Battle of wits as PSL race hots up

THIS year’s Castle Premier Soccer League (PSL) contest has been a real roller-coaster — what it often ought to be.

Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo

Five teams have particularly caught my eye: Caps United, Dynamos, FC Platinum, Ngezi Platinum and Chicken Inn.

Away from the players, I have found myself focussing my attention on a very interesting and intriguing sideshow — the coaches.

All five coaches of those teams belong to a special crop of technical brains in modern-day Zimbabwean football, and only the sky appears the limit. An added interest for me is the privilege of having watched all of them during their playing careers, all top-notch footballers with varying records of achievement, ability and talent.

As coaches, their CVs also line up in some kind of competition. The most outstanding one is that of Chicken Inn’s Rahman Gumbo.

Never short of self-assurance in himself, on-duty and off it, a hallmark of Gumbo is that he brings some colour to coaching, swaggering along the place and adding an aura of confidence to a profession that can be particularly conservative.

Winning domestic league titles in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Botswana is the major reason for the perpetual spring in his step.

As expected, He has done a fairly decent job with Chicken Inn so far this term. Only God knows why the struggling Highlanders have been unwilling to re-hire him, preferring foreign coaches with little or no experience in local football and its complicated dynamics.

The Gamecocks’ maiden league title under Joey Antipas in 2015 was a fairytale.

But it is not easy for a club of their stature to emerge out of an accomplishment of that magnitude and then maintain such a level of competition from then on. Take, for example, Leicester City after their stunning 2015-16 English Premiership feat under Claudio Ranieri who was fired last season.

Whatever happens this season, though, Gumbo would have succeeded in one thing: making sure that Chicken Inn is a club that is constantly challenging for honours.

It is very good for the city of Bulawayo, the sponsors and for a club that should consider itself very lucky to have the support of their sponsor’s size and resources in such an economic environment.

Like everybody, Gumbo has had his ups and downs. Twice, success has eluded him as Zimbabwe’s national team coach, and his spell in charge of FC Platinum was not a memorable one too. Quite a big shame, but his contribution to the Zimbabwean football coaching landscape is still not up for debate.

Also in the same bracket of esteem with Gumbo is his former Zimbabwe teammate, Norman Mapeza.

Mapeza’s reputation as a shrewd tactician, perfectionist and disciplinarian is well known and respected. But he won his first and only league title nine years ago.

It was a remarkable story — losing all first five games in 2008 with Monomotapa and then transforming the small Harare club into champions at the end of the season.

But football can so easily turn you into “yesterday’s man”.

And if reports at the beginning of the season are true that Platinum had given the coach the 2017 title ultimatum, then this could turn out to be a career-defining season for Mapeza.

At defending champions Caps United, Lloyd Chitembwe is on a high after a season that had gone off the rails.

Ending United’s drought with a title he had also won with the club as a player confirmed Chitembwe’s legendary status at Caps. Chitembwe has endured a torrid time in the past as Caps coach — a shaky relationship with the fans and even a torrent of abuse from the stands. But he has emerged as a tenacious fighter as coach as he was as a player. The title has slipped away. But with the club’s red-hot form at the moment, surely, Chitembwe’s standing at the club can no longer be in doubt.

At United’s old rivals, Dynamos, Chitembwe’s namesake Lloyd Mutasa is also come out guns blazing in pursuit of his first league title as a head coach.

The record Zimbabwean champions are the title favourites in the eyes of many.

This weekend’s big Harare derby against Chitembwe’s side is a pedigree test for DeMbare. Mutasa is spoken of as having a penchant of an attack-minded brand of football, and his young charges have certainly responded to the coach’s style this season.
Given this backdrop, one is tempted to give a fair amount of credit to Mutasa for Zimbabwe’s swashbuckling approach at the 2017 Cosafa Cup, where a Warriors team with Mutasa as one of the assistant coaches romped to a record title in South Africa. Then there is the youngest of the crop, Tonderai Ndiraya of Ngezi Platinum — one of the true gentlemen of the game.
Ndiraya is a good student of football, a man who respects the game and its ethos.
Ngezi and the ambitious apprentice Ndiraya are very much in the title race.
What a day that will be.

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