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What Zambian football can learn from the past

Lusaka City centre.

Analysis: TEMANI TEMBO
WHEN Zambia arrived at the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon in 2012 and won the championship, they surprised everybody. – WHAT?
They were not particularly joyful to watch but managed to grind out result after result. That should have changed our football from then on.
Four years later, all that seems distant and what is happening conspires to vindicate many persons, at home and abroad, who called that 2012 success, a ‘fluke’.
Our football is going nowhere save for the hope that comes with the recent changes at Football House.
The new head, we want to believe will change things. We would want to also believe that a former footballer did not make the best administrator, hoping our business manager turned president can make things better.
We as well have a chief executive who is exposed. Hopefully, we will get there.
In view of all this, I want to make one observation. There are many other important technical issues which I can only leave to worthy experts.
I have a small matter with our players’ lack of physical presence, size.
It looks to me that since the 80s, the Zambian national team has progressively been shrinking in size.
Let us agree that a dominant thought in Zambian football circles presently is that we can achieve success on the field with a selection of diminutive players.
What was the exception in years past is now the norm.
You only need to recall our national teams of the 70s and 80s.
Remember Godfrey Chitalu, Ashios Melu, Dickson Makwaza, Dick Chama, Peter Kaumba, Alex Chola, Kalusha Bwalya?
Those too young at the time, have the evidence in the current crop of former national team players who are now coaches. Our national team coach George Lwandamina towers over most of his players.
This should not flatter but worry him.
To achieve success with the current crop of players, we would have to reach the skill levels of Barcelona.
Even Lionel Messi, whose talent is unreal, had to have a specially-tailored programme to improve his physique.
Cristiano Ronaldo looks nothing like the boy who started his career at Sporting FC.
Further afield, since the 1970 World Cup, success at the tournament had eluded Brazil, until they tackled the physical aspect of the game.
To match the Europeans, Brazil started to produce six-footers, big and strong enough to win the 50-50 balls.
Tim Vickery, the South American BBC football correspondent says of the recent Brazilian football tradition, ‘Over the last four decades the technocrats have grown in power and importance, and many of the top coaches are now graduates in physical education rather than prominent ex-players.
There is no doubt that the technocratic approach has brought benefits.
Brazilian players are bigger, stronger, and fitter. The standard of goalkeeping has also made huge strides.’
Playing a technical game without some of the flamboyance they had been known for, Brazil lifted the World Cup in 1994, 24 years after their last in 1970. This, they repeated in 2002.
The physical evolution of the game demands supreme fitness on the part of players. Having a big dominant physique is important in modern football due to the tough approach most teams have.
To tackle them, muscular stature is often needed otherwise the player can become the victim of on-the-pitch bullying. We need to go back to the drawing board, including an issue such as this. Zambian football no longer has athletic and big players because the country is not working to produce such players as they do not fit the mould.
FAZ can call an ‘indaba’ to review the game. Ask the stars of years gone by.
The author is a statistician.

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