Norman Mapeza & FC Platinum: A romance made in heaven

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor

NORMAN MAPEZA is marking his FIFTH anniversary as FC Platinum coach and it has coincided with the coach completing exactly 150 league games in charge of the team – 89 wins, 43 draws and 18 losses – in a whirlwind romance that has delivered back-to-back league titles.

The 47-year-old coach has had to put the celebrations, of making five years in charge of the Zvishavane side, on hold as he plots to guide them to another dance in the Champions’ League group stages after going that far in the continent’s flagship inter-club tournament last season.

Today, he comes face-to-face with the other coach, Callisto Pasuwa, who provided the template for his generation, including Mapeza, to take on the responsibility at the country’s big club, and trust their instincts to become serial winners of the ultimate prize on the domestic football scene.

The two coaches, who are both managed by local agent Gibson Mahachi, share mutual respect for each other. “They (Nyasha Big Bullets) have one of the best coaches ever produced in Zimbabwe in Calisto Pasuwa,’’ Mapeza told Cafonline.

‘’The guy knows African football. His coaching history tells it all. We have known each other since way back. We grew up in the same town of Chitungwiza and played together in the Zimbabwe national team early 2000. He has done very well so far in his coaching career, winning four league titles in a row back here and taking the Zimbabwe national team to the AFCON finals in Gabon.’’

Pasuwa said he never expected a duel against a club from home. ‘’I was not expecting to be drawn against Platinum considering it is from my home country,’’ he told the Malawian media.

‘’That makes it a bit difficult for me as a coach. It comes with a lot of pressure for me as well as the Platinum camp. But that is the name of the game. Sometimes you meet opponents whom if you had the chance you would avoid so it is now on us as a team to plan and try to come out victors.’’

The advantage appears to be with Pasuwa and his Bullets at Barbourfields this afternoon, as any goal they score could be gold in the event the match ends in a draw, after the first leg ended goalless, and this is an FC Platinum side whose soul has been ripped by the loss of many key players in recent weeks.

Pasuwa’s four straight league championship haul in charge of Dynamos, after he had been plucked from obscurity and ushered into the hottest seat in Zimbabwean club football as a greenhorn coach, destroyed the myth that this could only be a job for the veterans and inspired a generation of the youth brigade. And, no other coach has done it better than Mapeza.

To accept what many considered to be a poisoned chalice, a job which had swallowed some of the country’s best coaches, and transform it into such a success story – despite having to confront the brutality of a history that was hostile to his interests – has been one of the finest achievements in domestic football.

For, until Mapeza converted FC Platinum into champions, two years ago, no club from outside the country’s two major cities of Harare and Bulawayo, had managed such a feat. 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, in which Pasuwa and his Dynamos ruthlessly crushed their dreams, Mapeza has delivered on all fronts:

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 coach 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.

Between May 9, 2015, and May 2016, Mapeza and his FC Platinum went for exactly a year without losing a match in the Castle Lager Premiership – in a remarkable record-breaking feat in the country’s top-flight league.

Mapeza is currently the longest-serving coach at any of the clubs in the domestic Premiership, highlighting how it has become very difficult for coaches to stick around at their jobs in the top-flight, and showing just how well the former Zimbabwe captain has done to retain his job.

After missing two assignments against Black Rhinos , which ended in a 0-1 defeat for the Zvishavane side, and a goalless draw against CAPS United, because he wasn’t feeling well, Mapeza returned to lead his men to a 2-0 win over Harare City.

However, a 0-2 defeat at the hands of high-flying Triangle at Gibbo, in their last encounter, provided him with a reminder of the tough challenges that lie in trying to secure a third successive league championship title this year.

That was his 150th league match, in charge of FC Platinum, since joining them exactly five years ago, and he has won 89 games, drawn 43 and lost just 18.

This has handed the Zvishavane side 310 points, from a possible 450 points, and Mapeza’s success rate in league matches stands at an impressive 68.88 percent at FC Platinum.

The Zvishavane side, under Mapeza, have finished third in 2015, second in 2016, first in 2017 and first in 2018 and lead the championship race going into this weekend’s round of fixtures. He missed the first four months of last year as he recovered from surgery.

But while Mapeza has transformed FC Platinum into the dominant side on the domestic front, in the past three years, something has been devouring this coach’s soul. ‘‘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,’’ he told The Herald.

‘‘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.’’

Ironically, the domestic football industry isn’t the only one having problems, on that front, after matters came to a head this week with the racial attacks on Paul Pogba on Twitter.

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