for celebration? Or perhaps does it say anything about the standards of that particular country?

The latter is closer to the truth if one looks at the near shocking figures said to be earned by our footballers in the PSL, which make a mockery of professional football.

Figures of between $200 and $800 a month are reportedly the salary scale of top flight footballers in Zimbabwe, hardly the kind of money required to sustain the luxurious lifestyles associated with professional athletes.

This penury has led to the unprecedented exodus of players to such countries where, due to the great quantity of the much sought-after diamond in the Congo and oil in the Sudan, the money is considerably better.

At the beginning of this year, four Zimbabwean players made the great trek into the DRC league. Dynamos players Ephraim Mazarura, Carrington Gomba, Mtshumayeli Moyo and Philip Marufu joined FC Lupopo while the Monomotapa trio of Mthulisi Maphosa, Chris Semakweri and Daniel Zokoto were signed by African club champions TP Mazembe.

This movement of players appear to be motivated by money, with some analysts having gone to the extent of labelling the players “economic refugees”.
But how can that be the case when better money should translate to better football? Are these players “economic refugees” or genuine professional footballers aspiring to take their careers to the next level?

There are two answers for those who subscribe to different notions. The desperation of Zimbabwean players moving into such places as DRC and Sudan is seen in the fact that these countries do not have serious national teams. While clubs from these countries do well in African club competitions, their national sides were conspicuous by their absence from January’s African Nations Cup in Angola.

On the other hand, those in defence of the footballers will point out that the people running the clubs are different from those running the FAs, who are in charge of the national teams.

The debate can rage on about why Zimbabwean players have resorted to moving into the “jungles” of African leagues. What’s not debatable however is that local footballers need to be better remunerated for the sake of professional football’s good name.

On that case, Desmond Maringwa, the chairman of the Footballers Union of Zimbabwe, can be forgiven for being ambivalent.

“It’s difficult, but so is everything in the country,” Maringwa said in an interview with IndependentSport. “We’ve talked to the clubs, but vanenge vachitochemawo (they are also hard-pressed). But that’s why we are there. It’s sad to see players who are so idolised by people living such unviable lives. Football is a short career. At most, you play five years at your peak. At the end you have no pension, no insurance and no medical cover.”

Maringwa, a long-serving Dynamos midfielder and former Zimbabwe national side player, talks of plans to share the cake from accrued revenue.

“We are doing a survey to see how much players are being paid,” he said. “We want to establish if we can come up with some sort of minimum salary for players. Hopefully the club officials will corporate. We will then table the proposal to the PSL, Zifa and other authorities.”

According to Maringwa, the proposal is very practical.

“It’s achievable. Look, footballers are the ones who generate the income. We want a share of that income. We’ve asked the PSL to give a certain percentage of gate-takings to the footballers, through the union. We will then use that as some sort of medical cover, pension fund, or something.”

Yet still, while local players are anxious to get to the nearest border, others are coming to these shores from as far afield as Ghana. 
Ghanaian domestic football ranks among the top five on the continent.

Five players from the land of the Black Star are now on the books of two premiership clubs here, Caps United and Lengthens.

Money cannot be the motivational factor, of course. Ghanaian sports journalist Mchorney Yeboah sheds some light.

“It’s an undeniable fact that the Glo Premier League in Ghana is one of the best in Africa yet players from the league hardly get the opportunity to feature for our national team, the Black Stars,” Yeboah told us from Accra. “Look at the just ended African Nations Cup in Angola which Ghana reached the final. They only had two players in the national team who play at home, namely Lee Ardy and Philemon Macathy. The fact is that it’s very difficult to play here at home and get called up to the national team, like the Biblical saying, ‘a Prophet has no respect in his home town’.”

But when the identities of the players were put to Yeboah, it was clear that none of them had played at a top level in their home country.

Yeboah said none of the players played in his coountry’s top flight league. But he said they might have played in one of Ghana’s several academies, or lower leagues.

Enock Muchinjo/Ashley Marimo

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