AS if to make the two scenarios even more curiously similar, it both started in the month of February, exactly two years apart, with a strong contingent of excited local press corps packed in the conference room of a city hotel — recorders and cameras set — eager to hear what the new expatriate national team coach had to say about his new role in this country.
This time, it was the little-known Zidravko Logarusic who was in town, and he too switched on the charm, swaying the journalists in the room, among them, some hard-bitten cynics of the trade. No mean feat.
It seemed all had quickly forgotten that Zimbabwe’s new football coach, known simply as Loga, had prior to landing in Zimbabwe amassed a steady stream of criticism in this country following comments in the Ghanaian media, to the effect that he did not believe that his new charges had a real chance of progressing past the pool stage of 2022 World Cup qualification competition ahead of the West African giants, who are placed in the same group with the Warriors.
But, you have to give it up to the man. Loga knew exactly what awaited him from the unimpressed reporters in Harare, and he had to be at his eloquent best to somewhat redeem himself in order to win over the hard-to-please reporters and their long-suffering audience.
The warm reception witnessed at that unveiling ceremony last month, as opposed to an atmosphere of hostility some had predicted, was largely due to the Croatian gaffer’s gift for guile, and we do expect much the same craftiness from Loga during his time here.
Whereas a few weeks before he had told a reporter from Ghana that his great footballing nation cannot possibly come out second best against poor little Zimbabwe, upon arrival in Harare Loga was speaking a different language.
He, for example, spoke about how the exciting talent of Zimbabwe’s team had inspired him to apply for the Warriors coaching job, adding for good measure that in that squad he sees a generation with the quality to finally take this country to its first World Cup tournament in history.
The masterstroke, perhaps, was when Loga proclaimed that he, in fact, had not been motivated by money or anything of that sort in his desire to coach Zimbabwe, but an unshakable belief that he can achieve something truly special with the Warriors.
There was also the humility to cap an impressive podium performance, as Loga professed that he was “not a magician”, but “just a coach” — not a Messiah coming to save Zimbabwean football from whatever it historically suffers from.
Peter de Villiers, the world-acclaimed rugby coach, had said something similar when being unveiled as Zimbabwe’s new coach in February 2018.
The former Springbok coach, whose appointment made international headlines, cheerfully appeared at a packed press conference at Meikles Hotel on a fine morning of February 7, two years ago, and told captivated journalists that he had come here not to introduce anything particularly new to the country, but had come to lead, and humbly so.
A man who as Bok boss had famously defeated the mighty All Blacks in fortress New Zealand, a Tri-Nations-winning gaffer, and yet here he was, telling us that being appointed Zimbabwe’s coach was “the greatest day of my life.”
And he did not stop there, further referring to Zimbabwe as “our country”, revealing how eager he was to quickly learn the words of the national anthem.
It was February, and love was in the air.
But as De Villiers’ humility and open-minded approach started to desert him deep into his tenure as Zimbabwe coach, the young love quickly turned sour.
In May last year, Zimbabwe fired De Villiers following a disastrous spell here by the South African, with accusations and counter-accusations flying in opposite directions.
To this day, the hostility is still great, so much that all hell could break loose with a random street encounter between the two sides.
To divert attention from the real causes of De Villiers’ dismissal by Zimbabwe, which clearly was the failure to deliver, his handlers vainly tried to evoke other unrelated issues, including an unfortunate family development on PdV’s part, to which no mortal has control over.
And now, with the World Cup of another major sport being spoken of as a real possibility by Zimbabweans, we have received—in February again — another expat coach who has come and said the right things, reason for a nation’s hope.
But we now know though that romance can end in tears. Hopefully not this one.