Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
SERBIAN football coach Milutin “Micho” Sredojevic says Zimbabwe occupies a special time place in his heart and he isn’t surprised by the success of local coaches in their foreign adventures.
The highly-regarded Serb tactician is widely tipped to be named the next substantive Warriors coach, next month, and has already said, if he gets the job, his ultimate mission would be to try and take Zimbabwe to the World Cup finals.
Norman Mapeza is the talk of the South African Premiership right now after leading Chippa United from the bottom of the table to ninth on the log standings after a magical run that began on November 9 with a 2-0 away win over Amazulu.
Another Zimbabwean coach Callisto Pasuwa claimed his second straight league title in Malawi yesterday after his side Nyasa Big Bullets beat TN Stars 2-0 in the last match of the season in the Malawian top-flight.
Having been win-less in the league, before Mapeza’s arrival, Chippa have now won four of their last five matches in Supa Diski and are knocking on the doors of a place in the top half of the table.
For the first time in the club’s history, Chippa have not conceded a goal in five straight league matches in which they have beaten Black Leopards 3-0, Cape Town City 1-0 and SuperSport United 1-0.
The Chilli Boys also drew 0-0 against Baroka during that run.
Saturday’s 1-0 win over Kaitano Tembo’s SuperSport United was greeted by wild scenes at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium with Mapeza being feted like a king by the home fans after the match.
Kaitano has already won the MTN8 Cup with SuperSport United this season.
Micho, whose African adventure started when he arrived in Uganda shortly after he had turned 30 at the turn of the millennium, is considered one of the greatest experts of the game on the continent.
With 14 league titles in five different African countries under his belt, taking Uganda to their first AFCON finals in 38 years, and a number or regional silverware in his trophy cabinet, the continent listens when Micho speaks about football.
He won three league titles with Ugandan side Villa SC and took them to glory in the CECAFA Club Cup for the first time in 17 years.
More league titles followed when he arrived at St George in Ethiopia in 2005 and 2006 with the one in 2008 being delivered without losing a game as his men won 19 games and drew five.
He had two stints at Orlando Pirates, guiding them to the CAF Champions League semi-final in 2006, while he also delivered league titles for Young Africans in Tanzania and in his second stint at St George.
The tactician then won two league titles at Sudanese giants Al Hilal in 2010 and 2011 while also taking the club to the semi-finals of the CAF Confederation Cup and Champions League in consecutive seasons.
A penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands of Tunisian club CS Sfaxien ended his dreams of taking Al Hilal into the CAF Champions League finals in 2011.
Named Rwanda coach on November 2011, after emerging from a short-list that included the legendary Steve Keshi, Micho took them to the group stages of the World Cup qualifiers.
His major breakthrough as a national team coach came with the Cranes of Uganda whom he took to the AFCON finals, for the first time in 38 years.
On January 7, 2016, the Cranes, under his guidance, reached 62nd on the FIFA rankings — their highest position since the rankings were introduced.
The Cranes were named the CAF Team of the Year in 2016.
However, the beautiful romance turned ugly when Micho quit after claiming he had not been paid his salary for months with the coach returning to Pirates before a short stint at Zamalek in Egypt.
Yesterday, Micho — who has been watching the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar — talked to The Herald about the good work being carried out by some of the country’s leading coaches.
He said he has been in touch with Mapeza and always believed the Zimbabwean gaffer could turn things around at Chippa United.
“(I have got) sincere respect and honest admiration for your respected country, people and football,” Micho said.
“God knows when I will be there but Zim lives in my heart.
“Thank you very much for appreciating a great coach, and my dear respected friend and brother, a recognized football gentleman from Zimbabwe — Norman Mapeza.
“I was in touch with him and firmly believed that he can turn the tables in that extraordinary club and situation.
“He is doing well but he has no time and space to relax as the situation can reverse but I undoubtedly believe in his human and sports qualities.”
Micho said it’s never easy for foreign coaches to do well in African football and the work being done by the Zimbabwean coaches should be celebrated.
“Accidentally, or intentionally, I have top-class respectful relationships with all above mentioned coaches (Mapeza, Kaitano and Callisto Pasuwa) and I am so proud of them and their work,” he said.
“It is never easy to be foreigners.”
After working on the continent for 17 years, Micho should know when he sees some fine African talent — whether they are players or coaches.
After all, he won three Coach of the Year awards in Uganda, five Coach of the Year awards in Ethiopia and a Coach of the Year award in Sudan. Mapeza knows there is still a lot of work to be done and has promised to bring in new faces in the next transfer window.
He is not taking anything for granted.
“All the glory to the Almighty,” he told The Herald on Saturday.