AMID the outpouring of emotions that has greeted the incredible events in the City of Kings on Thursday, when CAPS United players forced the abandonment of their Premiership tie against How Mine, the easy thing would be to sympathise with the players for standing up for their rights.
There has been a lot of support for the players, on a number of social media forums, while their representative body, the Footballers Union of Zimbabwe, has — as expected — come out in full support and said the wild events in Bulawayo were a culmination of a tale of broken pledges and unfulfilled promises by the club’s leadership.
I have covered CAPS United for 23 years now and in that long journey with them, I can’t recall a day when the brand of this domestic football powerhouse was dented as much as what happened on Black Thursday in the City of Kings.
Joel Shambo, a shining symbol of loyalty to the Green Machine who stuck with them when his teammates like Stix Mtizwa and Stanley Ndunduma were lured by the good packages offered by Black Rhinos in the early part of the ’80s, was coming to the end of his decorated career when my journey, as a journalist covering this team’s activities, began in 1992.
The Headmaster, Mwalimu or Jubilee, whichever nickname appeals to you, a man who embodied everything good about CAPS United, must certainly be turning in his grave after the wild events in Bulawayo where the brand that he worked tirelessly to build, with some of the greatest performances you will see from a man wearing the green-and-white jersey, was dragged through the mud.
The striking irony of the rebellion by the CAPS United players, against their leadership on Thursday, was that a man, who only a few months ago represented the interests of their greatest enemy, Dynamos, Rodreck Mutuma, was one of the dissenting voices to the mutiny that turned the Green Machine stars into rebels.
That Mutuma, who is coming from an establishment where salaries were guaranteed to be paid, on the dates promised, given Dynamos’ sponsorship deal with BancABC which has ensured that the Glamour Boys are immune from the challenges that plague their biggest rivals, should stand up for the cause of his new team, when he was supposed to be the first to stage a rebellion given his lack of familiarity with such an environment, should be telling to those who forced the abandonment of the game.
And that Leonard Tsipa, who is the last of a crop of players who grew up in the CAPS United ranks, was one of the three players who fought for the game to be played, and for whatever issues they had with their management to be sorted out later, will support the argument of those who feel that the majority of those employed by the Green Machine today don’t have the interests of this team at heart and, whether they win a league title or not, is irrelevant to them.
In his moment of defiance, against a tsunami of voices of disgruntled teammates who did not care whether or not they lost the points against How Mine, and the possible negative impact that this was likely to have on their quest to end this club’s decade-long search for the Premiership title, Tsipa was a throwback to the age of loyalty when people like Shambo were the heroes of this club.
Of course, some can rightly argue that Shambo had the security which the fallback position of his day job, at CAPS United, provided him and unlike the boys in the trenches today, his family was guaranteed a meal because his salary would be paid, now and again, by the company when it was still a pharmaceutical giant.
But it’s also a fact that Shambo turned down the advances of Black Rhinos, where his welfare would have been improved three-or-four fold, and remained rooted at CAPS United, because he loved this team and felt he had a connection with the fans, who looked at him as their ultimate hero, which he could not betray.
There is no question that the CAPS United leadership have a responsibility to take care of the welfare of their players and paying them their salaries should be something that is not even negotiable and their culpability, in the chaos that hit their club on Thursday, is there for everyone to see.
The Green Machine leadership has come short, now and again, when it comes to taking care of the welfare of their players and Paul Gundani, the fiery FUZ secretary-general, was right in his scathing attack on them for a trail of broken promises and that this could have been a culmination of a toxic relationship between the leaders and the players where trust no longer exists.
The story of CAPS United’s financial challenges has played out in the public arena for some time now and that the team’s problems, with some of their players, has been a running story for years and that a solution is yet to be found puts the officials in a position where their culpability, in the madness that engulfed their team in Bulawayo on Thursday, cannot be denied.
The sad part of the drama that we saw unfolding in the City of Kings, is that the negativity of its impact is not only limited to the brand of CAPS United, but to the entire Premiership, which was reduced to a joke, especially around the continent where some people might have tuned into SuperSport 9 hoping to see a match, only to hear that it had been cancelled because of a row between the players and their officials.
Delta Beverages, who four years ago decided to jump into bed with the domestic Premiership, after a year in which Motor Action won a league championship that was not branded, and have grown to be the league’s biggest sponsor, bringing back the Chibuku Super Cup last year, ended up with their brand being dented, by association, in an environment where they are merely sponsoring the league.
And the same can be said about SuperSport, who ran some costs, to get personnel and equipment to the stadium hoping to broadcast the game live on television and ended up with nothing to shoot, while someone has to spare a thought for the fans, some of whom travelled from as far as Harare to cheer their team and the costs they endured, only to be caught up in that drama.
WHY THE CAPS PLAYERS
The CAPS United players might have a lot of issues, with their management, but for them to behave the way they did on Thursday, with a big game at stake, was uncalled for and should be condemned in the strongest way possible.
If they didn’t believe they were not in the right frame of mind to play the game, because their salaries hadn’t been paid, then they shouldn’t have boarded the team bus for that trip, gone into camping as they did and availed themselves for selection on the eve of the game.
They should have given their officials the chance to select those who felt could go and play the game, even if it meant throwing a weakened team into battle and if Mark Harrison fielded those unknown players, in the last match against Dynamos, and they were only beaten 1-2, who knows what they could have achieved if they had been given a chance to play the game against How Mine?
By making themselves available for selection for the match, when the team for the trip to Bulawayo was named on the eve of the game, the CAPS United players sold their officials, who are not saints in this mess by the way and — crucially — their fans a dummy and left the club with no time to salvage the situation once it became apparent they would not play the game.
It was within their rights to withdraw their labour on Wednesday, if they felt that the team was not giving them the respect they deserve by paying them their dues and in doing so they would have given the officials time to try and salvage the situation, by inviting those who had been left out of the team and who were prepared to play for the team.
Surely, the issues didn’t crop up in Bulawayo, but had been hanging over the team, like a dark could, for some time, and it would have made a lot of sense for the players to stage their protest, in Harare and not wait for just a few hours before the game in the City of Kings, for them to make their point.
By making sure that their rebellion would be done at the last minute, leaving the club without a Plan B to try and fight for the points, the players gave the impression that they were trying to ensure their club and unfortunately this includes their fans, suffer in the worst way possible, without the possibility of the situation being salvaged, and this feeds into the theory by those who feel this was part of a grand plan to inflict maximum damage.
Last year, when Ronald Pfumbidzai felt that the club was giving him a raw deal, he simply withdrew his services, not just hours before an away game, but when they were still here in Harare, and this ensured that there was a Plan B and the game went ahead and was played.
In these tough economic times, it would be unreasonable to argue that a delay, in the payment of a salary by even a week, is such a catastrophe that would force an entire team to stage the kind of rebellion that we saw in the City of Kings.
Across town at Dynamos, their sponsors BancABC slashed the sponsorship package they used to give the Glamour Boys, by half, because times are hard and our football clubs have to adjust to that reality — DeMbare could not get all the players they needed, including The Prince, because they tightened their belt and could not pay what was being demanded.
That’s the reality of the world we live in and we have seen a number of companies, not just delaying the payment of salaries, but failing to pay them at all and for us to expect our football clubs to live in an island of riches, in an environment where the squeeze has been felt by everyone, would be just a dream.
IF THIS CAN HAPPEN TO CAPS, WHAT ABOUT THE SMALL BOYS?
Now, if this is happening to the third biggest football club in the country, what chances do the other small boys have of surviving in the domestic Premiership and isn’t this a signal that we should start getting worried about the future of our football?
What chances do Buffaloes have of surviving to keep fulfilling their fixtures for the remainder of the season, and is it just a mere coincidence that they find themselves at the bottom of the Premiership table?
We lost Shabanie last year, not because they were a bad team, but because they were overwhelmed by the financial challenges that come with running a franchise in today’s Premiership.
We lost Chiredzi last year, not because they could not compete against the big boys, but simply because they were overwhelmed by the financial challenges that come with running a franchise in today’s Premiership.
Most of our top-flight clubs are struggling and that is a fact and the sooner that we confront this and try and find solutions, rather than waging wars that might trigger a flight of sponsors from the league, as the CAPS United players did in Bulawayo on Thursday, the better our league’s chances of surviving.
It’s easy to criticise the CAPS United leadership, it’s easy to sympathise with the players, but it’s not going to provide solutions to the challenges that confront this team and the frightening reality is that the Green Machine are not the only ones facing serious financial challenges and the sooner that we accept that, the better chances for our league to survive.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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