AFTER being barred from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, the Warriors return to the greatest marathon in world football — trying to book a place at the game’s global showcase — when they take on Somalia in Djibouti on Thursday.
The Warriors have never qualified for the World Cup finals. The closest they came was in 1993 when the late Reinhard Fabisch and his Dream Team came within just 90 minutes of booking a place at the 1994 edition of the tournament held in the United States.
However, a controversial 1-3 defeat, at the hands of the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in Yaounde in the final game, where a victory would have taken the Warriors to the World Cup finals, ended our quest for a place at the tournament on the final hurdle.
Four years ago, the Warriors suffered the humiliation of being barred from the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia after FIFA punished them, for the sins of their football leaders, who had failed to pay about US$68 000 owed to former national coach Valinhos.
Now, we have another chance to have a crack at making the World Cup finals in 2022 and we have to start from the very bottom, in the preliminary round matches, against a Somalia side winless in their last 18 matches in the World Cup, AFCON and CECAFA assignments.
But, there have been signs, in recent years, they are have been improving and while they lost both their last two AFCON qualifiers against Uganda (1-4 in Kampala and 1-3 in Djibouti), they scored in both matches.
Against that background, it would be suicidal for the Warriors to approach the match against Somalia as an assignment they have already passed.
As we revealed yesterday, ZIFA have also vastly reduced the payment schedules for the Warriors, starting with the matches against Somalia, with players now set to take token payments, in service for their nation, and all the amounts set to be pegged in local currency.
From earning as much as US$5 000 in appearance fees at the AFCON finals, players now have to settle for all payments in local currency with appearance fees, for the World Cup qualifier against Somalia, reduced to $200 in local currency.
Should the Warriors win both legs of their World Cup qualifier against Somalia, they will pocket $2 000, in local currency, representing $1 000 for each victory.
When they are in camp, at home, the players will get a daily allowance of $75 in local currency and, when they reach foreign soil, it is increased to $85 a day in local currency, too.
The appearance fee, for the match against Somalia, is now $200, in local currency, while, should the match end in a draw, the players will receive $500 each in local currency.
While we have always argued that playing for your national team shouldn’t be transformed into a money-making venture, we believe ZIFA also need to review what they have offered the players because we have to create a culture where we stimulate these players to do their very best in service of their country.
We have to create conditions that make our players feel proud to represent their country and, surely, the payment schedule that ZIFA have come up with is, in fact, an insult to these professionals.
Critics of our football leaders can feast on this because they can’t reconcile the fact that just a few months ago, some ZIFA officials got US$700 per day to attend a week-long seminar in Johannesburg and, today, those who represent this nation on the football fields have to get $75, in local currency, per day, as an allowance?
They have a right to ask how ZIFA can justify how they found resources to charter a plane for councillors, and fans, to travel to Cairo just a few months ago and, today, the very players who are the heart and soul of this game, should get such little rewards to represent their country?
This is the World Cup, for goodness sake, and how do we expect to get the best out of those who will be representing us, in our quest to get to reach the greatest tournament in the world, if we treat the players as a people who don’t deserve special treatment and should not be paid accordingly?
At the last World Cup in Russia, every team that qualified was handed US$8 million by FIFA, just for being there, and how then do we expect to inspire our players to get there, and reap us those financial rewards, if we dangle $1 000, in local currency, as a winning bonus for each match?
Each of the 32 nations that made the last World Cup in Russia were handed a further US$1,5 million bonus, for just being there, bringing the appearance fee to US$9,5 million, and how do we expect our players to have the motivation to help us reap such rewards if we are telling them we will pay them $500, in local currency, in the event of a draw?
Each of the teams that were eliminated at the first knockout stage in Russia got US$12 million, those that reached the quarter-finals pocketed US$16 million, those that reached the semi-finals went home US$22 million richer, the third-placed team received US$24 million, the losing finalists US$28 million and the winners US$38 million.
That is what it means to play at the World Cup, it’s not Mickey Mouse business, and we then can’t expect such rich rewards if we are not investing in the players who will drive our quest to get there because, with all due respect, the payments unveiled in the latest contracts fall far beyond expectations.