SO many issues have been brought to the fore to explain the Zambian national football team’s Afcon triumph. Some have even opined that the Chipolopolo boys had managed to evoke the spirits of the 18 compatriots that perished in the 1993 air crash in Gabon.
Even the coach, Herve Renard, who despite proving to be a tactical maestro in turning a clearly average side into African champions, also believes something beyond the obvious was responsible for the historic win.
“They found the strength, I don’t know from where,” said Renard about his players. “It just felt right but it was not because of me, I don’t know where it came from.”
“We were not the best but we had a force that has made us African champions.”
Be that as it may, Zambia must have hit the right notes that fellow southern African nations, particularly Zimbabwe, have been searching for and failing to play.
Amid the euphoria of Chipolopolo’s magnificent success, Zifa has pledged to learn from the Zambian experience. This is under the backdrop of the Asiagate scandal which is still dominating acres of space on the back pages of local newspapers. Despite Zifa making the right noises, the situation on the ground still suggests the old way of doing things still reigns supreme.
There are a number of key ingredients that ensured the Zambians became the kings of Africa:
A good coach
Zambia, no doubt, hired the right man for the job when they re-hired Renard after dumping Dario Boneri soon after qualification.
Renard had coached Zambia between May 2008 and April 2010, taking the team to the quarterfinals of Afcon.
This time Chipolopolo qualified but they were not convinced Boneri would take them where they wanted to be.
But surely to most minds qualification to the knockout stages was success enough and few, if any, would have thought that Zambia could make it to the final more so return home with something to decorate the trophy cabinet.
With Renard having had a successful first stint with the team, Zambia FA President Kalusha Bwalya turned to the Frenchman upon binning Italian Boneri.
Besides mentoring Zimbabwe’s northern neighbours, Renard had also coached the Ghanaian and Angolan national teams, albeit briefly for the latter. The experience gained from those forays was at least enough to lead Zambia to a decent showing, yet it turned out the Frenchman was able to take Zambia to football heaven.
Unlike Zambia, who stuck with Boneri so that he could take them through the qualifiers, Zifa dithered over three coaches namely Tom Saintfiet, Norman Mapeza and Madinda Ndlovu. On the eve of an important home clash with Cape Verde each of them coached the Warriors at different times culminating in a dull and frustrating draw. This, of course, was the lynchpin of Zimbabwe’s failure to qualify for the finals.
Hwange FC coach, Tenant Chilumba, a member of the 1994 Zambian team that made it to the finals only to lose to Nigeria, said the key thing was to get a coach with the right qualifications and experience.
“What we did in Zambia is that we hired a coach that we could learn from and we gave him all the support,” said Chilumba. “The difference with Zimbabwe is that here we do not fully support our coaches. Whoever has been given the job should be supported whether they are local or foreign. We (Zambia) searched for a coach that matched our expectations and qualifications and gave him maximum support. The reason we hired an expatriate is we wanted someone who would bring in a new dimension and one who could impart knowledge to us.”
Chilumba also said Zimbabwe’s failure to succeed in major tournaments can be attributed to a lack of organisation which is caused by too many divisions. Unlike Zimbabwe which assembles the national team, Chilumba observed, Zambia builds one.
“There is not much of a difference between Zambia and Zimbabwe, you guys can achieve what we achieved but there is need for better organisation and support.
“The main reason why that team did so well is that under Kalusha we went back to the drawing board and started building a new team. Those boys played together from the Under-17 level and went to the Under-20s together.
“We also have a number who were in the Under-23 teams that played Zimbabwe, so they have a deep understanding of each other. It’s only Chris Katonga (30) and Joseph Musonda (35) who are much older in that team.”
The Zambian starting line-up for the final against Ivory Coast featured four 21-year olds, Nathan Sinkala, Emmanuel Mayuka, David Nkausu and Chisamba Lungu while Stoppila Sunzu is only 22.
While the Zambians succeeded in building a new team, in Zimbabwe younger players find the going tough in their quest to break through into the team.
Mapeza, whose credentials are debatable, however deserves merit for introducing younger players such as Khama Billiat and Knowledge Musona into the Warriors set up.
Conversely interim coach Rahman Gumbo has gone back to the archives by recalling veterans of failed qualifications such as Esrom Nyandoro and Tinashe Nengomasha while ignoring promising younger players and ignoring calls to build around young talent.
Instead of investing trust in young stars, Gumbo has chosen to rely on players past their prime, like Charles Sibanda, at the expense of emerging and promising talents such as Simba Sithole.
The former Caps United hit man Sithole lit up the local league with a 10-goal blitz from as many matches while Sibanda is one of the players on the local scene to have failed to surpass that feat after the former’s move to South Africa, another country to have won the Afcon in the region, despite playing out the whole season.
Chilumba also said that there were too many divisions in Zimbabwean football premised on regionalism and tribalism.
These, he believes, have hindered the success of the team.
“In Zambia we have fewer resources but, when it comes to national teams, we stick together for one cause that is why Zimbabweans should support the Zifa president (Cuthbert Dube) and the coach.”
Highlanders coach, Kelvin Kaindu, said Zimbabwe can take a leaf from Zambia’s sound junior policy.
“The two countries have a lot to learn from each other, but I think our junior structures are better organised and I also think this was just our year and Zimbabwe’s turn will come.”