Analysis: ALEX NJOVU
PERHAPS we should start with boxing legend Muhammad Ali even though this write-up is on football.One of Ali’s quotes is “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
Bring that to football, and you can say much of the work for successful teams is done before the game.
For most teams, pre-season is very important. An intense pre-season ensures that players are perfectly prepared for the new campaign. And if you have new players, a good pre-season ensures that the team gels.
In this era when the game has been commercialised, you have teams playing exhibition games in far-flung places. Those games are largely for commercial purposes and they are unavoidable in this era. But you have heard some managers of top European clubs complaining about travelling long distances to play exhibition matches. For them, they would rather spend more time working with the team.
So, in order to condition themselves well for the season, the Zambia Air Force (ZAF)-sponsored Red Arrows decided to camp in Spain, which has indeed become popular for its sports tourism.
You cannot probably ask for any better motivation than where Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla and Athletico Madrid have dominated in Europe in recent years.
Unfortunately for Arrows, things have not entirely gone their way.
Fans, ever impatient, have been wondering why the team that camped in Europe, one of the top European footballing nations, should be struggling in the local league where some of the opponents can barely afford hotel accommodation for their teams.
Arrows were not entirely alone; Champions Zesco United held a 10-day camp in South Africa while Nkana and ambitious Buildcon camped in Zimbabwe with Zambia Army side Green Buffaloes also spending 10 days in Botswana.
Things have not gone entirely according to plan for both Nkana and Buildcon. In fact, Buildon have had to dispense with the services of the coach and replaced him with Tenant Chembo.
Nkana have been dumped out of the CAF Confederations Cup together with Buffaloes. But while Nkana have had mixed results in the league, Buffaloes are currently enjoying good form at the top of the league standings.
Zesco are still involved in the CAF Champions League although they are yet to make an impact.
Arrows, the 2004 Super Division champions, have been nicknamed Spain or Valencia, the location of their camp.
But Valencia in Spain has just qualified for the UEFA Champions League. However, the Zambian Valencia has been struggling here with less than impressive results.
Fans want some justification for the Spain outing. They thought with the Spain outing, Arrows, under the guidance of Honour Janza, will be challenging for honours at home.
For record’s sake, Janza holds a UEFA B licence, making him one of the most qualified coaches in Zambia after soccer icon Kalusha Bwalya, who has a UEFA A licence.
Janza is also a qualified Confederation of African Football (CAF) instructor, who led the Chipolopolo to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea where Zambia exited the tournament in the first round.
He was a member of the Herve Renard-led Chipolopolo technical bench that guided Zambia to a maiden Africa Cup triumph in 2012. Janza also won the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Youth Championship title with the under-20 national team in 2009.
He coached Zesco United from 1999 to 2004 guiding the Ndola side to the Super Division.
Janza has had stints with Division Two side Zamcoal Diggers and legendary side Mufulira Wanderers and is also former Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) technical director.
Namibia national team coach Ricardo Mannetti was tutored by Janza.
This is the pedigree of the Arrows coach.
However, some fans think that is nothing. Results have to show regardless of the qualifications. After all, football is a practical game, not some theory.
They therefore want the ZAF command to show Janza and the technical bench the exit door.
During their stay in Valencia, Arrows played friendlies with some European teams and they watched a La Liga match between Valencia and Real Sociedad at the Estadio De Mastalla.
Valencia beat Sociedad 2-1.
I had an opportunity to speak to ZAF commander Lieutenant General Eric Chimese recently. But I will not disclose what we discussed because our conversation was purely off cuff.
I must however state that I was impressed with his understanding of the beautiful game and his love for the sport.
Arrows are in safe hands under General Chimese.
He and the entire ZAF command must be commended for sending Arrows to Europe for pre-season.
There is no doubt that ZAF has raised the profile of the Super Division and football in general by sending Arrows to Spain. This is the first time that a Zambian team camped in Europe for pre-season.
Arrows chairman Nolasco Chilando says fans must stop attaching the airmen’s recent poor run in the Super Division to their pre-season outing to Spain.
Chilando says the 10-day pre-season camping they had in Spain was meant for team building and bonding.
“Honestly, you cannot produce a Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in just 10 days. It is unfair for people to criticise them simply because they went to Spain. It is like some people are trying to ‘kill’ Arrows because of the Spain trip,” he says.
Arrows are not the only team under-performing in the Super Division. For instance, it is only last week that Zanaco halted a five-match winless streak.
But, understandably, while even the best coaches anywhere in the world get fired when results are not going their way, there is perhaps need for a bit of patience with Arrows.
We need to see which direction Janza is taking Arrows. Maybe he is still capable of bringing honour to Arrows.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail senior sports reporter.
Analysis: ALEX NJOVU