By Mbombo Wonani
When Zambia won the 2012 edition of the Africa Cup in Gabon, it was like hyenas had just discovered a giant hippo corpse ashore and everyone on the scene scrambled for credit for having killed it.
Even vampires in the ruling Patriotic Front, who had barely been in office for five months, also smelt blood and theirs was to claim the giant kill was because of their hard work in preparing the team!
In the process, people like Peter Kaumba, Patrick Phiri, Simataa Simataa (hate him or like him), George Lwandamina and many super division coaches who discovered and nurtured the majority of the Africa Cup winning team were never even recognised or mentioned for their work.
Barely 12 months after this self-proclaimed PF success, Zambia was back at the Africa Cup finals in South Africa, and as you and I know, the champions exited the competition in grand style —first round, without a win.
Nine months later, the country has been thrown into further mourning following a disastrous World Cup campaign that finished without an away win despite FIFA’s benevolence of having donated three points enroute to Zambia’s exit on Friday evening in Kumasi.
A non-entity like Cape Verde benefited from another three points benevolence, but unlike Zambia, they put it to good use going to the last round. On the contrary, Ethiopia – who held Zambia 1-all at the 2013 Afcon – suffered a three points deduction but showed character to secure a place in the final 10 teams that will contest five available places. How could Zambia fail to take advantage of bonus points?
Now, there will be no CHAN (African Nations Championship) for finals for Zambia while the opportunity to play at football’s biggest stage, the 2014 World Cup finals, has exploded right under our noses.
Going by the PF’s false claim for the team’s success a year ago when it suited them, they should now equally admit that they have failed to steer our football and the victory they claimed was theirs, in fact wasn’t. It was the toil of their predecessors.
The 2012 Africa Cup feast is now over and the PF government must fast come to learn that preparing an Africa Cup winning team is not a 90 days job but destroying it can take the two years the PF has been in power. Here is why.
In terms of player motivation, the PF lost the plot soon after the team left State House where they had been invited for a luncheon to celebrate the Africa Cup success. The players were only paid $50,000 each (in installments) for having won the $2million that came with the trophy.
When you talk to the players, they don’t even know how the various billions in pledges that companies made and later gave FAZ were used.
In short, the players were merely used as donkeys to ride into the football promised land while other people scrambled for credit.
By the time Zambia was heading back to South Africa to defend the cup last January, there was no motivation to do so because the players came to realise that even if they won the cup again, there was nothing in it for them as FAZ and government alike will jump to the occasion and jostle for recognition as having been behind the success.
Would the story have been the same if Zambia won the cup under Rupiah Banda? The players aptly answer that question.
For those that care to remember, there was a promise by the then housing minister Prof. Nkandu Luo when team captain Christopher Katongo requested that the government constructs houses for the players that won the trophy.
Prof Luo’s response was “we will look into it” but that’s typical politicians’ cheap talk. There has never been a follow-up. Promises under the PF government are made as fast as ministers get reshuffled. Prof Luo is now chiefs’ affairs minister and one can only guess that she is now preoccupied with rectifying PF by-election losses at grassroots like the humdinger of a battering they suffered in Mkaika.
The major difference between the current FAZ patron and others before him is that his predecessors were genuine football fans and theirs was not necessarily to use sport for political expedience.
Kenneth Kaunda was a regular feature at football matches during his tenure and even after… Frederick Chiluba played lawn tennis… He was a Nkana fan and he once donated brand new buses to all super division clubs… Levy Mwanawasa learnt the art… It’s him who embarked on building three new stadia (not in a national park called Mongu which has no international airport and decent accommodation!) soon after South Africa won the right to host the World Cup… How I miss those days when Mwanawasa and Rupiah Banda would host Esther Phiri at State House each time she won a fight… Rupiah Banda has a rich sport CV all over his persona…he has been a boxing promoter, chairman of a football fans’ association, former FAZ vice-president, owns a football academy where at least five of the players that won the Africa Cup came from…once put his head on the chopping board against Kaunda when in the late 80s he defended Kalusha Bwalya’s first move to Europe…
How about Sata? His sports interests, if any, are as mysterious as his educational background. If anyone knows, I challenge them to tell us what sport he likes (even Nsolo), whether they have ever seen him at any sports arena, whether he knows the difference between a racket and a bat, an umpire and a referee or whether he knows animals called Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Or whether he knows stadiums that were once called Garbitas or Scrivner?
Because if indeed Sata had any genuine interest in our football team other than using it for political expedience, the government should have known that you don’t make last minute arrangements to fly into Ghana for an important fixture which we knew about over two years ago.
They should have PLANNED and ANTICIPATED challenges of flying into Kumasi and AVERTED many months ago. They should have engaged the Zambian mission in Ghana and advised them whether there was an international airport in Kumasi or not. They should have also well-oiled the players after they won the Africa Cup.
Come to think of it, Ghanaians were promised US $15, 000 for a win against Zambia and they delivered. How much was on the table for Chipolopolo.
Football is no longer a passion. It’s a business. It’s a profession. Players feed their families through this sport. It’s work. Days of asking players to play for passion are long gone. Don’t be cheated that even the FAZ president is there to serve the country.
He occupies that position to pay bills and feed his family. It is for this reason that he literally rips the throats of people that threaten his FAZ position.
The government’s interest in football should not start at chartering a plane for a crucial match but plan way ahead of events just like now is the time to start planning and identifying strategies to use to qualify for the 2015 Africa Cup or the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
Football is an investment that is why winning the Africa Cup has never been a five-months job. It actually takes years, if not decades.
And Zambia’s triumph in Ghana, apart from the divinity attached to it, took close to a decade with administrators such as Evaristo Kasunga, Teddy Mulonga crafting a passage that they passed on to Kalusha for final delivery.
Other than their part, there are individuals such as Dr Christopher Kalila and Gabriel Kaunda, Nenani Banda, Rupiah, Oscar Mwaanga and his Edusport project, Mphanza Chiefs that had borrowed from the European structure to nurture youth talent through what we have come to call academies.
It’s this youth talent that formed the backbone of the 2012 Afcon win. Rainford Kalaba and Stophilla Sunzu, for instance, were products of the Afrisports project alongside Jacob Mulenga under the auspices of Dr Kalila and Kaunda.
Hichani Himoonde, Davis Nkausu, Clifford Mulenga, William Njobvu, Chisamba Lungu, Emmanuel Mayuka and Kennedy Mweene are products of these initiatives, not the 90 days theory.
The rest of the team had been assembled over a period of 10 years being exposed to such tournaments as the All Africa Games where twice Zambia reached the semi-finals in 2003 and 2007.
Most of the players from these series including Olympic qualifiers, Under-20 tournaments, regional COSAFA and CECAFA events are what turned out to be super heroes of 2012. That was not entirely an accident. Even in divine intervention, the vessels must be ready and these were at the time when the team rose to the pinnacle of continental football.
Therefore, it is what the PF is doing now to our football that will matter in the next five to 10 years. But if they preside over an FA that fails to reach the CHAN tournament twice in a row, fails to inspire the Under-23 to what had become traditional All Africa Games ticket, can’t take either the Under-17 or 20 to a junior continental competition, then the signs are pretty bad.
So, the next time the PF and its choirmasters attempt to steal undue glory, it should first look at what it invested in the process of that achievement and whether it comes within a few days. At least two years is good to gauge whether you are doing the right thin or not. And the dismal Ghana out is what provides the answer. May the praise singers now award the medal of honour for the Zambia’s World Cup failure to President Sata and his followers. At least it will be due ‘credit’.