Editorial Comment: Talent alone won’t suffice for players

IN the week that Zimbabwe’s top players plying their trade in Europe and South Africa came under scrutiny for their failure to come out of their comfort zones and break into the world’s major football leagues, a closer analysis of the circumstances shows that blaming the players alone is not good e nough.

There is no doubting that Zimbabwean players do have talent, but what has emerged in this century is that football, just like all major sports codes, has become as scientific as it has become big business.

Thus, talent alone is no longer adequate to help our players to break into the English Premiership, the German Bundesliga, the Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A and the French Ligue1 and this probably explains why there has been no one matching the feats of Peter Ndlovu, Benjani Mwaruwari and Bruce Grobbelaar.

Yet Zimbabwe still yearns to compete on the big international stages like the World Cup, the Olympic Games and the Africa Cup of Nations.

Zimbabwe have never been to the World Cup, and on the occasions that we have been to the Africa Cup of Nations for both the Warriors and the Mighty Warriors, we have failed to go beyond the first round, which is the group stage.

Around this time last year, the Nations Cup was starting in Gabon and our Warriors — who were then under the guidance of Callisto Pasuwa — were badly exposed as the level of competitiveness of their opponents proved a bar too high to match.

What has raised questions on the quality of our players is that Warriors’ talisman and captain Knowledge Musona, easily the best we have at the moment, has retreated to the less-competitive Belgian top-flight while the man he shared the same dressing room with in the German Bundesliga — Brazilian Roberto Firmino — has progressed to become a key player at former European champions Liverpool.

Just five years ago, Musona and Firmino had the same prospects to evolve into top class world players when they were at TSG Hoffenheim, but it is the Brazilain who has progressed while the Zimbabwean regressed and even went back to South Africa along the way.

Musona’s close friend and another of the Warriors’ best players, Khama Billiat, has been holed up in the South African Premiership since leaving Aces Academy via CAPS United and hopes are fading with each season that he could have a dance with any of the elite European leagues as age catches up with him.

Inevitably, questions have been asked as to whether it is about Zimbabwe being so terribly short of talent that has seen countries like Senegal, Cameroon and Nigeria afford to occasionally field teams laced with Europe-based stars, or other factors!

We believe that while talent is there in our footballers, it is the mindset that needs to be changed from the way these athletes are groomed and up to the time they reach the peak of their performance.

Professional football is no ride in the park; players need proper guidance from a young age right through to the end of their careers as there are such important factors like the mental capacity, nutrition and conditioning.

It calls on clubs, Government, corporate world and tertiary institutions to invest in centres of excellence where players are properly nurtured and prepared for the rigours of the professional game.

President Mnangagwa in his address to universities this week decried that higher institutions of learning are churning out a lot of knowledge, but were not going into the marketplace to apply the knowledge.

We have qualified people who are not applying their knowledge in sports science for the benefit of the country.

Yet our players need to be subjected to such checks as the Body Mass Index, which is basic scientific data required before one is subjected to intense training, but which is not being carried out at most Premiership clubs.

When playing at the top level and at high intensity, it requires players to have mental strength yet our players in the domestic leagues are not subjected to psychological training, let alone educated on how to handle fame and the big bucks that normally come with securing a professional contract.

Instead, as ZIFA technical director Wilson Mutekede and Turkish coach Muhsin Ertugral pointed out this week, there is a huge sense of contentment with the money players earn in South Africa hence they abandon dreams of European moves.

The few that have gone to Europe like Costa Nhamoinesu, Marvellous Nakamba and Musona are also just content with being in that continent and either lose focus or commitment needed to play in the big leagues.