FOLLOWING the launch of the 30th edition of the Copa Coca-Cola schools football tournament on Tuesday, Mighty Warriors star Rudo Neshamba says such programmes are crucial in laying a platform for most budding players to realise their dreams.
Neshamba, who took a break from the game after a knee operation last year, attended Tuesday’s launch together with Weerams player Greater Bande as well as former Dynamos captain Justice Majabvi, former Warriors defender Dickson Choto and ex-Buymore and Gunners forward More Moyo.
The tournament, which started in 1989, has proved to be a launching pad for several aspiring young players from different backgrounds. Neshamba, who played a vital role in Zimbabwe’s first qualification to the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, said grassroots development is key in laying a strong foundation for players.
“That is where they get to develop their technical skills, their physical abilities, everything, and this is where it starts from. So I think they should be really taken seriously.
“It is really crucial because you get to learn all the technical skills at a younger age . . . you start from the bottom. So these tournaments are really important for the junior players,” said Neshamba.
Some of the players that have come through the Copa Coca-Cola programme and went on to have success in football include Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiat, Elasto Kapowezha and Majabvi. Peter Ndlovu and the late Benjamin Nkonjera were pioneers of the programme.
The likes of Harare City’s midfielder Tatenda Tumba and Tatenda Munditi, who is playing for Ngezi Platinum, are the recent products from the tournament.
While it was mainly a boys tournament when the first finals were held in Bulawayo, it has revolved with time taking the girls on board. This year marks the eighth anniversary for the girls competition.
“Coca-Cola has done a big thing for the girl child, especially on the prizes, where the girls and the boys will receive the same prizes.
‘’Finally someone has had our cry, it’s been long overdue, so I am really grateful to Coca-Cola for what they have done for the girl child. ‘’I think Coca-Cola are doing a great job for grassroots soccer for the girl child,” Neshamba said.
Former Warriors defender, Choto, also weighed in to say there was a need to balance both academics and sport.
Choto runs his academy.
“I want to thank Coca-Cola because so many players were able to sign for big clubs after they were noticed during such tournaments as Copa Coca-Cola. This is how opportunities present themselves.
“Not all kids are academically gifted and so we need to balance both education and sports. Some are not academically gifted but they are good in football and can actually end up making a living out of it,” said Choto
Zvishavane will host the national finals in July with 12 boys and an equal number of girls teams competing.
Mandava will host the boys while Zvishavane High School hosts the girls.