Even the great Sir Alex eventually realised he couldn’t continue fighting the media

POOR Bongani Mafu must be wondering what the hell did he plunge himself into when he applied for, and got the tough job to coach Highlanders, with the mandate to rebuild this iconic Zimbabwe football institution and take it back to the top.\r\n\r\nOrdinarily, this should have been the week that, like Mephis Depay at Manchester United, he was hailed as having finally arrived at this massive football club, embraced as a member of the extended family, one who even deserves a kiss.\r\n\r\nThe week he broke his virginity, the week he completed his apprenticeship, the week he transformed himself from a boy into a man, a commander that the Bosso family could trust to provide both guidance and inspiration in the trenches of the battles, the leader they have been looking for since uMethembe made them champions in 2006.\r\n\r\nIf his Zimbabwe Saints roots had made some doubt his loyalty to their cause, and his lack of a proven track record on the domestic scene had forced others to question the wisdom of their club’s leadership to invest their trust in him to deliver them to the Promised Land, this was supposed to be the result that silenced the dissenting voices and answered those questions.\r\n\r\nFor goodness sake, his Bosso charges tore apart city rivals, How Mine 5-1, with an irresistible attacking show in a second half made in heaven, which was a throwback to the years when Highlanders ruled this land, when Zenzo Moyo was their attacking spearhead, when Barbourfields was Fortress Emagumeni.\r\n\r\nIf winning the Commander ZNA Charity Shield final, guiding Highlanders to their first win in regulation time against fierce rivals Dynamos in nine years right in the temple that the Glamour Boys call their Mecca had provided him with his Finest Hour, the comprehensive win over How Mine, and the stylish manner of its delivery had given him his Glorious Afternoon.\r\n\r\nBut, as Mafu has just realised, you are as good as your last result at such big clubs, and a week that started with a dance in the sunshine of headlines that made him feel good, and provided hope that they might just have turned the corner, is ending in acrimony amid damaging headlines and a growing army of furious cyberspace critics.\r\n\r\nA defeat at the hands of FC Platinum at Barbourfields on Thursday has given his critics the ammunition they wanted to turn the heat on him after a spectacular fallout between Mafu and some football writers in the City of Kings, who accuse the coach for describing them as “vendors who would do anything for a dollar”.\r\n\r\nThey accuse Mafu of having been intoxicated by the win over How Mine that he ended up spending too much time on social media, mocking his critics and even his opponents, FC Platinum, ahead of their showdown on Thursday, and — rather than concentrating on that game — they claim the Bosso coach was busy beating his chest as if he had suddenly become God’s gift to coaching.\r\n\r\nNoel Munzabwa, a football writer who supports Bosso, even claimed that Mafu blocked him from their social media chat because he was very critical to the way the coach was suddenly behaving.\r\n\r\n“Thank you for blocking me Bongani Mafu, it proves you got the message loud and clear. My advice to you ‘only a coward runs away from a fire he started, the brave will fight to put out the fire.’\r\n“Hours before a crucial league game, when everyone is expecting you to be focusing on the match (against FC Platinum),you are busy fighting a media outlet for your own irresponsible comments. Sizobonana after the match make sure you win it,” Munzabwa wrote on his Facebook page.\r\n\r\nAnd, when Bosso crashed to defeat against Mapeza’s men, Munzabwa rubbed salt into the Mafu’s gushing wounds.\r\n\r\n“Hahahahahaha, kacoach kaye karohwa nekateam kanotamba bhora rinobhowa,” he posted on his Facebook page.\r\n\r\n“From today onwards I am now known as a correspondent vendor writing for a dollar. It was really folly to expect a win from a team whose coach goes on a spying mission, then pours out exactly the opponents’ weaknesses.\r\n\r\n“His problem is based on arrogance, that arrogance that makes him feel he is the only coach in Zimbabwe, come on we have so many.\r\n\r\n“Truly, this man will not take our team anywhere simply because his mind is preoccupied with excuses and picking up fights hours before a match. That’s ridiculously being naive on his part.”\r\nSikhumbuzo Moyo, who works for our Bulawayo Bureau also felt that Mafu had crossed the line, while another Bulawayo-based journalist Lenin Ndebele joined the bandwagon of critics with a very critical contribution, saying the Bosso gaffer had turned into a “fool.”\r\n“If I was a Sports Editor today, my back page would scream ‘11 PLAYERS AND A FOOL.’ Mafu, the Bosso coach, early today on Facebook said journalists were mere ‘vendors who would do anything for a dollar,’ before he went on to lose at home to FC Platinum. Since our jobs, like his, are result-oriented (something he has failed to do at Bosso clearly) what does that make him?” roared Ndebele on Facebook.\r\n\r\nEzra Tshisa Sibanda, who is currently in England, joined the conversation with a post on Twitter in which he described Mafu as a perennial flop and a “useless coach” who should not be allowed to take charge of such a great club.\r\n\r\n“Perennial flopping Bosso coach Mafu has led the fading giants to yet another crashing 2-1 defeat to @FC Platinum. Conspiracy theorists at work! Executive has to run the club and appoint a proper coach than let such a useless coach take charge of this great club.”\r\nTHE FALLOUT BETWEEN MAFU AND MY COLLEAGUES ISN’T ANYTHING NEW\r\nClearly, there is now bad blood between Mafu and some, if not most of the football writers, and probably commentators in the City of Kings where Highlanders, as is the case with Dynamos for their colleagues in the capital, is the biggest story.\r\n\r\nOf course, it’s something that happens in this game where emotions are always exploding, where some people believe it is their right to be drenched with positive coverage, which even makes a mockery of public relations, even when they are not doing well.\r\n\r\nOnly recently, Miguel Herrera, who captured the imagination of the globe with his touchline antics as he led Mexico at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, was fired by his FA leadership after punching a journalist on their way home from winning the Gold Cup in the United States.\r\n\r\nChristian Martinoli, a journalist with TV Azteca of Mexico, was punched by Herrera at Philadelphia Airport as the Mexicans prepared to board the plane home, just a day after they beat Jamaica 3-1 to win the Gold Cup, Central America’s version of our Nations Cup.\r\n\r\nMartinoli had been highly critical of Herrera and Mexico’s performance during the Gold Cup campaign, and as he cleared security at the airport, the burly coach pounced, and punched him while also challenging him for a fight outside the terminal.\r\n\r\nEven though Herrera had won the Gold Cup, the Mexican football leadership felt that his altercation with the journalist was inconsistent with the behaviour they expected from people who hold such key national positions, and decided to sack him.\r\n\r\nMexico FA president, Decio de Maria, said the coach’s foolish behaviour was not in keeping with “the spirit of fair and respectful competition” which his organisation valued and such bullish behaviour had no place in their association.\r\n\r\n“After listening to all my colleagues, I have made the decision to take Miguel Herrera out of the national team. It is not a simple decision, but it is the correct one,” de Maria said.\r\n\r\n“Everyone has had an opinion, but our values have to be kept, and no one can be above the type of situation we saw on Monday at the Philadelphia Airport.”\r\nAfter the dust had settled, Herrera, known as El Piojo, who had done well to bring life into the Mexican national team during his two years in charge of the side, realised that he had messed up big time and issued an apology.\r\n\r\n“It is clear to me that this is not the attitude that a coach for the Mexican national team should take, despite having received all manner of criticisms, offences and mockery of my family and my person,” Herrera said.\r\n\r\nIt’s not the only high-profile case of a spectacular fallout between journalists and coaches.\r\n\r\nSir Alex Ferguson, the immortal Scottish genius who turned my Manchester United from a dormant franchise into the most dominant team in English football and conquered Europe twice during a golden 26-year spell that might never be matched, with the club losing its way by now hiring every fool looking for a job, including the clueless Louis Van Gaal, who would be a carrying a tag that reads “Best for ‘95”if he was a drink or some foodstuffs, didn’t speak to the BBC for seven years.\r\n\r\nFergie, irked by a programme on agents that the BBC carried which appeared to implicate his family in some shoddy deals, banned any interviews with them, describing the organisation as “arrogant beyond belief”, which remained trapped in its “inability to apologise”, and did not “care about being sued because they are so huge and have insurance.”\r\nFergie only lifted the ban in 2011.\r\n\r\nMAYBE, WE ALSO NEED TO LOOK AT OURSELVES IN THE MIRROR\r\nI think Mafu’s attack on the football writers in his home city as ‘‘vendors who would do anything for a dollar” was overboard, a blow below the belt that should be dismissed with all the contempt it deserves.\r\n\r\nIt was unfortunate because it creates an unnecessary rift between him, and the men who judge his work week-in-and-week-out, and even as the great Ferguson finally found out, seven years down the line, these are some of those battles that you never win.\r\n\r\nI am one of those who like Mafu, the philosophy that he has for football, the changes he is trying to make to help Bosso move from the past so that they embrace a future where they will not be guaranteed just a win over Dynamos, and celebrate it as a milestone achievement, but they can trace their footsteps back to the turn of the millennium when they were the dominant force on the domestic football scene.\r\n\r\nYou can see what he is trying to do, the freedom of expression that he is giving his players to go out there and express themselves, the way his team lines up for their battles, the shape they have and while it hasn’t brought immediate results, no-one can say, for sure, that it’s not going to build a strong platform on which future success will be guaranteed. But to do that he also needs the support of the media, especially the guys in the City of Kings, where Bosso is the biggest story in town, and this friction, triggered by the coach’s foolish belief that he is bigger than those guys who are writing stories about him, won’t help in building the team that the Highlanders’ fans want, the healthy and competitive Bosso which our Premiership needs.\r\n\r\nHowever, we also need to look at ourselves in the mirror and see where we are also coming short and when we write that Mthulisi Maphosa was injured by a bad tackle from Ocean Mushure, when the whole country saw that he lost his footing when the Dynamos leftback beat him with an outrageous dribbling skill, we shouldn’t expect the coaches to respect us.\r\n\r\nWhen we spend the entire week telling the nation that the Dynamos fans were abusing Tonderai Ndiraya, when they were singing “Ndiraya, paumire pakaipa”, on Sunday, to remind him that he was standing on a sticky surface because the game hadn’t been one, we shouldn’t expect the coaches to respect us in return.\r\n\r\nWhen the Warriors’ hosted Kenya, during the 2010 Nations Cup qualifiers, having picked just four out of a possible nine points (a draw in Guinea, a win against Namibia and a loss in Nairobi), the fans in Vietnam greeted the then skipper Benjani Mwaruwari with the same song, “Benjani, patimire pakaipa.”\r\nThey were conscious of our tricky position, having dropped five points in three matches, and wanted to remind their leader, and by extension, his team, of our precarious position so that they make one giant leap in that game against Kenya, where a victory would have brought us back in the race.\r\n\r\nThose fans were not abusing Benjani that day and neither were the DeMbare supporters abusing Ndiraya on Sunday and when, in our stories and headlines, we say that he silenced them when Rodreck Mutuma scored a late winner, what we are doing is creating unnecessary conflict between the coach and the supporters.\r\n\r\nAnd, by doing that, we lose whatever respect the coach had for us.\r\n\r\nWe are all one family, and our relationship should be based on trust, respect and, above all appreciating that coaches are there to do their job the same way journalists are there to simply do their jobs and, as Jose Mourinho has since realised, the medics are there just to do their jobs.\r\n