IT’S A BIG STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION FOR WARRIORS | The media frenzy surrounding the recent national team call-up of Zimbabwean footballers plying their trade in the United Kingdom, including some who had never set foot in their motherland before they touched down in Harare on Monday, has brought excitement to many Warriors fans.
One does not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out how our football standards had slipped into mediocrity as our FIFA rankings plummeted to above 110.
The journey to bring all these players stretches back to the good old days of the Dream Team under the late Reinhard Fabisch and lately, around 2008, when the then ZIFA Technical Director, Nelson Matongorere, asked me to start scouting for young talented players who have family ties and roots with Zimbabwe and ask them to consider turning up for their country.
It took me almost a year to locate them. In 2009 I accompanied my son Martin Nkululeko Zulu to Garforth, as he was meant to play as a curtain-raiser in the match between Garforth Town FC and Chesterfield. The then young bustling attacking midfielder Tendayi Darikwa’s exploits were so impressive that day as he played his heart out.
He was a joy to watch and straight away I went to the head coach of Chesterfield after the game to inquire about him. Tendayi was so humble and really excited about the news that Zimbabwe junior national teams could offer him the opportunity to represent his country. I then got in touch with Matongorere and told him that there’s a good young talented player turning out for Chesterfield and he was very excited about it as well.
Matongorere had reminded me that all these players, if they wished to represent Zimbabwe, had to use their own resources and since ZIFA had no sponsorship deals to cover for their services but this didn’t deter Tendayi from showing interest to represent his country.
Former Arcadia United and Rio Dairibord player Charlie White, who was one of our senior players when we were playing as Under-18s, heard about this initiative and asked me to approach Collin Matiza, The Herald’s Sports Editor, to try and publish stories about these young players.
If the truth is to be told, what we are witnessing today in terms of excitement, the jubilation of welcoming the so-called British Brigade, is a football chapter plucked from the scriptures of Matiza. He made sure that everything to do with these young footballers who were playing in Europe got some publicity and he went further by suggesting that we should aim higher than what the Nigerians did in the early ‘90s when they invited all their players who were playing in top leagues of the world.
Matiza is the author of what we all applaud and cherish today. I fondly remember how he encouraged me to try and network with the then ZIFA officials and coaches at the time, so that we could exchange ideas and ways of trying to help develop our football.
Every failure at the highest level of our football, especially in international tournaments, brought serious scrutiny on the quality of the team selection process and the coaches involved and all this negatively impacted on the rise of Zimbabwean football. Everyone agreed that our football landscape was littered with debris, poor quality players and a very narrow selection process that only focused on the South African ABSA Premiership and Zimbabwe.
As more and more young players in the Diaspora got to know about the broader intentions of targeting those in foreign leagues, the more the interest grew at all levels — from the fans, players and others as the love of the game bolstered people’s confidence that they could actually call more Zimbabwean players who were gradually emerging, especially in the English leagues.
I had the opportunity to write a number of articles about how best we could engage the talent that we had at our disposal and The Herald Sports Editor was very adamant that local football and Super Diski was the answer to our ailing standards. Calls for inviting these players grew louder and louder and the stubbornness of the then coaches reared its ugly head as they completely ignored these players without special reasons.
Many coaches appeared desperate to appease their local players at the expense of these foreign-based brigade who were playing in better leagues. This led to the sackings of many of these coaches.
In 2012-13, Nyika Chifamba, the former Dynamos and Zimbabwe national team manager, asked me to invite Bradley Pritchard when he was still playing for Charlton Athletic and he quickly accepted the chance to represent his country. He went straight into camp, and from what we learnt later, the atmosphere and conditions of welcoming foreign-based players was a bit hostile as rumours circulated that passing the ball to him was taboo.
Bradley was never given a national cap despite playing professional football in the UK at the highest level of the English Premiership which, until now, remains a mystery. Everyone was disappointed but that didn’t deter Bradley to help out and in 2014 he was instrumental in encouraging Macauley Bonne to play for Zimbabwe in Morrocco.
Up to this day, Bradley Pritchard has been a huge influence in trying to encourage all those young players based in the UK to consider playing for our country Zimbabwe. Charlie White and Bradley have been very influential and we have to really appreciate the mentoring that we receive from them. Marshall Gore has also played a very influential role.
Welcome home our beloved Warriors, I am over the moon and we now have a Celtic player in the Warriors and a Nottingham Forest player. The journey wasn’t an easy one and today, as I see all this unfold, I am forced to recall my first encounter with Darikwa when he was just a 17-year-old.