Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
WHEN the transitional four-month Zambian Super League gets underway on Saturday with the Charity Cup, it will represent a huge leap of faith for Zimbabwe’s northern neighbour, as they join the bandwagon in dumping the old-fashioned calendar-year football season.
A month after the ZIFA Council rejected a proposal from the domestic Premiership bosses to shift their championship calendar to start from August this year to May next year, in line with recommendations from the CAF leadership, the Zambians will boldly embrace the changes starting this coming weekend.
The Zambian transitional season will run until May this year and will see the league divided into two blocs of 10 teams each — the North and South Leagues — and the top two teams from each zone will represent the country in the next CAF Champions League while the second-placed sides will play in the Confederation Cup.
Between May and July this year, the top-flight clubs in Zambia will then prepare for the shift into the August to May calendar, as per the CAF recommendations, with the 2019/2020 Super League season marking that monumental shift for the game in that country.
The Zambians, who have always run their programme on the old-fashioned March to November season, will not be the only ones changing course.
The Nigerians have already done so, with their transitional top-flight league matches having started earlier this month, in a 24-team programme, and the league will now end in May.
After three games into the season, Kwara United lead the way following last weekend’s matches.
The Kenyans have also shifted their league season and started their top-flight matches last month, with eight matches having been played to date, including a full programme of matches last weekend.
The changes being implemented by the Zambians means Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique will be the only three mainland members of Southern African Development Community who will still be sticking to the traditional March to November football season.
The Zambians will join their counterparts in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Angola, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in having a football season that runs from August to May.
The South African Premiership is in full swing, having started in August last year, the Lesotho Premiership has reached the halfway mark, the Swazi Premiership is also in full swing while nine games have been played in the Namibian Premiership.
Eleven matches have been played in the Angolan Girabola re-alignment is in line with the FIFA calendar which has already been recommended by the CAF leadership, who are switching their inter-club tournaments into that basket, as the programme of choice for their members.
While the local football leaders decided against taking the plunge this season, their colleagues elsewhere are confronting the challenges associated with the switch, including those related to poor infrastructure which could struggle to deal with the rainy season, head-on.
“A reality test awaits most stadiums across the country as the Football Association of Zambia realigns the domestic calendar to conform to the European schedule,’’ Matthews Kabamba, a blogger for the Zambian Daily Mail, argued.
Football being a global sport, Zambia has not managed to duck the wind of change that has blown over the structure and schedule of continental club tournaments. “This year, CAF will stage their inter-club competitions — Champions League and the Confederation Cup — under a new calendar of September to May. “To this effect, the continent’s football governing body has directed all its member associations to realign their league calendars to run between August and May into the following year.
“Zambia will leap to this calendar after playing a transition season that will run between January and May 2019 before setting in motion the 2019/2020 season in August.
“In Zambia, the league has for many years run from March to November — this is largely because most of the venues are unplayable at the height of the rainy season.
“This is about to change. Fans, players and coaches alike may need to brace themselves for a rainy day as the league will be in full swing at the peak of the rainy season. “Of the 20 top-flight teams, few can boast of having a home venue that can contain a heavy downpour on a match day — most of them have a poor drainage system and a bad turf.
“As the league makes a giant shift, expect some teething problems like fans being discouraged from watching matches in stadiums because most stands do not have a shade to guard them from the rains.’’ Zambians have been wondering why their clubs have been struggling in the CAF inter-club tournaments for some time now and they believe the shift in season will help the teams.
When Zesco United were knocked out of the CAF Champions League this season by Congolese giants TP Mazembe, whose league runs from August to May, their coach George Lwandamina said his men paid a huge price for having just come out of an off-season. “My boys are coming from a holiday,’’ he said. “They were facing a team that has been playing actively in their league while our season has been on recess. “You don’t expect the energy levels to be the same.’’ But, after having played a couple of games since their elimination from the Champions League and a subsequent drop into the Confederation Cup, Zesco United have found their groove back and humiliated Kaizer Chiefs 5-2 on aggregate in a play-off battle with the Zambians winning home and away.
They beat the Amakhosi 3-1 in Zambia and then completed the mission with a 2-1 win at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday where Zimbabwe international Khama Billiat scored a consolation for the beaten Soweto giants.
Source : The Herald