Makomborero Mutimukulu Sports Editor —
IT might as well turn out to be the infamous one night stand – a 90-minute quickie – but for Norman Mapeza it still means a lot.
The last time he was in bed with Zifa, the gaffer was jettisoned like a cheap street walker: unpaid and accused of all sorts of vices, including match-fixing.
Scorned, Mapeza made his way out of the Zimbabwe senior men’s national soccer team set-up.
It was an unpleasant experience and many would have understood if Mapeza, who turns 45 next month, had spurned Zifa’s SOS to have him take charge of the this afternoon’s friendly against Zambia.
After all, does the saying not go “once bitten twice shy”?
But this thing called love is dangerously beautiful. It can make an abused woman keeo returning to her criminally violent husband.
And Zifa know it.
When the soccer governing body found themselves in a fix, without someone to provide direction to the team from the bench, they immediately made a call to a man they know has fierce loyalty to the Warriors’ cause.
Norman Mapeza answered their call.
Perhaps he feels like he has unfinished business. Perhaps he thinks things will be better this time around with a Zifa led by Philip Chiyangwa.
Whatever it is, Mapeza’s decision to take charge of the national team for today’s friendly against Chipolopolo is a loud statement.
If he was jobless, sceptics would have said the former Warriors skipper was desperate. If was lowly paid by his FC Platinum club, the cynics would have said he was jumping ship.
But Mapeza is one of the best paid coaches in the Premier Soccer League (and FC Platinum pays him on time).
This has all the makings of a love story.
Mapeza just cannot say no to the Warriors and those in the Pure Platinum Play hierarchy know it. The national team gaffer’s job is his sweetest taboo.
“One thing that is not known about Norman is how patriotic he is. It’s never about the money with him and if there is one job we know that he is ready to dump us for, it is the Warriors job,” says one FC Platinum official.
It’s incredible really that after all he has been through at the hands of a dangerously vindictive and thankless Zifa, Mapeza still wants to give his all to the national cause.
“Zimbabwean football has given me more than I have given it. I will forever be indebted to our game and will never say no to chance to help my country,” he said on Thursday. “What happened before is in the past, I am not bitter. My focus now is on the game against Zambia because that is what I have been mandated to prepare for.”
All indications are that when the Warriors open their Afcon 2019 campaign against Liberia at home in June, Mapeza and Zifa will still be in the honeymoon phase of their renewed affections.
After all, the interim coach has been allowed to pick his assistants for this supposedly one-off affair.
Mapeza identifies with the way Tonderai Ndiraya drills the teams he takes charge of: they both come from the pass-the-ball school of play. He reckons Tembo Chuma, who is now with How Mine, is one of the finest goalkeeping coaches in the land.
“I have been watching Tembo for some time now and appreciate that is a good goalkeeper’s coach who hasn’t been given a chance to show what he can do in the national team set up. The other time he worked with ZPC Kariba goalie Tendai Hove and he was the Goalkeeper of the Year. Tembo also did well with Munya Diya and Ariel Sibanda, who all became stars at Highlanders,” says Mapeza.
And more tellingly, Mapeza says Mandla “Lulu” Mpofu is in the set-up because he is a former Under-20 coach and “knows youngsters who will make up the future national team”.
Plans are being laid for the future. Young love fills the air. Wedding bells are faintly ringing – but ringing all the same – in the distance.
Yes, this is a love story, at least on Mapeza’s part. But, will it be just another sad love story?