No one has monopoly on patriotism

SOON excitement will swirl over the composition of Zimbabwe’s 23-man squad for the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt set to open with a blockbuster fixture between the Warriors and the host nation on June 21.

Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo

Debate over who should be on that plane to Cairo and who shouldn’t be will reach fever pitch towards the naming of the squad, soon after the announcement and beyond.

Already, there has been intriguing talk among Zimbabwean football fans over the international future of 33-year-old central midfielder Willard Katsande following a good run of form by the experienced enforcer in Kaizer Chiefs colours.

Should Sunday Chidzambwa include Katsande in the touring party to Egypt based on his current form and in doing that, ignore the gamble that nearly backfired when the Warriors coach briefly re-called the veteran hard-man during the qualification competition?

Questions such as this can best answered by another question.

What is the nation really hoping to achieve from this Nations Cup campaign? Are the Warriors travelling to Egypt just to go through the motions, or they are going for the jugular?

If the Warriors were to arrive in Egypt with no big ambitions, if as a nation we feel we haven’t yet discovered the winning mentality to launch an onslaught on the Afcon title itself or anything close to that, then it will make a hell lot of sense to go with a younger player who is going to gain experience and assume the mantle of the team beyond this tournament.

But if the Warriors are going there with ever great ambition, to challenge for honours this time around – as I would like to believe to be the case – then of course the players to be trusted with selection are those the coach feels can do the job for him cometh the hour.

With his experience and form, it will be totally understandable for the coach to pick Katsande.

Similarly, if the goal-scoring prowess of Macauley Bonne is what is needed to propel Zimbabwe’s Afcon dream, then let the coach decide without prejudice.

I mention Bonne not only because of his growing reputation on the English club scene: he has recently played a vital role in helping Leyton Orient gain promotion into the Football League, the second-tier competition of professional football in England.

Bonne has been singled out in Zimbabwe by some critics who feel the prolific England-born striker should not be seen anywhere near the Warriors squad in Egypt because of a supposed lack of loyalty, stemming from the 23-year-old’s no-show during qualification.

Too often such views – which mostly prove to be inconsiderate and unfair – are made without deep thought of the dynamics that affect and shape the decisions of professional sportsmen, who are constantly under increased pressure these days.

It’s unreasonable not to stomach the thought that Bonne probably feels more English, and that for a moment he could have – for someone who has been compared to Jamie Vardy – harboured ambitions of playing for the Three Lions.

He is allowed to feel equally British and Zimbabwean.

Take, for instance, Tendayi Darikwa. My word, what a priceless addition he has been to the Warriors set-up.

His skills and the experience of playing as a defender in the best domestic football competition in the world have stood out in his handful Warriors appearances so far.

On top of that, he has just the right attitude towards representing his ancestral land, and has a very good head on his shoulders.

But let’s not forget that Darikwa is a professional footballer. The choices that he has had to make in his career, including that of finally deciding to play international football for Zimbabwe, have been purely professional decisions before any other considerations.

It took some convincing to get Darikwa to finally play for the Warriors. Those that follow football keenly in this country will remember how the likelihood of Darikwa in Zimbabwe national colours looked pretty slim when the Nottingham-born fullback was couple of years younger, playing for Burnley in the Premier League and an England call-up – no matter how remote – looking like a real possibility.

Yet when he perhaps realised he wouldn’t play for England – unapologetically his first option – and then when he decided to go the Zimbabwe route, Darikwa has been truly outstanding in service of his fatherland, a model professional with a sense of duty to the country he now represents.

You cannot be oblivious to the fact that international sports these days, much as it is a place of great national feeling, is also now a professional arena in which national federations must hold up their end of the bargain for the athletes to commit.

Decisions in international sports – just like in any professional set-up –are well-thought-out and made at an appropriate time.

It is grossly unfair for armchair critics to question the judgment of others without considering all the factors – especially on matters involving the heart, welfare and the future.

Let’s try to remember that this is a national team. It’s not a place to protect the positions or interests of a privileged few.

There shouldn’t be room for cliques and status quo if Zimbabwe cares about competing to win a major tournament like the Nations Cup.