Tadious Manyepo Sports Reporter
AT a time when most Zimbabweans have put their weight behind Phillip Zulu following the United Kingdom-based coach’s louder call for national team coaches to consider UK-based players for international duties, Zimbabwe Soccer Coaches Association chairman Bekhimpilo Nyoni has come out guns blazing and challenged the former to raise a team good enough to compete against local teenagers.
Zulu is one of the few Zimbabweans in the UK who are pushing for players with their roots in this country to represent the national team.
He has been working with Under-17 coach Tafadzwa Mashiri for the past few weeks with a view of facilitating the inclusion of some teenagers he is working with in the squad doing duty in the Cosafa Championships currently underway in Mauritius.
But after Zulu successfully pleaded with the teenagers’ parents to release their children for the assignment, Mashiri decided otherwise. The parents had not only agreed to release the kids, but had also agreed to bankroll their trip for the sake of the country.
Surprisingly, Mashiri proceeded to select only locally-based players and the hastily-assembled side fell 3-2 to Swaziland in their Cosafa opener in Mauritius on Friday.
Zulu was left dejected and expressed his disappointment over the snubbing of the UK-based players by Mashiri in an interview with The Herald last week.
“As Zimbabweans who reside in the Diaspora, especially those that are based in the UK, we took keen interest in trying to help our football standards back home by engaging in local grassroots activities, FA football coaching courses and also by being employed as professional academy scouts with established EPL academies,” said Zulu.
“We did this so as to help our children who are currently in various established professional clubs, the highest level possible over here in the UK. We started looking at the way football is played differently and as such, we realised how poorly our beautiful game was being handled back home (in Zimbabwe).
“We formed our clubs that trained most young kids at least three times a week and also had a lot of continuous professional development as they slowly progressed.”
While most Zimbabweans felt that Zulu’s rage was justified especially considering that it is unfortunate developments like these which normally result in players with African roots opting to represent European countries at senior level, Nyoni, who also runs the BN Academy with which some of the national Under-17 players were reportedly picked from, decided to spit venom on the UK-based coach.
Nyoni implied that Zulu was just making unnecessary noise and was not to be taken seriously when commenting on a Facebook post by former CAPS United chairman Andy Hodges.
“I call upon Mr (Phillip) Zulu to organise just a Zimbabwe-UK team and come and play here so that we can see the talent at their disposal which will force our national team coaches to take him serious,” read Nyoni’s post.
Zulu, however, said national team coaches should look beyond local academies if the country is to be successful in the long run.
“We wanted to help improve the standards of football in Zimbabwe by making a strong impact on junior national tournaments, allowing an on-going development of young players so that their inter-market valuations increase (Something that has affected (Tendai) Darikwa’s progression as a top professional who lacked visibility of the junior international football, something that top nations do for their young players).
“As Zimbabweans who reside in the Diaspora, especially those that are based in the UK, we took keen interest in trying to help our football standards back home by engaging in local grassroots activities,” Zulu said yesterday.
He went on to say: “Of the junior international football, something that top nations do for their young players, getting players from (academies) is not what we need as a nation and as a matter of policy, we need the Premier Soccer League in Zimbabwe to be involved as a starting point as they have more clout in terms of sourcing for sponsors and organisation of games.
“The majority of our players have a full calendar year curricular, something that we can easily say that whoever made the final decision to ignore our players here, seriously shows the paucity of ideas to run the highest offices they’re stationed in.
“The Zimbabwean school sports calendar is just a mere three months, contrast that with these UK-based players that are playing against top academies like Chelsea FC Academy, Liverpool FC Academy, Everton FC Academy and many others, surely if the decisions that were made to deny them an equal opportunity just to be on the ground and let alone, be chosen to represent Zimbabwe went against this grain.”
Zulu said he was willing to bring some of the UK-based players to Zimbabwe to showcase their skills against the locals.
“Every parent I have talked to about allowing their child to represent Zimbabwe has agreed to fund their expenses, but the raw deal we get from ZIFA is hard to swallow as they’re very reluctant to invite them in time, give them a fair platform where they can prove their worth.
“We even asked ZIFA at some point to invite them as a full squad, play established clubs like Dynamos, CAPS United or Highlanders as part of an international exchange programme that will be under sponsors, TV companies and the Sports Commission, but nothing has happened to date.
“We even proposed to them that we can bring a very good squad mixed with top professionals and upcoming young talented youngsters, then we play against South Africa in Harare and Johannesburg as major games on our international calendar, but nothing materialised.”