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CAPS United president Farai Jere bullishly announced at the beginning of the year that his team had the pedigree to play in the group stages of the CAF Champions League, but very few people in this country took him seriously. After all, the Green Machine didn’t have a tradition — like their biggest rivals Dynamos — of doing very well when it comes to the flagship inter-club tournament on the continent where they had barely made an impact on the three occasions they featured in the tourney.
Their last flirtation in this tournament had been disastrous with CAPS United suffering the humiliation of being disqualified by CAF for using a pair of ineligible players from Malawi during the 2006 Champions League campaign.
Crucially, the same Green Machine had struggled to make an impact on the domestic front, since that expulsion from continental football, going for 11 years without winning the league championship while, during that period, Dynamos had won five league titles and established themselves as the dominant force in this country.
And, to make matters worse, local clubs had struggled to make a mark in the Champions League since 2010, after the heights scaled by Dynamos in 1998 and 2007 when they reached the final and semi-finals of this tournament, with our challenges being put into perspective by the Glamour Boys’ 1-7 aggregate humiliation at the hands of Tunisian giants Esperance in 2012.
The signing of any decent Zimbabwean footballer who shows a fine touch by the South African clubs and of late, their Tanzanian counterparts, has weakened the quality of the clubs that we send to battle against the best the continent can offer, as opposition, and CAPS United haven’t been spared by that exodus with about a dozen of their best players leaving the club.
That veteran defender Method Mwanjali could be crowned the best player in Tanzania in his first season in that country’s Premiership, just a year after Khama Billiat was voted the best player in the South African Premiership and the second best player plying his trade in Africa, underlines the quality of our players.
And that both men used to play for CAPS United, during their days on the domestic front, also illustrates the kind of arsenal that the Green Machine has lost as the clubs from South Africa and Tanzania take away the best available players who emerge on the scene.
Against that background, and given in their path also lay five-time African champions TP Mazembe — a club whose financial muscle means they have been able to get some good players from all over the continent — made Jere’s predictions appear rather wayward.
But there is a reason we are called Warriors and CAPS United defied all the odds to eliminate the Congolese giants, who have been crowned champions of Africa three times in the past eight years and have reached the final of the Fifa Club World Cup from this year’s CAF Champions League.
Next week, the Green Machine will know the identity of the opponents they will meet in the group stages of this year’s Champions League when the draw for the final 16 teams is made in Cairo, Egypt.
However, while CAPS United’s success story generated a lot of good publicity for this country around the world, something that we badly need at a time when our detractors have been looking for every single opportunity to describe us as a failing nation where nothing moves — even though we continue to prove them wrong — it’s sad that this team’s adventure hasn’t received the kind of support we would have expected.
If we were able to give the Warriors about $30 000 each, just for qualifying for the 2017 Nations Cup finals, with their coaching staff getting about twice that amount, surely we can find the resources to help CAPS United so that they can keep flying our national flag with distinction on the continent.
For people to just watch from the sidelines, and leave Jere digging deeper into his pockets to finance this very expensive adventure, is not fair and those companies that claim to be the all-weather friends of football should have been seen, a long time ago, coming into partnership with the Green Machine in this national venture.
It’s a shame that we watch from a distance when CAPS United players repeatedly go on strike, to press for the payment of their dues, when this club has done a lot for the profile of our nation this year and, with more support and stability, they can even pursue their dream of making history by winning the Champions League.
Right now they can’t improve their squad because the club’s leaders don’t have the financial resources needed to sign good players who can help make a difference in the tougher group stages of the tournament, but as a country, we are just watching from a distance as if the flag they are flying isn’t ours.
Football cheers this nation, in times like these, and one only has to look at those happy people at the National Sports Stadium on Tuesday when Dynamos won the Independence Cup final to understand this.
CAPS United’s adventure in Africa has long ceased to be one that should be underwritten by an individual, but this has become a national cause and the sooner we help them the better their chances of making a bigger impact and if they can beat TP Mazembe, surely, they have every reason to believe in even winning the tournament.