EXACTLY six months after Sunday Chidzambwa left his post in the aftermath of the Warriors’ doomed 2019 AFCON campaign, the country’s senior national football team now has a substantive coach.
Zdravko Logarusic, a Croatian who has been plying his trade on the African continent in the past decade, was chosen by the ZIFA board from a shortlist of four coaches, as their choice to guide the Warriors.
Joey Antipas, who took over as interim coach after Chidzambwa’s resignation, had applied for the job, but was overlooked for the Croatian, with ZIFA leaders saying they went for someone with more experience of coaching on the continent.
Admittedly, Logarusic has more experience in guiding clubs and a national team in the jungles of African football compared to Antipas.
The Croat coached top clubs in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Angola, and the Sudanese national team.
However, like Antipas, Logarusic is a lightweight when it comes to guiding national teams because he has only held that job once, when he led the Sudanese national side to third place at last year’s African Nations Championship finals.
Given that, of the four coaches who were shortlisted for the job — the others being former Highlanders coach Erol Akbay and Leicester City International Academy gaffer Alistair Heath — none of the candidates could boast of having experience in leading an African national team, the choice for the ZIFA leaders was limited.
In the end, they seem to have been persuaded by what happened at the last CHAN finals where, against all odds, Logarusic took the Sudanese team to third place, to gamble on him hoping he could do a fine job with the Warriors.
It’s a risky move, and a number of analysts have argued as much since the announcement was made, with many fans seemingly having been in favour of Serbian gaffer, Milutin “Micho’’ Sredojevic, who ended Uganda’s lengthy wait for an AFCON finals appearance by taking the Cranes to the 2017 edition of the tournament.
However, the Serb was not going to come cheap.
Reports that the Football Association of Zambia offered him US$25 000 a month in basic salary to take over as Chipolopolo coach shows that he was always going to be out of reach for an association like ZIFA.
The last time our football leaders chose to engage a foreign coach, they could not afford to pay when they hired Brazilian gaffer Valinhos. The affair ended badly and cost a generation of Warriors dearly as they were barred from 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
The Brazilian took his case to FIFA, complaining ZIFA had reneged on its promises and failed to pay him his dues according to the contract he signed with the association.
The ban meant that a generation of the country’s fine footballers, led by Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat, was robbed of a chance to have a crack at qualifying for the globe’s biggest football showcase.
Negative headlines which the episode generated around the world also marred the good name of the country.
It’s something the ZIFA board was conscious of when it sought to hire a substantive coach.
When Logarusic, who demanded perks that were within their means, put his name into the hat, they decided to settle for him.
Now ZIFA must ensure the coach is paid consistently to avoid the troubles of yesteryear.
There is a constituency among the Warriors’ fans, which has been questioning the wisdom behind settling for the Croat, arguing that he does not have the experience needed to add value to a team they believe has a number of talented players who just need good technical input to succeed.
They have been excited by the way they have seen Tino Kadewere rise since his move to France, and even win a contract with Olympique Lyon, one of the traditional giants of football in that country.
They are also excited by the way Marvelous Nakamba has been showing he can handle challenges that come with playing in the English Premiership while, another midfielder, Marshall Munetsi, is also doing well in his debut season in France.
The fans believe such players provide a reason for them to conclude they have the backbone of a side that can compete against the best on the continent.
They feel all that is needed is the right coach with the experience of having done well at the AFCON finals to transform the Warriors into a competitive side.
While fans will always have high hopes for their favourite team, it is also important that we provide caution when it comes to our real strength as a football country so that we do not exert unnecessary pressure on our players and their coaches when they represent us in AFCON and World Cup battles.
The reality is that we are still battling to find a place among the big boys of the game on the continent.
While we have transformed ourselves from a nation that could only chase qualifying for a place at the AFCON finals into one that should make an impression at the tournament, we have to be realistic of how far we can really go.
That is why we believe that gambling on coaches like Logarusic, who also wants to make a name for himself in the game, might not be as bad an idea as some are saying. All that we need as a country is to give him the support and an environment where he can work freely.
He may not be the best we could have got, but he may not be the worst.