STUNG by Zimbabwe’s poor performance in the last two editions of the COSAFA Under-20 tournament, a group of local academies and coaches have resolved to assist ZIFA with a talent identification programme they hope will reap rewards for Bhekithemba Ndlovu’s Young Warriors at next month’s competition in Zambia.
The academies first staged a tournament of their own dubbed the “Legends of Tomorrow”, which was sanctioned by ZIFA.
Since then they have picked an Under-18 Select side that has been training in Harare every Tuesday and Thursday at Hellenic Sports Club. Those training sessions have drawn a mix of coaches from registered academies who attended the Legends of Tomorrow Football Tournament.
The initiative also has the backing of ZIFA technical director Wilson Mutekede and is being primed to become the flagship concept that will be reciprocated throughout the country’s 10 provinces.
It is aimed at helping cast the selection net wider for the Young Warriors, which will ensure that those picked get to train with the best talent throughout the year.
One of the brains behind the move and Legends Academy director and coach Farai Dhliwayo said their move was aimed at augmenting ZIFA’s development efforts.
“The result should be improved performances in international junior tournaments year on year and production of much more experienced and better-trained players through continuity. We are coaches from different football academies with different philosophies, however, we are combining resources, sharing ideas and working successfully together with a nation-first mentality. As development coaches, we are aware that junior players are not finished products. We are working closely with ZIFA and have assembled this Under-18 Select team to ensure young players gain experience and are better prepared for future tournaments,” Dhliwayo said.
Mutekede, who has been on a crusade of encouraging continuous education among the coaches, also hailed the organised manner in which the schools of excellence have gone about trying to help ZIFA.
“We will be in Zambia for the COSAFA Under-20 tournament to be held from December 2-14. In order to assist the national team coach in selecting a provisional squad, we have asked organised entities in all provinces to assemble the best young players suitable for the tournament. The ongoing Under-18 Select training in Harare is one such example.
“COSAFA Under-20 is a yearly event and we aim to return to winning ways in this tournament, while having time to develop and improve our young players. In terms of our forward planning, we are looking to have a significant number of the players in the team to be of 18 years, which means that they will remain eligible for the next two tournaments as we improve,” Mutekede said.
Former Zimbabwe and Darryn T defender Dickson Choto, now the Harare Province board member development, also weighed in and said there was need to afford junior teams more time to prepare for competitions. “In Zimbabwe we often have a short period to prepare our junior national teams and I think this initiative is a noble idea. If all provinces commence the same programme, it will help the national team coaches reduce their workload.
“I have attended all the Harare Under-18 Select training sessions so far.
“From a development perspective, including Under-18 players as part of the team helps with continuity and regardless of results, this year the players will gain experience and we will have a year to develop them further in anticipation of next year’s tournament,” Choto said.
Choto played his professional football in Poland and knows all too well how much the European game invests in juniors.
Aces Youth Academy, the institution that has produced a host of the current Warriors stars including skipper Knowledge Musona, big goalkeeper George Chigova and poster boy Khama Billiat, believe the involvement of more academies in the talent search will stand Zimbabwe in good stead.