Monday, March 31, 2014

Backlays Premier League wholly in Liverpool's feet

Oh boy did Liverpool turn up the heat and top the league once more since that Christmas period, and in what style. One can be forgiven for taking an excitement at the bottom end of the table, but who can blame you given the performance of Aston Villa and Crystal Palace against Chelsea last week and this week, and a scare Fulham gave to Everton? At least up to 34 points, any team can still be sucked in there. The Cottagers were denied by the heroics of Tim Howard to dispatch Everton. Palace could have put away 4 clear balls past Petr Cech.

At least Arsenal turned up and put up a fight against real contenders in Manchester City. They gave us a show that was displayed by Manchester United against Aston Villa earlier on. Villa were also victims of their finishing as the usually lethal Cristian Benteke was lethargic. United's 4-1 win was refreshing just to shake up the mid-table fight with poor Tottenham Hotspur and Everton.

The Liverpool 2-1 win over Sunderland made me feel I was watching champions. For the first time, the Reds feel they have their destiny at their feet. They carry themselves around the pitch like they have won it already and that should worry City. It may be easy to think Chelsea are out, but as with Arsenal, their story is still being told. The Kop was that cathedral of football of old as they slaughtered hapless Tim Sherwood's sorry Spurs.

When it come to the Gunners, I always preached my stale gospel of Benteke. I used to drive the Demba Ba version too. Let me be fresher; Arsene Wenger should shop for Mousa Dembele from Spurs. His usefulness under Tim Sherwood has passed its sell-by date as did Emmanuel Adebayor under AVB. He is the solid Patrick Viera they have lacked in years. Mikel Arteta  is a good holding player who can have a role elsewhere in that team. He may be released to forward positions where he can score as he did at Goodson Park.

As for the log leaders, they now impose their play and their attitude is one of arrogance and bullying, synonymous with champions. They have their records but we are for the analysis here. We think it could be decided by the visit of Man City to Anfield. Many factor Chelsea but The Reds do not need to beat Chelsea if they can overpower City and win the remaining fixtures. It is in their own hands, I meet feet.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Highlanders, Bulawayo football needs Delma Lupepe

They destroyed him, and the whole Southern region killed his passion and desire. They murdered football when they chucked out Delma Lupepe out of football and we danced. It was an emotional and miscalculated move borne out of selfish motives and uneducated belief that he was an unnecessary evil.
I will tell you the truth. He was not evil at all and to appease a few, I would admit he was a necessary evil. His demise spelt a bad era for the game, tribe, politics, the region and the nation as much as the disappearance of Zimbabwe Saints was to Bulawayo. If you know or remember, there was never a passion like when Highlanders was playing against Saints. The rivalry was a result of the history of the clubs.

The tribal tension sandwiched with the Shona language in Matebeleland spiced the events. Besides, there was always a political connotation of Bosso (PF-ZAPU) and Chikwata (ZANU (PF)). Remember that Highlanders went as Matebeleland Highlanders for a long time during the peak of the political tensions and the liberation struggle of Zimbabwe. Zim Saints Chiwororo was Mashonaland United. That made for the exciting times in the game and overplayed itself in times of peace.

Either way, the power and excitement of the Saints teams that dominated the scene in the 1988-89 era overpowered the dominance of Bosso in Cup ties even though Tshilamoya recaptured the glory days by the dominance of the league thereafter.

The times of Zimbabwe Saints came to an end with the emergence of Amazulu Football Club which was immediately followed by the re-introduction of Railstars. At the best of times, the four teams were in the top league simultaneously. The financial muscle of Amazulu intimidated other teams as Chikwata lost focus getting attracted to the money Lupepe flashed cash to acquire the best talent. That process was neither evil nor flawed.

The Saints leadership began squabbles that dragged the team down the drain and it looks like for good. They jostled to bleed their team dry and their success at that resulted in the biggest football tragedy of our time. For many, Delma's money was evil, but it was not. It was rather the root of the evil. In many times in history, one finds that the nature of Highlanders' structures did not allow people of his calibre close by, unfortunately.

The first time I heard of Amazulu, I was at Highlanders training grounds as a fringe reserve goalkeeper. The late Cleopas Dlodlo was having a private conversation about a group of people that included himself and Ezra Tshisa Sibanda being part of it. The truth of that was never established, but if true, the wisdom of those people was in taking Delma along as he became the sole proprietor of the franchise.

Outside football, Mr Lupepe was known as an astute businessman with a strong passion for what he did and his assets. He guarded everything he had jealously. After all, I should know. Many times I found myself negotiating with him personally, bypassing the team's management executive. I must admit this had its own flaws.

I first met him in trying to establish a joint football academy. My KFA needed a sponsor and we agreed on so many aspects until his business manager failed to honour our agreement and proposed to change KFA to AFA, with me a 20% shareholder. The deal fell through. At the high demand of the then unknown Farai Mujokoro, we had to sit and discus fees as he wanted to have the player for free since he had no official contract with the academy. We set a fee which he paid without fuss.

My last contact with the man was during the days before I joined Bosso as a Technical Advisor. We had many options tabled and agreed on. The club's executive threw the spanners into the works. He later chased me for my services through Jerry Mafripa, at a time I could not take his job. Then I contacted him when I wanted to have Mujokoro follow Thabani Masawi to Albania.

That call made us enemies for a moment. He asked me why I thought that was possible. My response was that I thought as a friend of mine, we could do business. That was the worst choice of words from me. He flipped and was very frothy. "There are no friends in business.", he said and banged the phone.

I knew the man who was passionate and fond of the game, that he was a Highlanders fan. He was a life-member of the club. In all their pain and trouble, Highlanders need Delma Lupepe. They have needed him all along. It is not that he will hijack the club. For a period of time, his tested acumen in the cooperate world would benefit him and the club. My experience with Highlanders is their disgust at the thought of an individual benefiting using the Bosso name and logo. They must get over that.

One man told me that his business empire was in doldrums and was slightly above water. That cannot be a better excuse to ramp him in and let him harness and harvest the club's potential. He will greatly benefit of course and the club will remain at a higher level long after he is gone.

Delma Lupepe will stretch that brand to the maximum. In my book, What Highlanders Need Right Now! available on, I explained how Bosso needed some very selfish and yet astute business people with a passion for the team and the game to utilise the massive size of the brand. Brushing the stupid inferiority and timid excuses away, this is one clever man who can be very useful for the love and worthy cause of iBosso. At the end of the day, at least he may be motivated enough to bring Amazulu back, if not Saints.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Free-kicks not free at all

Having watched a few sending off offences of the last few weeks, I must say there must be some sympathy for the offenders who genuinely duel and combat for the ball as well as the victims of the potential crippling tackling. At this day and age, the professionals understand the need not to end fellow professionals' careers. There few cases now see the attacking players taking advantage by diving, like Daniel Sturridge did a few days ago.

Instead of dwelling on the many individual cases, I wish to draw your attention on the heart of the matter. For most red-card fouls, all include excessive force especially in the attacking zone of the victims. The attacker will have the most difficult job of evading defenders and clearing their path and charging at goal. This includes executing the most difficult skill of the game. The chief end is to score the goal and enjoy the ecstasy of that moment.

Besides, the match starts with the ball at the centre and it has got to be manoeuvred through a forest of legs and traffic of bodies to be in the final third. That feet is not easy to achieve. Usually, at that point, there is one or two defending players between the attacker and the goal. The attacking player is in full flight and in stride to strike the ball towards the goal. His body and mind is set to unleash venom. The team mates are either ahead or behind in positions of support to assist in ending this attack successfully. There is great momentum of both the attack and the player.

The defending team are obliged to legitimately stop the attack and the player. By hook or crook, they succeed. In a case of a brutal or illegal means, the attacker's charge is halted, and he gets knocked down and has to receive medical attention. The officials usually asks the medics to do this outside the pitch.

The ball which was running is then placed still and usually in a wrong spot. Then the defending team gets the opportunity to bring all personnel behind the ball and form a wall. The rest of the team choose the best positions and have the luxury of even pushing the opponents down. They can set up an offside trap. At this moment, they gain a numerical advantage as the injured striker is ordered to receive treatment outside the pitch. The goalkeeper picks up his co-ordinates and gets his bearings right, chooses the best position and pinpoints all possible dangers.

In some cases, the player who was on the offensive gets hacked down, receives a yellow card for diving and has to be treated off the ground and play continues in their absence until the officials signal for his re-entry. All the hard work of building an attack is lost and the goal-scoring opportunity minimised or blown away by the rules of the game. In a case where a defending player is red-carded, the attacking team still does not immediately gain advantage as the offender and the victim leave the pitch.

So what would be fair? One scenario would be to ensure all serious fouls to be punished by a red card and a penalty awarded, regardless of where the foul is committed. Less serious fouls would have to be yellow card cases and the offender will have to leave the pitch if the victim is receiving medical treatment. Any infringement of the rules should benefit the opposition in such a way that there is no offside resulting from the restart of the match and that the defending team should never have players ahead of the ball, or behind the ball from their perspective.

That would make redundant the wall and off-sides from all dead ball situations and the offended teams would never suffer numerical disadvantages at any time. FIFA tell us they want to encourage attacking football and ensure many goals are scored by giving the benefit of the doubt to the attacking teams, but the rules suppress this and the good players suffer the indiscretion of the bullying defenders.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spurs football is too sterile

The English Premier League has been a see-saw affair of performances at the top and bottom and the individual team comics in terms of form and consistency. Liverpool and Chelsea do have a better  record of late, so do Arsenal. As for Manchester City, the unpredictability is a worry for the gaffer and fans alike.

What catches my attention is the flatness of Tottenham Hotspur. This comes after comments by Tim Sherwood that they had a better game than the Gunners in the London derby. Passing and attacking are one thing and then penetration and scoring another. Spurs play a game flatter than unleavened bread.

The lack of the final telling pass leaves all their work redundant. The killer pass eludes them. For all the ball they see and lay, their entry into the final third causes minimum threat and there is very little to worry the opposition, It is that mode that see them fail in Europe and struggle to threaten the top four sides in the league.

Spurs are a team of interest to the neutral if you consider their run under Harry Redknapp during their days with Gareth Bale. Bale was a great player but the Londoners were a finer unit until the arrival of Andreas Villas Boas. Sherwood has not added value to their play save for team selection. I wonder if the players feel they are undone by the results but there is nothing the football gods can do to reward an uninspiring play.

There is so much regress in their game and one day, they will wake up and smell the coffee. Sherwood needs to upgrade, and fast.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Manchester United produce a once off vintage performance

It is expected that at their poorest, Manchester United would be in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League at any given season. The abominable start to their current season made us and their followers to question their abilities to win anything anywhere. Olympiakos of Greece made us think we were all ever correct with that 2-0 home victory. This was rubbed in by Liverpool's 3-0 league triumph at Old Trafford a few days ago.

Prior to the match, one could feel a great sense of urgency on the players. The start of the match proved exactly that and then there was this fear that all this would come back backfiring due to the anxiety to perform in front of the vociferous home crowd. Despite the development of the match, few people could have bet on them winning 3-0, let alone with a Robin van Persie hat-trick.

It has been such a long time since I saw such commitment is combat. The Red Devils threw their bodies on the line, literally. I was humbled by the sheer determination of all departments, something a coach cannot build or instill. The easiest thing to say, if one did not watch the match, is to say the Greeks are a week team. That is totally wrong. They may be, but on the time, their play could have upset Bayern Munich or Barcelona but Manchester United could have none of that.

For the Man U faithfuls, the prayer is to produce such a performance week in and week out and that is not possible. It is a once in a year outing where everyone pulls off all stops in sync. David Moyes' charges may go all the way and win it but they will never produce display that anytime soon. Winning any further matches in Europe against any remaining teams means that the opposition has to put less because United dug deep to get where they are and they should be proud.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Brazil braze Bafana, but why?

To cut the long story short, Robin Williams ahead of Senzo Meyiwa was gigantic mistake. A rookie to the deep end against five times FIFA World Cup champions is a huge risk that can make or break someone. If he does well, Amen, but as it turns out as it did, what next for the Supersport United goalkeeper and the Bafana coaches? What do they do with him now?

The long version: From the days of the flamboyant players like Doctor Khumalo, Augustine Makhalakhalane, David Nyathi, Sizwe Motaung and Ace Khuse just to name a few, when the momentum of the infertile ‘shoe-shine’ piano that was created in the apartheid era as just pure entertainment for the black oppressed propelled the South African football, no further attempt was made to right the wrong of the ill-development of the sport of the marginalised. That excitement took over the game completely as the false sense of security of class was nursed by the victories in the Africa Cup of Nations in 1996 and the subsequent qualifications to the FIFA World Cups and other AFCONs. All people failed to see that it was nothing but pride, black magic and the bitter-sweet reaction of the sudden taste of political freedom. The early successes were purely a case of a poor man suddenly getting a million bucks without any plan or budget.

I must say that at one point during the apartheid era, there were junior leagues from the under-8 age group going up. This was for the few elite groups like Greeks, Portuguese and other privileged white groups who had funds to entertain themselves and the townships and remote areas did not enjoy the privilege. The blacks sharing the table with these societies partook in these as an extension of gratitude and courteousness as it is rude to have a meal while someone is watching.

The true rainbow colours of the South African football were exposed when push came to shove as the weaknesses of the game were laid bare gradually until the hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. For starters, there is not much football development going at any level since the many coaches from Carlos Queirros to Carlos Alberto Perreira made proposal after proposal for the youth and reserve leagues to run. The issue is that there is too much money in the South African game, and too much of everything is bad. Too much interest is placed on first team football and no one entertains any distractions of developing youth football. It is time consuming and physically and mentally taxing.

Big clubs have what they call ‘development sides’ but not much attention is given to the player development detail and the execution of the plans in relation to the clubs’ first team football. The lack of philosophies for each club is easily visible as they cut and chop their technical teams at the drop of a hat. There is no football culture. As a result, no loyalty to the club is taken seriously unless one is talking of Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates or Bloemfontein Celtics. For a country thought to be football crazy, it is a great shame that teams like Mpumalanga Black Aces among many, play home matches in front of just hundreds of fans unless they play Chiefs or Pirates. That is ridiculous. Where are the home-town heroes? I must say I actually like the 'shoe-shine' piano and think it could be a brand of football that would be South African trademark if done properly.

Each town should have its junior league with the residential areas contributing the young players and their community rallying behind the boys who they see growing up in the game. These players grow up to be home town heroes and all the people will see them grow and mature to be great national team players. The school football league should be very visible and serious provincially and nationally. One does not expect that to be in the same league as the college sports in the United States of America but that is the idea. The rugby fraternity do well in this aspect and have the Varsity Cup which football is trying to emulate. In the States, because of the local lads, the college sports are far more popular than the professional leagues because of the catchment areas of the athletes.

Across the northern border in Zimbabwe, where the ABSA Premier League always poached their best players since the days of George Nechironga, Gilbert Mushangazhike, the Mugeyi and Mbizo brothers, Ian Gorowa, Tauya Murehwa, Cleopas Dlodlo, Robson Mtshitshwa, Innocent Chikoya, Alois Bunjira, Thulani Ncube, Stewart Murisa, Adam Ndlovu, Nelson Bandura, Engelbergt Dhina and Benjamin Mwaruwaru, to the times of Tinashe Nengomashe, Cheche Billiart and Knowledge Musona to name a few, these players were identified at schools tournaments called NASH (a national association of schools) as well as others like the Peter Ndlovu Youth Tournament to name two. The organisation of these games is an on-going process and is a machine that produced all the big names including Peter Ndlovu, Adam Ndlovu and Benjamin Nkonjera among many. At one point, these school tournament winners went overseas further exposing them to the global game. The school league matches attract a lot of attention and interest all the time.

In all the league and Cup matches, there are always curtain raisers where youth teams and reserve sides play each other before main matches. In earlier years, as early as the gates opened around 09:00 hours on matches days, people would be thronging the stadium gates to enter and watch the young under 13 players and then the under 15, 17, 19 and the reserve sides. From that early age, budding stars would be noticed by coaches and fans and many people would even skip the main matches after watching the upcoming players. On other weekends, the fans would track their young heroes to smaller football grounds to enjoy these matches as they were free and entertaining, and risk being late for the big matches. The obvious advantages are that the coaches and people know their heroes and want to follow them. The young players grow knowing the pressure of big match fever and subsequently, they easily cope well under pressure and deal better with fame.

In South Africa, the big matches are never preceded by juniors or reserve sides. There are no curtain raisers, save for once in a blue moon Masters' games that are puled up as publicity stunts. Zimbabwe did all this youth development with very limited resources and became a South Africa league feeder base for many years. This kind of youth development could easily be implemented, instead of the fancy and complex projects that are one day wonders. A sustained player manufacturing factory demands the inception of the programs at village level and high density locations as well as schools.

It may be difficult to think and work along those lines. An easy and fast way to bypass a process that may be tedious for the football administrators, is to outsource this service to the experienced neighbours. South Africa needs to invest in the football projects in Zimbabwe. After all, the coaching in that country is top notch as many of them plied their trade here including Roy Barretto who won the championship with the Bucs, Shepherd Murape and Sunday Chidzambwa, though I must admit the facilities in some areas will need a lot of attention. That can be arranged though as part of the package can be the upgrade of facilities that the Zimbabweans can use after the partnerships are over. It is actually a long term strategy but the bosses must start to engage and think with their kidneys.

The dire need to correct the natural state of affairs in the short term calls for drastic recruitment of the entire Nigerian under 20 team that won the FIFA Under -20 World Cup in the UAE in 2013 and take them to the Home Affairs office to give them citizenship before they turn out for the Super Eagles. I am not aware of their source of prowess, although it should not be different from what the Ghanaians do. In Ghana, the process of development is well documented and well maintained. This dates back to the days Carlos Alberto Perreira when he started his career after he spent time as a fitness trainer. 

This will not be the first time that players and athletes are given citizenship for their protagonist talents. Many Kenyans and Ethiopians compete for adopted countries like The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and other Scandinavian countries. Mario Balottelli is of Ghanaian origin. We all remember France's Zinedine Zidane who has Algerian links. The now feared Belgian team comprises of Moruane Fellaine of Morocco, Mousa Dembele (Mali), Romeo Lukaku and Vincent Kompany (Congo) to name a few just for an idea. In Poland, a few years back, a team won promotion to the first Division and the directors flew to Brazil and brought 16 players. Bafana need 20 players and there will be nothing amiss about romping in the junior World Cup champions.

As we all know, this record 5-0 defeat to Brazil was never an event. It has long been coming and small flukes here and there, including one recent against Spain must never let people think all is well, or as they say, rest on their laurels, neither should Gordon Igesund be blamed as has been the case with all the coaches we hired and fired for the country’s incompetence in developing quality players. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Liverpool may surprise us

Chelsea top the Backlays English Premier League after a second hat trick in weeks from yet another midfielder. Edin Hazard his last time around and this week was Andre Schurle. The Blues are enjoying a purple patch and coach, Jose Mourinho still want us to believe that his team are a work in the process, a cake in the oven, a baby racing horse still suckling and being prepared for the race. He admits they will receive the league if handed to them in a platter. If you believe that, lucky you. I am not buying that one. If that is to be taken seriously, then Chelsea would win the next league title by Christmas.

That 3 goal salvo at Fulham was stained by conceding. The comfort on the summit of the table was made sweet courtesy of the flop by the fragile Arsenal's loss to Stoke City. Not that Stoke are easy taking and not that the Gunners are pushovers. Other teams will have their turn to throw away points like confetti too. The absence of Manchester City's league match left them three points and two matches adrift and have a superior goal difference. Until the outstanding matches are played and won, they count for nought.

It must be said that the Citizens enjoyed that league break with the League Cup victory over Sunderland who threatened to upset the tycoons. I was just commenting about ruing the lost chances and explain to a friend how City can turn a single goal deficit and pounce in quick succession. In no time, he was telling me of a 'couch potato' curse.

The story that has been doing rounds for seasons now, has been Liverpool. For the first time since around 2005, the story is a good one to tell. Earlier this season, they topped the table and many thought they were flattering to deceive. I think they are now second to stay. The Reds came to the party in the new 2013/2014 with basically a 'kidsnet'. Their line-up included few veterans of note Skrtl and Toure Kolo, a reject in Dan Sturridge and a 'rehabitatee' in Luis Suarez. A relatively unknown Bredan Rogers did not make it any predictable even though he had turned Swansea's play into an enviable carpet football many teams dream of, and having worked as an assistant to Jose Mourinho.

There is about 30 points to fight for this season, 36 for City. That means a potential finish of 93 for both. City's current surplus of 42 goals compared to Chelsea's 30 puts them a notch ahead. The recent form of both is a little of a contrast. Chelsea have been consistent and quite sharp in finishing while the blue side of Manchester flopped against mediocre opposition including that loss to the Blues.

How we come this far without factoring Arsenal in a league they dominated at the beginning of the season for the first time in years is very surprising. Their season might be inverted. They looked very strong and solid when they scored and kept clean sheets. They were championship contenders until Aaron Ramsey got injured. He is one man who was winning the tile for the Gunners. With him went a resurgent Theo Walcott. Somehow, they seem to be ending the season the way they begin it. They could win it but I would not put a dime on them. All I can see in them is their duel with Spurs and Everton for fourth. In that one, they can prevail.

Liverpool may actually surprise us. They have some steel to steal it, especially as the duel of City and Chelsea gets dirty. Tightening a screw or two at the back, they are in the mix with the other two expensively assembled giants.