Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
FC Platinum face a brutal non-stop football campaign that could go on for four years, without a break, should their success story continue in the midst of resistance by the domestic game to change its calendar.

Before even a ball has been kicked in the next domestic Premiership campaign, FC Platinum are already guaranteed of a place in the 2019-2020 CAF Champions League with the rest of the crew merely fighting for crumbs on the continental front.

Should the Zvishavane miners win a third straight Castle Lager Premiership title next year, they will have earned a place to again fly the country’s flag in the 2020-2021 CAF Champions League.

It also means FC Platinum will be playing continuous football, without the luxury of a break to refresh their battered limbs and repair the emotional damage inflicted by the wear and tear that comes with the brutal combination of the twin battles on the home and continental fronts, for four straight years.

That is a minimum 40 games, without a considerable break, by the time this season’s CAF Champions League’s group games end in March next year and, without any time to recharge their batteries, they plunge into the domestic campaign which is scheduled to start at around the same time.

And, in the event they qualify for the knock-out stages of the CAF Champions League, the Zvishavane miners will have another six continental fixtures to deal with, should they go all the way to the final, on top of their domestic assignments. While playing an average of 40 games in both the domestic league and Champions League assignments, a year might not seem a big deal, it becomes an issue when that club isn’t afforded a break and might find itself playing more than 160 matches, spread over four years, without the luxury of an off-season.

That’s the dilemma FC Platinum face, should their success story continue, after ZIFA councillors rejected a proposal for the domestic Premiership championship season to be switched, from next year, to the August to May calendar.

With CAF having switched their calendar from August to May, in line with both the UEFA and FIFA calendars, domestic clubs who take part in the Champions League and Confederation Cup might find themselves in a huge fix having to deal with a huge fixture load without the luxury of an off-season.

The new CAF arrangement also ensures the domestic league will be running a year behind with its champions, who are only known in November, having to wait for nine months before they take part in the Champions League campaign.

For example, if Highlanders, Dynamos, CAPS United or Ngezi Platinum win the league championship next year, they will only play in the 2020-2021 Champions League which only starts nine months after they would have been crowned champions.

Because FC Platinum are already guaranteed another dance in the 2019-2020 Champions League, which starts in August next year, by virtue of having won the local championship campaign this year.

Already the Zambians, who have seen how brutal the CAF changes will be on their representative clubs in both the Champions League and Confederation Cup, have agreed a transitional season next year which will see their top-flight league contested by 20 teams and divided into two Zones of 10 teams each.

The league will start next month and end in August in time for the winners to be drafted into the 2019-2020 Champions League and Confederation Cup.

From 2020, the Zambian top-flight league will then start in August and end in May the following year, bringing it in line with the CAF calendar.

However, on the domestic front, there has been fierce resistance to the change of season — especially from clubs that have no chance to one day play in the Champions League or Confederation Cup — who have chosen to remain trapped in the past while the rest of the continent is moving forward. Interestingly, when the draw for the current Champions League group stages is done tomorrow, FC Platinum will be the only club from a country that still has the March to November calendar in that draw.

The other 15 clubs — TP Mazembe and AS Vita of the DRC, Al Ahly and Ismaily of Egypt, Wydad Casablanca of Morocco, Esperance and Club Africain of Tunisia, Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates of South Africa, Horoya of Guinea, Simba Stars of Tanzania, ASEC Mimosas of Côte d’Ivoire, CS Constantine and JS Saoura of Algeria and Lobi Stars of Nigeria — have an August to May calendar. The Nigerian top-flight league have embraced the changes and will have a 24-team League next season, adding four more clubs to their portfolio, to deal with the transition as they dump the old ways and re-align themselves with the rest of the world.

By deciding to continue with the old ways, means FC Platinum will have the disadvantage of not having the three-month break, which their rivals will enjoy between May and August, to recharge their batteries and also beef up their squads. FC Platinum have already lost their best player Rodwell Chinyengetere to South Africa but cannot replace him with a foreign player now, because the transfer window in major football playing nations is not yet opened, and proposals to cancel the mid-season transfer window in January could even make it tougher for them and local representatives. Even if Norman Mapeza was to get a foreign player next month, he won’t have time to assess him and ease him into his team for the Champions League campaign given the group stages start on January 11 next year.

Then, of course, there is the issue of funding with resources having been depleted by the end of the domestic campaign and this then places a huge load, in terms of planning, for the local clubs who have to find money to foot the huge costs of playing in the continental games at the tail-end of their season. Right now, Triangle — who won the Chibuku Super Cup — have to wait another eight months before they make their bow in the CAF Confederation Cup next August. By then, a lot would have changed with some of their star players — Nhamo Lameck who is moving to FC Platinum and Phineas Bhamusi who is returning home to CAPS United — having switched base and left them weaker than when they won the right to represent the country.

source: The herald

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