134 LEAGUE GAMES ,80 WINS…

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
NORMAN MAPEZA’S coaching career has come full circle – 134 league games in charge of FC Platinum, 80 wins, 39 draws and only 15 losses – in a 55-month romance that has delivered two back-to-back league titles.

It has also brought a maiden dance in the Champions’ League group stages.

Along the way he has also played a part in the Warriors’ success story, laying the foundation for the national team’s successful 2019 AFCON qualifiers, when he led them to a 3-0 win over Liberia in the opening match.

Hired by the Zvishavane miners in August 2014, to fulfil their ambition to become champions and heal the heartbreak of their sensational collapse three years earlier which ruthlessly crushed their dreams, Mapeza has delivered on all fronts.

He became the first coach to break the vicious cycle of half-a-century of pain, and failure, for clubs, from outside the country’s two biggest cities, in pursuit of the domestic Premiership title.

The first gaffer to guide a club, from outside Harare and Bulawayo, to back-to-back league titles, and the first gaffer to take a local team from such a modest setting, into the group stages of the Champions League.

The first coach, in charge of a club that isn’t Dynamos, Highlanders and CAPS United, to win back-to-back league titles in the 57-year history of the domestic top-flight league.

Having cut his coaching milk teeth at the Green Machine, under the tutelage of Charles Mhlauri exactly 15 years ago, Mapeza came of age in 2008 when he masterminded the rise of Monomotapa into the most unlikely of league champions.

His troops, back then, somehow finding the character to beat a relentless challenge from Dynamos to become the first club from the capital, besides the Glamour Boys and Makepekepe, to be crowned champions since Black Aces in 1992.

A two-point cushion over DeMbare delivered them the ultimate present of becoming the first Harare side, outside the dominant empire created by Dynamos and CAPS United, to transform themselves into champions in the era of the modern Premiership.

Some critics dismissed it as a fluke but their hate speech was silenced, nine years later, when Mapeza ventured where no other coach had travelled before as he led FC Platinum to success in a Cinderella tale that shamed the hostility of history and opened a new chapter for domestic football.

The same hostile environment which had somehow ensured John Rugg’s awesome Rio Tinto machine would finish second to Dynamos in 1983, despite the Kadoma gold miners ending the campaign with the same number of points (36) as these serial winners.

And, just like that, it meant the immortal Joseph Zulu, one of the finest footballers to grace our football fields, would eventually retire without a league title to honour a legacy, in this game, in which his individual brilliance was a present from the heavens.

The same hostile environment which ensured Masvingo United would somehow lose their final home match of the 2005 season to Dynamos, when a victory would have transformed them into champions, and in the process handed the championship to CAPS United.

A three-goal thrashing of the Green Machine by Black Rhinos, on the same day at the National Sports Stadium, which was supposed to represent the ultimate choking by Makepekepe, counted for nothing as they held on to their big prize.

Mhangura, Shu-Shine, Gweru United, Bata Power, Hwange and Shabanie Mine, just to name but a few, are some of the heavyweight clubs from outside the two big cities who tried, but failed, in their quest to be champions.

But, for all his glowing and growing list of fine achievements, in which he has firmly thrust himself into the seat reserved for the best young coach on the domestic scene, Mapeza is a troubled soul.

Beyond that flashing smile, that assured voice at the media conferences, that trademark pumping of the fist when his platinum miners defeat another local rival, something is devouring this coach’s soul.

It’s the toxicity of the domestic football that is troubling Mapeza.

‘‘We have to do something about it, this obsession with negative stuff, to such an extent that all the positive things don’t seem to matter anymore,’’ Mapeza told The Herald.

‘‘The negative stuff from social media, from some who should know this game better and just from everywhere, is just unbelievable and I’m really getting worried because it’s becoming too much.

‘‘Some of the criticism is very damaging. Yes, criticism should be there but (it’s no longer) constructive zvachose, iyi yatova yekuda kuuraya.

‘‘It’s becoming too much, it’s unfortunate because the majority of those guys, who are calling themselves football people, think we are in this industry to play and even lose games.

‘‘It’s very, very sad and disheartening. We just won our first game in the league and the first message I get on the way back is from social media that only my club president (George Mawere) is in full support of me staying here and you ask where is all that coming from and there is no one to tell you.

‘‘It’s just some people creating stories that are not true without even considering the damage such things can cause.’’

Mapeza believes the local coaches have been doing their best, sometimes under very challenging circumstances, including losing their best players to South African clubs, but they still get little credit for the work they do.

And, instead, he argues, they have to deal with a barrage of criticism all the time.

He said he can’t understand why the Warriors qualification for their 2019 AFCON finals, as winners of their group, has been clouded under a mist of toxicity.

‘‘I have heard about it and I’m really not happy,’’ he said.

‘‘People don’t know the pressure which comes with football, either it’s the players or the coaches.’’

Last month, Warriors coach Sunday Chidzambwa, used his media conference to announce the squad for the final 2019 AFCON qualifier against Congo-Brazzaville, to raise the red flag over what he deemed excessive toxicity which was tearing apart domestic football.

FC Platinum, under Mapeza, have finished third in 2015, second in 2016, first in 2017 and first in 2018 with Dynamos coach, Lloyd Chigowe, this week describing the champions as the new ‘’beast’’ in the domestic Premiership.

He missed the first four months of last year as he recovered from surgery.

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