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Zambian football needs key talent identification system


SINCE winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012, Zambia has suffered some embarrassing moments on the international football scene.
In a space of four years, the country has moved from being kings of the continent to ‘weeping boys’ who even fail to qualify for the continent’s biggest soccer event.
It has been an eventful last four years for Zambian football. The country has suffered a fair share of humiliation on all fronts.
I will not belabour most of the low key moments that have racked our game, but a few notable ones are worth pointing out.
Buoyed from winning the competition a year earlier, expectations were high on Chipolopolo to repeat the 2012 feat when the tournament was hosted in South Africa in 2013.
Stalemates against eventual champions Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia closed the curtains for then defending champions. There was some grim of hope when we won the COSAFA Senior Challenge Cup later in the year.
The story was the same in 2015; if anything, things were worse, as almost all our major national teams (including age groups) were booted out of their respective continental champions that year.
February 2015: Under-17 national team knocked out of the African Cup of Nations hosted in Niger. This was after the team failed to be among the top two teams in Group A that included the likes of Nigeria, Niger and Guinea.
The team bowed out of the tournament with three points, having lost two games and picked up one victory. This meant we gave up an opportunity to vie for a place at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.
Least I forget, the senior national team then under the guidance of Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) technical director Honour Janza also failed to make the knockout phase of the 2015 African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea.
March 2015: The Under-20 emulated their juniors’ performance which had them eliminated from the Youth African Cup of Nations that was hosted in Senegal.
December 2015: Capped a disastrous year for Zambian football after they failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics owing to shambolic performance in Senegal.
The junior Chipolopolo lost all the three matches in Group A at the African Under-23 Championship in Senegal. Zambia lost 2-1 to Tunisia, 3-1 to South Africa and 1-0 to hosts Senegal.
It is not my intentions to open healing wounds. Going on to tabulate other failures in our game at national team level will defeat the purpose of this article.
While the above statistics should worry every soccer-loving Zambian, there are lessons that we need to pick along the way. What are we not doing right as a nations?
These youth teams that have underperformed in the recent past represent the future of Zambian football, and if we are to move on the same path we have moved the previous four years, the future doesn’t look too bright.
In a recent interview with the Sports Mail, national team coach George Lwandamina pointed out that ‘a dark cloud is hovering over Zambia [football-wise]’.
Lwandamina is right, there is a dark cloud over our game, and this cloud can only be cleared by us as a nation. Being custodians of the game, FAZ has to lead the way.
I have had encounters with a number of football experts in the country, and all of them seem to have one message for the soccer governing body: “There is need for a proper talent identification and nurturing programme.”
In my latest conversation with former national team midfielder Jericho Shinde, the Nkana Football Club legend bemoaned the falling standards of football in schools and other learning institutions.
“History is for the living and not the dead. That is why we keep telling you about the past. The time Zambian football was at its peak, we had a serious programme at school level.
“Players were coming through the ranks year in, year out, all the great names that you can think of in Zambian football today sprang from the schools system,” Shinde said.
Power Dynamos coach Dan Kabwe also shared Shinde’s sentiments.
“Where are the kids? They are in school, so take football to them for me, that is what we are supposed to do,” Kabwe said.
Besides the schools system, others have pointed out that the country can venture into an elaborate academy system that has reaped dividends for countries like Germany and the Netherlands, among others.
FIFA player intermediary Richard Katongo pointed out that the country needs to start putting in place the necessary manpower and equipment that will enhance talent identification and development.
“An academy is set up with the core purpose of nurturing talent, by sticking to the demands of the programme; it offers children an opportunity to learn the basics of football from the experts.
“We need to start moving that way as a nation. It took countries like Germany 10 years to reach the level they are today because they invested in youth. At the rate we are moving it will take us twice as much,” said Katongo.
Efforts have been made through various talent search programmes such as the Airtel Rising Stars, the Coca-Cola schools football among others, but more needs to be done to make these programmes sustainable.
Kudos to Lusaka Youth Academy, Chiparamba and Edusport, among others, which are striving to produce future Kalusha Bwalyas, Charles Musondas and Kenneth Malitolis, but we are still lacking.
Sentiments such as Zambia has got talent will forever remain a cliché if that talent is not developed to an extent that it reaches its full potential.
The author is a sports correspondent for the Zambia Daily Mail.

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