IT DID not end particularly well the last time Zimbabwe and Ghana gave each other a national team coach.
By Enock Muchinjo
Ghanaian Ben Koufie, who coached Zimbabwe’s national football team between 1988 and 1992, for many years gained some kind of notoriety in this country due to a scathing parting shot on leaving the Zimbabwe post, caustically remarking that “even if you bring a coach from the moon, Zimbabwe will never qualify for the big tournaments.”
That 12 years after Koufie’s departure Zimbabwe was not able to qualify for its first major tournament caused many in the country to believe that Koufie had indeed put a curse on Zimbabwean football.
Koufie died two years ago in Ghana at the age of 84, but not before he had since clarified his outburst in Zimbabwe, which he said was not a bad luck spell, but an expression of frustration over the lack of development structures within the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa).
As he aged and then finally bade the world farewell in 2016, Koufie was already a forgotten man in Zimbabwe.
On top of having qualified for two Africa Cup of Nations finals at the time of Koufie’s death, football in this country had deeper unresolved issues to deal with than a supposed “curse” from a man who had long moved on with his life.
The relationship between Zimbabwean football and Koufie, all the same, was not the best until the end.
But here is one that is most likely to have a happy ending.
Lovemore “Dallas” Kuzorera arrived in Ghana from Zimbabwe two years ago, aged just 31, to take up an offer as the West African country’s new national rugby team coach.
It was a challenge of gigantic proportions.
Kuzorera had no idea what to expect because, truthfully speaking, Ghana belonged to obscure pastoral backwaters of world rugby.
“Here soccer is life, people play soccer in the morning before they go to work!” quipped Kuzorera, who lives in the capital city Accra.
“But rugby is slowly gaining popularity because of the progress made in the past two years.”
“Slowly” is a bit of an understatement when you consider where Ghana’s national team, nicknamed the Eagles, is now.
This past season they gained promotion into the second-tier league of African Rugby, the Silver Cup.
It is no small achievement if you analyse where they have come from, and the calibre of opposition they will play against in the Silver Cup next year.
In fact, Zimbabwe — who were fortunate to survive relegation from the Gold Cup this year — would have been among those running on to face Ghana in 2019.
“Of course it would have been a huge privilege for me,” said Kuzorera, of the thought of having to coach Ghana in a historic first-ever international rugby match against his own country.
“It would have showed how far I’ve come as a coach.”
Kuzorera is hugely grateful for Get-Into-Rugby, the international governing body’s development programme that is taking the game to even some of the remotest corners of the world in an effort to boost global growth.
Herbert Mensah, president of Ghana Rugby, is also a pivotal figure in how the game in that country is evolving, and works well with Kuzorera.
Now a leading businessman in Ghana and past chairman of Asante Kotoko, one of the country’s biggest football clubs, Mensah was once a schoolboy rugby player in the UK and also had a club stint in Zimbabwe with Old Hararians in the 1980s.
A well-functioning support system has made the task so much easier for Kuzorera, who also takes care of the national Sevens team as well as one of the top club sides in the country.
Zimbabweans are truly making their mark on Ghanaian rugby.
Kuzorera himself arrived there recommended to the authorities by Simba Mangena, a former Old Hararians second-team player who did tremendously well teaching the game in Ghana while he studied there.
It is Kuzorera who is now reaping the fruits of the hard work.
“My first task was to introduce a rugby culture amongst the players, from training methods to playing, and I should say that was the biggest challenge for me. I’m delighted that the strength of Ghanaian players is the teamwork, the unit which has made the job much easier,” said Kuzorera.
His earliest rugby role model back home had been his late older brother Chunky Kuzorera, a tear-away winger for Temba Mliswa’s Chimurenga Rugby Club, a black outfit formed in the 1990s to expose unheralded players to more opportunities.
At 33, a lot of rugby players will only be starting to think of hanging up their boots. Kuzorera, a powerful eighth-man and also an effective flanker in his playing days, is already gaining a foothold in coaching at the same age.
He captained Morgan High’s first team, then soon after leaving school he got his first coaching breakthrough at Mabvuku Sports Centre, his home area, as player-coach. Kuzorera also coached and played for Old Hararians’ second team and a big stepping stone for him at the Zimbabwean glamour club was being asked to assist the first team coaching staff.
For now, Kuzorera will continue to focus on Ghana and, the big goal of taking the Eagles to the Gold Cup by 2022, among Africa’s best rugby teams.
Only those in the Gold Cup will have a shot at 2023 World Cup qualification.
It is a task easier said than done for Ghana and Kuzorera.
But he said: “With hard work and God, everything is possible. Who knew two years ago that we would be here today?”