BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka
SOCCER enthusiasts in Zambia may have accepted with a sense of resignation the Chipolopolo’s misfortunes as far as the Africa Cup of Nations is concerned, but their pang of shame is never far away each time they see minnows in the game competing at the prestigious continental event. I bear with fellow citizens for the pain they are going through during the AfCON period as the Chipolopolo did not make it to Cameroon.Zambia has, under the watch of FAZ president Andrew Kamanga, failed to make it to the Africa Cup for the third time on the trot. Clearly, it is something that fans cannot easily fathom, especially seeing with the 2021 edition taking place in Cameroon where countries like Comoros, Cape Verde and Malawi are making a cameo appearance. Zambia’s appearance at AfCON and at least reaching the quarter-finals was something the nation took for granted from 1974 up to 1998. From there, the Chipolopolo missed qualification twice and never made it beyond first round until 2010 when the team, under Herve Renard, reached the quarter-finals. Zambians are sorely missing the glorious football times. While FAZ is to blame for the choice of coaches who have failed to meet the aspirations of the fans, clubs too are to blame. The Chipolopolo is the product of clubs. So, when the producers are baking raw talent, the entire chain is affected.
For instance, the average age of the players in the Super League – the country’s ultimate club championship – is 30 years.
And most of the players are far from being Chipolopolo material. The situation has been compounded by club officials who have neither a vision nor passion for sports development. As a result, very few clubs, if any, have a policy of developing. And unfortunately State-sponsored clubs are guilty of this. A critical mass of Super League teams are State-sponsored. Apart from Green Buffaloes, who are bankrolled by the Zambia Army, Green Eagles, who are sponsored by Zambia National Service, Red Arrows, supported by Zambia Air Force, and Nkwazi, financed by Zambia Police Service, the others are quasi-government.
These are Indeni, Forest Rangers, Kabwe Warriors and Zesco United who are sponsored by parastatals, which are expected to promote the policies of the government of the day. They are expected to implement a 100 percent Zambianisation policy by not having foreign players in their ranks. So far, only Buffaloes and Eagles have demonstrated patriotism by sticking to local talent.
The rest are flirting with foreign players who have not added value to their ranks. The party in government, the United Party for National Development, was supported by young people to win the 2021 general election. Government teams should be in the forefront in helping create youth employment by promoting local talent at all costs. Government-sponsored clubs should identify talent in peri-urban and rural areas as part of their contribution to implementing government policy of creating jobs for young people. By declaring zero tolerance to foreign players, they will be making huge savings and reinvesting the resources into youth clubs in densely-populated communities and rural areas. This will help unveil talent at the disposal of Division One and Super League teams. It is disheartening that there is almost no talent talking about in the country’s top league. Most of the players the country is now hyping were produced by private clubs. English-based Chipolopolo stars Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu were produced by Kafue Celtic, a private club. Russia-based players Evans Kangwa and Klings Kangwa, Denmark-domiciled Lubambo Musonda and Emmanuel Banda, and Edward Chilufya, who campaigns in Sweden, are not products of government teams. Sabbobbo Banda, the much sought-after boy wonder by most Super Division teams as well as clubs abroad, is a product of a private club, Atletico. So, whereas Kamanga may have his own inherent flaws which may be casting a spell on the Chipolopolo, there is clearly a void in Super League clubs. Clubs no longer have policies or philosophies for players’ development. Take Zesco United for instance. Under the watch of Justin Mumba, the current FAZ vice-president, the club formed satellite teams in all the 10 provinces of the country. The initial concept was genuine – to serve as developmental teams.
With time, however, they are just like any other teams because they no longer serve the purpose for which they were created.
The same applies to Young Green Buffaloes and Young Green Eagles. Only players up to 20 years old should have been playing for these teams, just like the Zesco provincial teams. However, anyone, including madalas (old men), are now playing for these developmental teams. This is how the plot has been lost. As long as developmental teams continue being neglected, the country can continue watching Cape Verde, Comoros, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mauritania and Zimbabwe going to the Africa Cup. The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.
BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka