On 5 December 2015, the 58 member council of Zifa (Zimbabwe Football Association) convened to vote in a new structural hierarchy which included the associations president. It was Dr Phillip Chiyangwa who emerged victorious over James Takavada, Leslie Gwindi and Trevor Carelse-Juul. A diverse group of candidates who’ve experience in football management, politics and business growth. But will cash or football acumen revive the sport in the country?
Zifa is broke. The governing body is reportedly $6 million in debt and has been banned by Fifa from entering the national team into the qualification phase for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The current situation can be attributed to a corrupt leadership with little interest in football that mismanaged funds to develop the game locally.
For years now, the domino effect has been in full swing: The quality of pitches including the National Sports Stadium’s is in a poor state, the bridge between grassroots and professional level football is nonexistent, sponsors choose to invest in more organized sports such as rugby, hockey which are mostly played by the influential white minority in the country. This is just scratching the surface.
For a businessmen such as Chiyangwa, pumping money into the sport shouldn’t be a problem. “Phidza” as Chiyangwa is affectionately known, has saved companies such as G&D Shoes from liquidation, bought TV rights for ZBC (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation) to screen international football and was responsible for Micheal Jackson’s 1998 visit to explore business ventures.
He was also the patron of the now defunct Chinoyi United in the 90s. Offering financial support and guidance at a time when he was relatively unknown in the country. The latter experience has proved vital, as an individual without experience in football would not have been able to run for the presidency.
It remains to be seen if Chiyangwa can win over the people of Zimbabwe, who remain put off by his flamboyant and aggressive character. Doubts still linger over his suitability to lead football at the highest level: Carelse-Juul was a former player and served as the chairman of Zifa during the successful “Dream Team” era, James Takavada was a fixture in the national team and Leslie Gwindi is a former Zifa secretary general.
What can be guaranteed is that eventful times lie ahead for football followers in the country. Debt needs to be cleared, former coaches need to be paid and most importantly, the women’s team “the Mighty Warriors” need the associations full support to be successful in the 2016 Olympic Games. Over to you Phidza.
Prior to the age of 15, football meant very little to me. Once, Tonton Christian got me the full 1998 France kit, the red socks, white shorts and blue shirt emblazoned with the golden cockerel didn’t churn any feelings of pride or patriotism in my young mind. There was one player though, who’d play a key role in my growing interest of the game, Thierry Henry.
My mother couldn’t stop talking about him as he shared our Guadeloupean roots. Though it was important to note that he was born in Paris (like my mother coincidentally). In 2006 something changed. Was it the charm of the World Cup in Germany? The full game coverage offered by DStv or the sight of a familiar face in the French team? Whatever it was, I was up for the cup!
I exclusively watched Les Bleus’ matches and was happy to see Titi (as Henry is affectionately known) in action. A scoreless draw with Switzerland was disappointing, but the 1-1 stalemate with South Korea was worrying. The only positive was Titi scoring his first goal of the tournament. The game against Togo was a must win if we wanted to advance to the knockout rounds. A lot of African teams who have colonial ties with France always prove to be tricky opposition. But Henry and co were in no mood to pack their bags as they won 2-0, Titi on the score-sheet.
The Spaniards were overpowered 3-1 in the round of 16. Henry probably enjoyed it the most as La Roja’s coach Luis Aragones once called him a “black shit.” Our reward was a quarterfinal clash with the reigning champions Brazil. In Zimbabwe, Brazil is everyone’s second national team, if not first. So it wasn’t a surprise to find that I would be the only Les Bleus supporter at my gogo and sekuru’s place. What raised my eyebrow was Simba supporting the South Americans. Clearly treason took a backseat to jogo bonito.
My sibling’s folly proved to be just that, as Henry steered a side footed volley into the net for the only goal. Simba came back to his senses and pledged allegiance to a France team that went all the way to the final. Many people regarded Zinedine Zidane as the talisman of the team, not I. Yeah the guy came out of retirement and was playing out of his skin – but as the gold boots hinted, all the hype was getting to his head. Ask Marco Materazzi.
Henry on the other hand was a bit under appreciated. The combination of flawless technique and refined power didn’t seem to wow the Gaulic public as much as the English when he wore the colours of Arsenal. Perhaps it was his perceived aloofness? In the World Cup final I did come across one of the possible reasons: The big game player doesn’t show up for finals. the Confederations Cup aside he rarely scored or produced a virtuoso moment to affect the result.
Against Italy, he was well policed by Fabio Cannavaro and was revived by the medical team’s smelling salts when the Azurri skipper caught him with an “accidental” elbow. Many people blamed Zidane for the loss to the Italians. Gold boots saw red after responding to Materazzi’s insults with a forehead to the chest. But if Henry had contributed anything close to the South Korea, Togo and Brazil games, we instead of Italy would have been world champs.
After Germany, the general consensus was that most of the elder statesmen in the team were closer to the end than the beginning. With Euro 2008 in two years, a mixture of old and new were used in the qualifiers. The likes of Samir Nasri, Hatem Ben Arfa and Karim Benzema complemented Titi’s experience. Les Bleus qualified without much fuss from their group. Henry’s highlights were scoring in a 3-1 revenge win over Italy and becoming the countries all time goalscorer, by surpassing Michel Platini’s haul of 41 with a brace against Lithuania.
My memories of Euro 2008 are not happy. One of our dogs T-Rex died of poisoning and on the field, Titi’s men might well have been poisoned as they finished bottom of their group. The first game against Romania has to be the dullest match I ever watched. The 0-0 a fair result. If the first match was uninspiring , the second match would be the opposite … but for our opponents the Netherlands.
The Dutch were leading 2-0 and thoroughly outplaying us when, Henry gave us Les Bleus a lifeline, flicking Willy Sagnol’s cross past Edwin van der Sar. Arjen Robben’s goal seconds later, cut the line and Wesley Sneijder’s late strike was an unnecessary nail in a coffin that was well shut. Funny enough, France could still advance to the next round if we beat Italy and the Dutch did the same against the Romanians.
Ah Italy. Our rivals also needed a win after an equally dire showing that yielded a solitary point. Unfortunately, the Azurri would play the role of undertaker to our Euro hopes. Andrea Pirlo converted a penalty when Eric Abidal fouled Luca Toni in the position of last man and was sent off. Titi had given us hope with a flick of the boot against the Netherlands, how ironic that it was his boot that flicked Pirlo’s free kick past Gregory Coupet to put the result beyond doubt.
Following Les Bleus from an Anglophone country is a noise free experience. The reason I say this is because of the French press. Ever Since Raymond Domenech took charge of the team. The national papers and magazines have analyzed, colonoscopied, patted down, dissected, spaded and castrated Les Bleus. It must be said that Domenech is easy to dislike. His my way or the highway approach to management and inability to play in an imaginative/daring way (the hallmark of the 1998 squad) were to be his undoing.
There were people along the way who gave him a hand in his journey to the abyss. Titi’s hand was one of the most extended. His was to become one of the most hated in Ireland, second in notoriety to Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God.” Enter the “Hand of Gaul.”
The lack of international friendlies played by the Warriors used to annoy me. I subscribe to the idea that: The more games you play, the better you get. During the months before the 2010 World Cup I would get my wish. Zifa (Zimbabwe Football Association) announced that the five-time world champions Brazil, were coming to town!
The days leading to the match, Harare was abuzz with excitement. People still couldn’t believe that they were going to see their heroes in the flesh: Robinho, Júlio César, Thiago Silva and especially Kaká, captured the imagination. Not all of the chatter was positive, the local press was rightly suspicious of the funding for the match.
Since 2007, players of local clubs, the national team and Zifa officials have been involved in the biggest scandal to hit Zim football, Asiagate. Spanning 300 matches over three continents, controversies include local club Monomotapa FC masquerading as the Warriors in Malaysia and throwing matches for thousands of dollars. Henrietta Rushwaya the Zifa CEO at the time, was at the heart of the scandal but also played a big role in scheduling this illustrious match. For most people, it was a case of eating your food without minding where it came from.
Personally, I had never been to a football stadium so all the brouhaha didn’t dampen my mood. My mother’s friend Gavin was kind enough to get a ticket for me. Match day, we were also joined by a young man who was my junior and an older man. Unfortunately the ravages of time have caused me to forget their names.
On the way to the National Sports Stadium, the road was full of cars with Zim flags. The energy was palpable. We parked at the old man’s home in Milton Park, one of the oldest suburbs in Harare and a few kilometers away from the stadium.
The buzzing sound of the vuvuzelas was everywhere, comparable to a swarm of angry bees. I liked it. The whole stadium erupted as both sets of players came out for the warm-up. I recognized Captain Benjani Mwaruwari who had endured a difficult season at Manchester City, plagued by injuries. There was also Knowledge Musona who was scoring for fun in South Africa with Kaizer Chiefs. Both men were our primary goal threats.
For the South Americans, Gilberto Silva and Michel Bastos who were heading the ball to each other, were the players I really wanted to see. The former was part of “The Invincibles” Arsenal side that went 49 games unbeaten, the latter played for Olympique Lyonnais, a favourite of mine in France.
A cacophony of whistles and cheers rained down from the terraces as President Robert Mugabe appeared on the screen. A divisive figure, the variety of races, classes and political opinions present, guaranteed a mixed reception. The reaction to Kaká was more unanimous. Every man and their dog serenaded the 2007 FIFA Player of the Year, while Benjani enjoyed equal adulation.
After both anthems were sung, the friendly hostilities began. The coaches Norman Mapeza and Dunga had both represented their countries as players. It would be an intriguing battle. The Warriors were well organized, energetically hounding Dunga’s men for the ball. Bastos a winger playing fullback was having a particular torrid time, unable to handle Zim’s nimble front line.
Kaká wasn’t up to much either, though the way he glided with the ball reminded everyone of his class. His counterpart Ovidi Karuru, blazed over when it was easier to score. Knowledge Musona’s powerful header drew a diving safe from César, who injured his shoulder in the process and was substituted by Heurelho Gomes.
Mapeza would’ve been pleased with proceedings until Luís Fabiano was fouled on the edge of our box, five minutes from halftime. Bastos stepped over the ball, I out of everyone in the stadium knew what was coming. He smashed a left footed shot right into the top corner. Edmore Sibanda in goal was crucified.
“Bara!” Exclaimed a fat man next to me. The word means bullet in Shona and is also reserved for top class strikes like the one we had just witnessed. Two minutes later the lead was doubled. Maicon angled a long ball to Robinho, shrugging the attentions of the defender, the winger made no mistake with the finish. We hadn’t played badly by any stretch of the imagination, but Dunga’s men had that extra quality.
The second half was a different kettle of fish. Brazil had seized control of the game and duly added a third when Elano tapped in fellow substitute Dani Alves’ drag back. All we wanted to see now was a Zim goal, which we thought we had when Gomes’ net rippled, but it was the wrong side of the goal.
As the sun set and the floodlights lit the pitch, the humming of the vuvuzelas calmed down and a steady stream of people headed for the exits. Gilberto along with his midfield companions, sucked out what little life the game had with a masterpiece in ball retention.
The blow of the final whistle was greeted with applause. The stars we had only seen on TV had performed for us in the flesh and our Warriors fought valiantly. Dunga would have been satisfied with the competitive nature of the match, Mapeza with the promise shown by his squad. The match wet the appetite for a dream we as a nation still have to this day: To compete with teams like Brazil at a World Cup.
3-0. The number of times I’ve been on the winning side with the NYC Pickup Soccer Group. I don’t put much stock into such records … but emerging victorious usually means you had a good game!
Prior to the match, there were enough omens to hint at a pleasant Saturday morning. My breakfast which consisted of fruit salad and two eggs was the right fuel I needed, for the physical excursion ahead.
With a satisfied stomach and high spirits, I stepped out into the street and was welcomed by a nice cool breeze which countered the sticky humidity that’s constant throughout New York summers.
The train ride to the park was uneventful, though I’ll remember a black lady whose eyes were greener than the $1 note I gave her.
At first glance, Annunciation Park does not strike one as much of a park. It consists of a church, playground and a small turf field surrounded by a miniature track. It’s location on W135th and Amsterdam Avenue also adds to a sense of spatial scarcity.
As is usual practise, I got set up with Mane, the onsite organiser who put me on the red team. A good omen indeed as I had won the previous meetup wearing that colour.
The good people who show up are mostly white, but other races are also represented. There was an Arab guy wearing the new Arsenal kit with Alexis printed on his back. I approved. A tall pony-tailed chap and a short, stubby ginger-beard were wearing Tottenham shirts, which I didn’t approve. Their poor taste didn’t ruin my pre-match warm-up, which involved juggling in my red Cavaliers shoes as cleats weren’t allowed.
For the opening minutes of the match, I started in goal and apart from letting a soft shot go past me, I distributed the ball with the accuracy you would expect from an outfield player. (Sorry goalkeepers union!)
Later on I played on the left side and ended up switching flanks. I noticed that our opponents were having difficulties when we’d stretch play to the wings, something that I’d ruthlessly exploit in the second period.
The game was tied 2-2 at the break, but we took an early lead in the second half thanks to yours truly. The ball was passed to me in space on the left and I lashed a low shot into the bottom corner.
The Arab guy wearing the Alexis shirt was a live wire. We combined well for a goal that would’ve had top scouts in Europe wagging their tongues.
The final whistle blew and both teams thanked each other for the game. On my way back home, I crawled underneath an SUV to retrieve my ball that I’d volleyed half a block wide.
The sun was at it’s Zenith as I walked back to 113th with 60 minutes of football under my belt. By all accounts a pleasurable outing at this most bizarre of parks.
There comes a time in every footballers career where they experience a dip in form. Depression, niggling injuries or bad luck are all reasonable causes. But Emmanuel Sheyi Adebayor has added a new one to the list: a mother casting a Juju (Western African witchcraft) spell on her son.
The former African Footballer of the Year has distanced himself from his mother Alice and has not spoken to her since 2013. Adebayor has only scored twice in 13 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur this season.
While the Togolese striker has laid the blame on his mother, Tottenham fans have grown fed up with the strikers lazy displays. This led some sections of the crowd to boo his comeback from a two month break, in the recent home win against Sunderland.
Adebayor’s siblings have also spoken out against their brother. Kola a truck driver in Bremen, Germany has slammed his younger brothers choice of alfas. (Islamic spiritual healers)
“Emmanuel has been brainwashed by these Muslim alfas – spiritual men – who prophesise when he scores goals and why he is not playing well.
“They have convinced him his sister and mother put juju curses on him. My mother is very sad. Every day she is crying. I just talked to her on the phone and she was crying again.’
His sister Maggie has also highlighted her brothers lack of financial support to their mother has resulted in her selling ‘polythene bags, padlocks and other things’ to provide for the family.
Ever heard the story where a coach puts a curse on a club over a pay dispute? Well that’s exactly what Bela Guttman did to Sport Lisboa e Benfica, one of Portugal’s most successful teams.
The story goes that Guttman who led the Lisbon club to back to back European Cup triumphs in 1961 and 1962, was furious that club officials would not offer him the pay rise that he so desired. In response he allegedly said that: ‘Not in a hundred years from now will Benfica ever be European champions’. Since 1962 Benfica have lost all eight European finals they have participated in.
Some of the most recent failures include the 2013 Europa League final, where they battered Chelsea for the whole match but lost the game at the death when Branislav Ivanovic headed the winner for the Londoners. There was also the 2014 final of the same competition this time against Sevilla. Once again, Benfica missed a lot of opportunities and were made to pay when the Spanish club triumphed 4-2 on penalties.
Having watched this years final, I really felt there was something else at play besides profligate finishing. You could sense that the players were visibly aware of the curse and the fans too. As the match went on with each opportunity missed, the fear and anxiety at the Benfica end in Turin was palpable. Everyone associated with Benfica has internalized the curse and it has cost them dearly.
Interestingly enough since the curse was placed, domestically Benfica have won 21 League titles and 13 Portuguese cups. Clearly this is a club that is used to winning things, they just need to get over the Guttman curse and let their pedigree speak for itself in European competitions.
Quotes courtesy of Metro: http://metro.co.uk/2014/05/15/benfica-fail-again-in-europe-is-club-still-jinxed-by-the-bela-guttman-curse-4728323/
It’s one of the most painful sights to see as a fan: A former player who used to play for your club, scoring and celebrating against you. Post match the uproar begins, he is ungrateful! He should have more respect. The idiot has forgotten who made him… and so on and so forth. But isn’t that a subjective view from the fans perspective? Why should the player hide his real emotions?
This Saturday Arsenal host Manchester United in what is one of the standout fixtures of the English calender. There is already a subplot: Danny Welbeck born and bred in Manchester facing the team that let him go during the summer. It’s no secret that Welbeck was adored at United, former players and fans aired their disapproval at the move. The fact that he was a local lad who came through the ranks ,rather than his goals (29 in 142 appearances) made him a likable figure ( He also works his bloody socks off!).
One of the first issues on United fans lips was Danny scoring against them in the fixtures against Arsenal. Funnily enough most of them weren’t worried about him celebrating because if I may borrow some slang from Manchester “Welbz is not dat guy.” He is too humble too respectful to do something like that. Well don’t cross your fingers United fans, you don’t have to look further than Manchester’s number 20. Robin Van Persie.
The Dutchmen made the move from Arsenal in the summer of 2012 under controversial circumstances. After nearly a decade of service, where the club stood by him during a stay littered with moments of class but also injuries, the then Arsenal captain decided to force a move by issuing a statement stating that he didn’t agree with the direction the club was going. Of course Manchester United one of Arsenal’s biggest rivals had to get him.
The first meeting between the two clubs that season saw Van Persie jeered throughout the match. Inevitably he scored and raised his hands as if to ask for pardon, keeping a stoic expression while his teammates joyously surrounded him. In the return fixture in London, Van Persie was serenaded with more jeers on his old stomping ground. He scored. No reaction whatsoever. The next season the Dutchmen scored on his old club for a third time … but this time he celebrated. Running, screaming with his arms open ready to embrace the player that had assisted him.
Now some people might say that he finally cracked after receiving so much abuse from the Arsenal fans, I beg to disagree. He was tired of hiding his true emotions. Anyone who has played football at any level understands the ‘rush’ you get from scoring a goal. Submerged with joy and adrenaline your behavior in the next ten seconds cannot be accounted for. Some can handle the ‘rush’ or simply keep it on a low, others let it take control. It does not necessarily mean that you don’t respect your former club, rather that you are happy to find the back of the net at that moment.
There might also be another factor that might influence Welbeck to celebrate: Seeing the man who regarded him as ‘not at the requested level’ to play for Manchester United, coach Louis Van Gaal. Welbeck is a nice guy but he is no pushover as he showed when he cited his being played on the wing instead of his natural center forward position as stifling his progression. A response no doubt to Van Gaal’s comments.
Whatever happens on Saturday, United fans shouldn’t raise their eyebrows if their former favorite nets and celebrates. Instead they should see it for what it is, a 23 year old man enjoying another goal with his new teammates.