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Guinea loss: What went wrong?Any lessons learnt?

[Posted 07 Jun 2012]
[By Brighton Mupangavanhu- Editorial Comment]
Guinea loss: What went wrong?Any lessons learnt?
The loss to Guinea at home in the 2014 Brazil Fifa World Cup qualifier is now water under the bridge, but cannot just be buried before we uncover what went wrong and what can be done to find lasting solutions to the well documented problems of Zimbabwe's national soccer team.

What went wrong on 3 June 2012?

There is a variety of possible reasons why the Warriors failed to beat a lethargic Guinea side at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday. It can never be down to only one cause. Some factor are long-term, while others are technical deficiencies.

Problem 1 -Old story of Poor preparations
First things first. They say, boxing champions are not made in the ring. It is only in the ring that champions are confirmed. Likewise, matches are not only won on match day, even though the application of the players on match day matters. Yet again, application is a product of conditioning of the players, which work must be completed before the players walk onto the field on match day.
  • Poor quality of lack of preparatory matches. The Warriors plunged into a difficult match, with a difficult opponent who plays almost the same style of football as Zimbabwe. A closer analysis of the previous encounters between the two countries will reveal that in their last two encounters in the same competition, the two teams had identical 0-0 draws home and away. Sunday's match was always going to be the most difficult match for the Warriors in this World Cup campaign, firstly because it was the first match, and secondly because of the quality of opposition we faced. If Rahman Gumbo had enough time to think through things before the Warriors came together, in camp, he could have realised that a solid approach was required for Sunday's match.
  • Zifa failed to step up to the plate and assist the interim coach to fine-tune his troops for this crucial match by arranging friendly matches prior to 3 June. Everything demanded or even screamed for at least two friendly matches before the Guinea tie. Firstly, the team had last played together on February 29. Secondly, there were always going to be new players to be drafted into the squad given the impact of the suspension of many regulars due to the Asia-gate scandal. Zifa failed the coach and the nation in this regard and should take responsibility in a better way than they have chosen to do hitherto.
  • In contrast to Zimbabwe's approach, Guinea spent some time camping in Paris, France and then shifted their training base to South Africa. The team was together for a solid two weeks or more, while Zimbabwe only came together hastily for the boozers' style Benjani Testimonial where old legs like Lucas Radebe, Nwanko Kanu, were the opponents, and oh! by the way even 7-year old Benjamin Mwaruwari junior scored two of the goals in the 7-4 defeat of the Friends of Benjani by the Warriors.

Problem 2- Poor tactics from the bench
  • It is the main coach's sole responsibility to guide the technical team on team selection and team's match-day tactics, and if something goes wrong with it, the coach should take responsibility.
  • There were serious technical deficiencies from coach Rahman Gumbo's side as evident in his shocking selection of the first eleven on match day, the choice of players to be called up to camp and the terrible gambles which he took as a coach.
  • One of the shocking decisions by Gumbo in terms of team selection is to be seen in the coach's picking of Terrence Mandaza, a good player, but a player who has not been seeing action at club level, Platinum Stars in South Africa. By the time Mandaza was called for the Burundi match, he had fallen down the pecking order at his club. He was behind four players in the pecking order including Namibian Henrico Botes,  South African Patrick Malokase, Malawian striker Robert Ng'ambi  and former Ajax Cape Town striker Nathan Paulse. By that time Mandaza was  absent from Platinum's match-day squad. This week Mandaza was among a few players whom Platinum Stars released because he no longer features in the team's plans for next season. Now, this is the player that Gumbo honestly believed would turn the match in Warriors favour in Burundi and against Guinea on Sunday, a man who has been completely inactive for more than four months! Gumbo's shortcomings and poor dcision-making in  squad selection becomes even more glaring when viewed in the light of players he unwittingly or should we say out of ignorance ignored for the qualifiers. By far the most  in-form Europe-based player sacrificed for players like Mandaza is Mike Temwanjira, a player whose squad almost won the Romanian league this past season, a player who has played in the Europa League last season and will certainly play UEFA Champions League next season. Maybe Gumbo must be forgiven. How can he be expected to fully apply his mind to the task at hand when he has to juggle two highly taxing jobs. So, the easier thing for him is to go with a player he knows from the days he coached him in Botswana's B-Mobile league more than two years ago, evein if the player is now out-of-sorts.
  • In terms of team selection on match day: Gumbo took too many gambles by playing four players out-of-position in one match, a crucial match for that matter. On the right-back position Gumbo took a gamble with Oscar Machapa who plays either in central midfield or right-sided midfield, and is lucky that his choice did not backfire terribly, even though Machapa, thrust into a less familiar role, might have been too cautious in joining in attack. Vusa Nyoni plays attacking midfield role at his Belgian club, and Gumbo continued Norman Mapeza's error by playing him on the left back position when he had Onismor Bhasera who is more comfortable playing in that role. Esrom Nyandoro, a veteran midfielder, who could even have been a better choice in the holding midfield role was thrust into defence and committed an error which resulted in the goal that sunk the Warriors. Finally, the worst of Gumbo's gambles was his decision to play a match-unfit Archieford Gutu, an attacking midfielder, in a central midfield role ahead of regular player Willard Katsande.
  • Suggestions that Zimbabwe are poorer in terms of player quality and choices because of the Asiagate scandal are simply untrue. There are many  talented players in Europe for almost every position. Instead of playing Machapa on right full-back role, Gumbo had a choice to call Noel Kaseke whom he omitted from the squad. In central defence, he could have gone with Arnold Chaka or could have called into camp  Poland-based Dickson Choto, out-and-out defenders and not turn a midfielder into a defender when the are several better defenders were ignored. On the left back role, Gumbo made an ill-advised decision of ignoring probably the best left-back Zimbabwe has at the moment, Zaglebie Lubin's Costa Nhamoinesu.
Problem 3- Caretaker/Interim Coach syndrome
  • Having a caretaker coach in place at the beginning of the competitions is the main reason the Warriors failed to qualify for Equatorial Guinea & Gabon AFCON finals in 2012. The team started off brightly under the guidance of Mapeza, picking up a crucial point away to Liberia, before Zifa rocked the boat by attempting to rope in a coach with questionable credentials by the name Tom Saintfeit, as some of the Zifa board members attempted to change the technical team midstream, a move which backfired terribly, and threw the campaign into disarray as the team failed to click, dropping two points at home, which became the exact difference between qualifying and failure.
  • Now, the same Zifa which claimed that they had picked up lessons from the October 2010 fiasco against Cape Verde are back at it again in 2012! Between February and 15 June 2012, the Warriors would have played four crucial matches in the beginning of the AFCON 2013 qualifiers and 2014 World Cup qualifiers under the leadership of an interim coach. And something worse than the 2012 AFCON qualifiers debacle is that the interim coach is a coach tied up to  local club, FC Platinum and is under immense pressure to perform at his club, putting him in an untenable position  where focusing 100% on the demanding Warriors coaching job is difficult if not impossible.
  • The result of Rahman Gumbo's divided attention is evident for all to see. A 2-1 loss to little Burundi, followed by a loss 0-1 home loss to Guinea. In both matches, Gumbo has made questionable decisions regarding team selections as pointed out above.  
  • The quality of decision-making when it comes to selection of players
    makes the difference between successful coaches and those who fail at
    international level. There is no evidence that Gumbo even played his role as a coach in
    calming down the nerves of the players who appeared to hurry things in
    the final third for both the first and second halves of the match. Against Mali last year, the team was advised well-ahead of time that even if they fall behind, they should be patient in their build ups and the goal will eventually come. And the goals came despite the fact that the team fell behind Mali. Things are not looking good for Gumbo's future as a
    national team coach as there appear to be too many glaring shortcomings in his approach to a match.   

Problem 4- Regionalism in Zim soccer, Leadership's poor vision/failure to take responsibility
  • We can deny it all we like from the corridors of power in soccer administration in Zimbabwe, but the truth of the matter is that Zifa and Zimbabwean soccer have demons of regionalism to deal with. It was regionalism at play when some Zifa board members showed disdain of Mapeza as an individual and would rather impose Madinda Ndlovu on a technical team that had showed promise away in Liberia by coming away with a point. One Zifa member even had the cheek to criticise the team for failure to bring home maximum points from a Liberia team good enough to beat Mali at home. Yet, when Gumbo loses two matches in a row, the same Zifa  the exact opposite of what they did to Mapeza, and at least did the honourable thing  of stand ing in solidarity with Gumbo despite two losses and questionable tactics.
  • Even the Warriors fans appear to be prone to regionalism or at worst tribalism. While many fans' call for Gumbo to go at NSS on Sunday were inspired more by emotions caused by losing at home, there are those fans from some regions of the country like Harare who, on social networks, have shone tribal tendencies and that cannot be supported.  The same attitude shown by some Warriors fans in Bulawayo against any player from regions other than Southern region needs to be condemned. There were also fans writing on social networks calling for an uMthwakazi to take over the reigns in the Warriors during Mapeza's tenure. It does not help when Zifa board members act or make questionable decisions which appear to be inspired by tribal hatred. Nomatter from which angle destructive regional sentiments or tribalism emanate, they should not be allowed to have any place in Zimbabwean soccer. Divided we fall, and united we shall  stand. The Dream team received  everybody's support despite and we should strive for that same unity of purpose.
Any lessons from the Sunday 3 June debacle?
  • Certainly yes! We are a country that seems to learn everyday but we never really get to show what we have learnt over the years. When we failed to qualify for 2012 AFCON finals, we recorded lessons learnt, but today we seem to have learnt nothing. And that's a real shame.
  • Need for a substantive Head coach. That is one clear solution for the Warriors. We have failed over years to get the basics right. The coaching department makes or breaks team spirit, team cohesion, team confidence and a culture of winning matches. Surely anyone who fails to learn from a past error is no different from a fool. We went into the AFCON 2013 qualifiers and World Cup qualifiers without a substantive technical team in place and fully aware of consequences of our actions. What does that make of us as a footballing nation? If ZIFA want Gumbo to be Head coach  then why not simply give the reigns to him on a full-time basis than have him shuffle from one demanding job to the other? He has become a 'jerk of many trades' and has failed to master a winning formula with either FC Platinum in the CAF Champions League and the domestic league OR with the Warriors where his record shows he has completely failed to inspire the players into establishing a winning culture. It is difficult to blame Gumbo alone in this because he did not appoint himself and never imposed himself as Warriors coach. He was approached to coach the national team, hence he always has an easy defence when criticised of playing double-coaching roles: "I could not turn my back on my country".
  • Better organisation on the part of Zifa/better preparations. The media should be tired by now of singing the same tune each time the Warriors face opponents or fail in international assignments. The pleas of many former players, fans and soccer critics/analysts that Zifa must arrange proper friendly matches on time seem to fall on deaf ears. The culture of good planning and organisation appears to be terribly absent from Zimbabwean football, and is something which appears to have gone with the era of the Morrison Sifelani Premier Soccer League administration of yester-years and to some extent the Khan-run Zifa administration which took Zimbabwe to its first AFCON finals in 2004. Zifa needs to draw up a programme for the national team for each major tournament, and arrange friendly matches with the view of preparing the team for the upcoming assignments in either the AFCON or World Cup competitions. That is possible if Zifa gets its house in order, appoint coaches timeously and not this ad hoc appointment non-sense which has always cost the nation. If a coach is in place, it is easier for him to draw up his programme of training and preparations.
  • ZIFA should better manage , support and monitor Warriors coaches, provided that such coaches are appointed timeously. It does not appear like the portfolio assigned to provide oversight on national teams has done any better job over the past years. For example, it was difficult to understand fully if Jose Valinhos, Norman Mapeza and lately Rahman Gumbo have worked on the basis of  Key Performance Areas relating to  monitoring and identification of players who play overseas and in other countries like South Africa. Some more deserving players have been ignored in a shocking manner over the years, understandably because the coaches appear not to know that certain players are Zimbabwean or that certain better-known players are in great form for their clubs.
  • The following national coach monitoring mechanisms and support systems are proposed to improve the performance of coaches:
  1. There should be periodic reports of the coach's efforts in monitoring the performance of current squad members and potential squad members of Zimbabwean birth and descent in Europe and other parts of the world. While Zifa may need to source funds to enable the coach to visit the players from time to time and have conversations with their coaches, money availability or non-availability should not be an excuse acceptable for poor performance in this regard. There are many other ways of monitoring the players.
  2. One other way of monitoring players is for the coach to forge fruitful relationships with the coach of the club which a Zimbabwean player turns out for, or even the assistant coach of the team. The Warriors coach can then get feedback regarding the physical or mental conditioning of players at each given period. Another method, though limited, is to simply follow media reports of the players' performances.
  3. Zifa must establish a Warriors Technical Committee which gives the board through the board member in charge feedback on the Warriors' performance, including the performance of the coach in meeting his KPAs or key deliverables. It is easy to establish such a committee in Zimbabwe, but the committee does not need to have too many members, neither does it need to consist of experienced or knowledgeable coaches who are based in Zimbabwe. For example, considering that most of our players appear to have South Africa's ABSA premiership as their destination at any given point, why not get a person like Ian Gorowa or any other knowledgeable coach who is based in that country to assist with the monitoring of players at various clubs and then liaise with the Head coach?
  • The overall success   of the national team should be a shared responsibility, and cannot be down to the Head coach alone. There is a clear and vital role that administration of football in the country has to play, a clear role for other stakeholders to play as well to ensure the Warriors become a force to be reckoned with.
  • Our soccer leadership should stop using money or the absence of  funding as an excuse for poor performance. What Zimbabwe soccer leadership needs right now is a bit of creativity and some kind of a think-tank to bring back excitement and good organisation into the management of the affairs relating to our football, especially the specific management of the Warriors.
  • The same excitement with which Zifa has shown with Asia-gate scandal and attempts to "clean up Zimbabwean soccer" should be employed to finding ways to better the performance of the team. That is what counts at the end of the day, isn't it? All these other legitimate issues which have consumed much of our attention lately  become peripheral if the Warriors team does not get the nation excited by churning out good results at a consistent level.
  • Those who have ears....................

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