AUGUSTINE MUKOKA, Lusaka
ZAMBIA’s 4-0 victory over Swaziland on Sunday spared coach Wedson Nyirenda the criticism he has endured since taking over the Chipolopolo job nine months ago.
Nyirenda has had a rough patch in his first job as senior Chipolopolo coach. With Sunday’s African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifying match, he has won four out of 11 matches [competitive and international friendlies] played since September 2016 when he was appointed.
His record also accounts for four draws and three defeats.
Two of the three losses Zambia has suffered under Nyirenda were competitive home fixtures, one against Nigeria in the 2018 Russia World Cup qualifier and the other involving Mozambique in the 2019 Cameroon Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
The latest defeat was a 3-1 beating in the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Castle Cup final at the hands of Zimbabwe. And his critics, real or imaginary, are baying for his blood.
The emphatic result in Swaziland has somehow zipped their mouths.
Nyirenda can breath a sigh of relief as the team welcome Swaziland on Saturday for the return leg.
The former Zanaco and Zesco United coach is aware his job attracts little gratitude when results are not going the team’s way although most of the criticism of his performance is far from reasonable.
Nyirenda is nine months in the job after taking over from George Lwandamina, who was caretaker since July 2015 for a little over a year.
Lwandamina is one of the three local coaches who have swapped national team roles over the last decade.
Red Arrows trainer Honour Janza had a brief stint in which he oversaw Chipolopolo’s last Africa Cup appearance in 2015 Equatorial Guinea.
Zambia bowed out in the first round.
The three Zambian coaches have collectively served the national team for three years, which is far from sufficient time for them to prove their capacity at this level, especially when they have to work with players beyond their prime.
It becomes a question of scrounging for talent to fit in for results.
It, therefore, defies logic that while expatriate coaches are given three to five-year contracts in addition to hefty perks and better conditions of service, our own are certified failures within three to seven months in charge.
There is no doubt, local coaches may have many limitations and challenges, but this is no justification to count them out.
Even in some European countries where they understand a lot better than we probably do the ingredients of building competent national teams, coaches are given enough latitude not to fail, but succeed. And that success comes after several failed attempts.
Take Germany coach Joachim Loew as an example. He assumed his current role as Germany coach in 2006 when Jurgen Klinsmann quit after a third-place finish at the World Cup they hosted.
Results for Loew did not start pouring in a year or two later. In fact, the Germans performed, by their standards, less than their expectation with another third-place finish at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Come Brazil 2014, Loew arrived with a team ripe for the tournament. And the rest, as they say, is history. It took at least eight years for Loew to deliver a World Cup winning team for a country that lacks literary nothing [material or resources], boasts of one of the best leagues in the world and has an abundance of talent.
But in Zambia, a country without a consistent and competitive first 11 since winning the Africa Cup in 2012, we expect Nyirenda to deliver miraculous results in nine months after three competitive matches.
By any measure, this is not tenable because results in football are not achieved on a short-term plan.
It requires a medium to long term plan to start seeing good results in football.
When Zambia’s now highly rated coach Herve Renard arrived to take over the Chipolopolo from Ghana where he was physical trainer to Claude Le Roy, he harnessed a core team that was built around players from two junior national teams – the 2007 Under-20 World Cup finalists and Peter Kaumba’s Under-23 that came close to Athens 2004 Olympics.
It is the majority of players from these two structures that jelled into what was Zambia’s first Africa Cup winning team.
Africa Cup 2012 stars Christopher Katongo, Collins Mbesuma, Isaac Chansa, Rainford Kalaba, Kalililo Kakonje, Noah Chivuta and Kennedy Mweene formed part of Kaumba’s Under-23.
Africa Cup 2012 golden boot winner Emmanuel Mayuka, Stopilla Sunzu, Nyambe Mulenga, Clifford Mulenga were part of Lwandamina’s Under-20 World Cup team.
Defender Joseph Musonda and midfielder James Chamanga were the exceptions that did not play an active role in the two youth teams, but were outstanding between 2004 to 2012.
They were part of national team structures and made the trip to Angola in 2010 when Renard guided the team to the quarter-finals.
The reservoir of local players Renard inherited were another ripe collection that went on to finish third at the inaugural African Nations Championship (CHAN) in Ivory Coast n 2009.
If this was the case leading to one of our most successful times in Zambian football history, what has Nyirenda found to pull off instant results in his role as head coach? In fact, Lwandamina and Janza also had to work with mostly the same players that were and are now beyond shelf-life.
After Kaumba’s under-23 which reached the All-Africa Games in Nigeria in 2003 and Algeria 2007 and Lwandamina’s 2007 Under-20 World Cup team, there was a huge gap in player development from the feeder national team.
The under-17 of Chris Kaunda whose nucleus made part of Beston Chambeshi 2017 Africa Cup Under-20 champions and World Cup quarter-finalists is what presents as a formidable future national team which, if results don’t come, should not warrant calls to fire a national team coach.
With the inclusion of a few exceptions from the local league, Chambeshi’s under-20 has the potential to deliver stellar results in a couple of years.
The team’s gradual maturity will possibly be making a strong statement at the 2021 Africa Cup and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
For now, any coach engaged to drill Chipolopolo should be tasked to build a strong team from a pool that has recently graduated from the youth ranks. Anything short of building a team to win the 2021 Africa Cup and 2022 World Cup would be stretching our expectations.