I HAVE been thinking to myself how strikingly similar scenarios are between now and five years ago with regard to the appointment, or is it still search, for a new Zimbabwe football coach.
Sports Panorama with Enoch Muchinjo
So when the opportunity arose to pen a new sports column (this will appear in these pages every week) for this highly regarded newspaper, I quickly waded into the debate on the hunt for a new man to lead the Warriors.
This is what happened five years ago: Rahman Gumbo, then in charge of big-spending local Premiership newcomers FC Platinum, was appointed interim coach of the national team in February 2012.
Gumbo had been operating under a dark cloud of uncertainty at Platinum. Platinum had so agonisingly failed to win the league title in their maiden PSL season in 2011 — losing the championship on goal difference to Dynamos — an unbearable heartbreak for a club that had entered the top-flight league with fanfare and style almost unprecedented in local football.
Backed by huge financial resources of a thriving platinum mining company, they would soon become the galaticos of Zimbabwean football, flashing the chequebook at will and bringing the country’s best football talent to the small, deadly boring town of Zvishavane.
Now, rumour was rife around the early stages of 2012 that the coach would be fired if he did not give the club confidence that he was capable of winning the title and atone for the disappointment of the previous season.
The atmosphere was tense in Zvishavane, and the hangmen’s noose was tightening around Gumbo’s neck.
Speculation became fact when Gumbo — who has won championships in Malawi, Botswana and Zimbabwe — was sacked by Platinum in July 2012.
ZIfa, in its wisdom or lack of it, went ahead and confirmed Gumbo the permanent national coach, a much-needed soft-landing for a man whose ego had been bruised in a position many, to this day, still regard as the most sought-after job in Zimbabwean football.
With the Warriors, the immediate task for Gumbo was to steer the country to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.
It would prove another failure for Gumbo. The qualification campaign ended in tears, literally, with star player Khama Billiat weeping uncontrollably in Luanda after Zimbabwe blew a 3-1 first leg lead in the final round of qualifiers against Angola.
In the return leg at home, the Angolans scored two quick goals to win 2-0 and they were on their way to South Africa.
Five years on, it’s déjà vu, it appears.
Gumbo’s former Zimbabwe teammate, Norman Mapeza, has been appointed interim coach of the Warriors. Like Gumbo five years ago, he is the coach of title-starved FC Platinum.
And again, like Gumbo five years ago, there is speculation over Mapeza’s future at Platinum if the club doesn’t translate financial status into title success.
Media reports at the beginning of the year suggested Mapeza had been given a new two-year contract, but on one condition, that the biggest prize in Zimbabwean football finally comes to Zvishavane this year.
Winning the league title, above all with the axe hovering over your head, is not a simple task and Mapeza is well aware of that. I’m no doomsayer, but after two full title-less seasons under his stewardship (he joined Platinum mid-2014 season), could Mapeza be in the same situation with Gumbo five years ago, seeing his days getting numbered at Platinum, and looking at the Warriors job as a safe haven?
Another interesting point to ponder is whether Mapeza would really have wanted to have anything to do with Zifa again had things been going his way at Platinum, taking into account how he was acrimoniously dismissed from the same national team post five years ago on match-fixing allegations (and ironically replaced by Gumbo).
As for Zifa, they ought to decide now on the calibre of coach they are looking for. Do they want to appoint a coach whose attention is divided by club commitments? Or, if it sadly so comes to that for Mapeza, do they want a coach who would have been removed from a job in which he had almost everything at his disposal to deliver, and thrust him into a position to spearhead what looks like a tough qualification campaign for the next Africa Cup of Nations?
If Zifa is to be believed, the hunt for a new fulltime Warriors coach is still on. But whoever it’s going to be, the hunt must end now.
Time is running out.