Editorial Comment: Betis Academy project needs football’s backing

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IF there is a football project that has excited us, in a year in which the domestic game has been halted by Covid-19, then it has to be the Betis Academy.

The excitement, for us, is premised on the project’s potential to be a game-changer in the history of our national game which, for years, has struggled to fulfil its potential.

This isn’t a Mickey Mouse project, but one that involves one of the leading football clubs in Spanish La Liga who, thanks to the efforts of a local agency, have agreed to set up shop here.

On Thursday, they went a step further and started the recruitment of technical staff who will play a big part in the fulfilment of their goal to identify and nurture the next generation of local football stars.

Dynamos legend, Murape Murape, who has spent years coaching junior footballers since his retirement, was unveiled as the first of their technical staff.

The project leaders said more technical appointments were in the pipeline and a Spanish technical director would be seconded to the Zimbabwean contingent to help them with skills needed for the success of such a project.

We are excited because we believe in the need for investment into our grassroots structures given that it’s the only way our national game can secure its future.

It’s the only way our national game can find the next Peter Ndlovu, the next Khama Billiat, the next Knowledge Musona and the next Benjani Mwaruwari.

That we have huge potential when it comes to raw talent that exists in our junior structures is undeniable, but somehow, we have not found a way to really tap into this gold mine.

Because of that, we have lost scores of our finest crop of footballers who, either through frustration or lack of guidance, have ended up losing their way at a crucial stage of their careers.

We have not fully supported people like Ali “Baba” Dube, probably the greatest junior football coach we have produced in this country, a man who has spent years working for the game, without any return for his spirited efforts.

Instead, we have treated him as an outcast, rather than as a hero, even though he is personally responsible for scores of fine players who have come out of Bulawayo.

We should have been brave enough to ask ourselves this sensitive and tricky question a long time ago — why is it that most of our recent imports to Europe have had a link with the grassroots structures in the City of Kings?

Well, the answer is simple — it is because in that part of our country, there is a huge emphasis on catching the footballers when they are at a young stage and developing them the right way.

Sadly, when it comes to the appointment of coaches for national junior teams, we haven’t seen Ali Dube’s name featuring anywhere even though everyone acknowledges he is the guru when it comes to the grassroots.

Because of partisan appointments, we have seen our junior national teams, which used to dominate the scene around the region, struggle badly in recent years.

It’s a result of our wayward policies and flawed appointments, because anyone who understands our football will tell you that any junior national coaching set-up that does not have Moses Chunga, is questionable.

It’s as simple as that, when it comes to passion for the development of the next generation of our football stars, Bambo is up there among our best coaches.

The same can be said about Rodwell Dhlakama, Newsome Mutema, Marc Duvillard, Wieslaw Grabowski and Nation Dube, to name, but a few coaches who have spent years trying to find the next diamond in our game.

The arrival of the Betis Academy is meant to address the weaknesses, which we have left to cripple our game, by prioritising both investment, and focus, back into the junior ranks.

Sadly, we do not see the kind of support, towards the project, which we were expecting to see coming from ZIFA, who should have been playing the leading role.

Instead, and that’s our assessment, we believe there appears to be some reluctance from ZIFA officials to support this noble project.

It doesn’t need to be the ZIFA president, Felton Kamambo, gracing the Betis Academy functions and throwing his weight behind the project.

Sometimes it just needs those at ZIFA, like their technical director, to be seen supporting such noble initiatives for it to send the right signals that our entire football family is united behind this key project.

But, it seems, just to get our football leaders out of their offices, to come and throw their weight behind initiatives that really matter, is as hopeless as expecting to find oil when you drain a football.

They didn’t seem to understand what is important, and what is not, maybe, because their priority was never to make a difference in our national game, in the first place.

Maybe, they need Kamambo to drag them to the function, so that they can lend their weight to such an exciting, and important project in the game they are meant to serve.

What they forget is that people like Kamambo are voted into office, one day they are here and the next day they are gone, but the technical experts of the game at ZIFA, will always be there.

They were there before Kamambo took over as ZIFA president and they are likely to be there when someone comes through to take over as our national football leader.

Against that background, one would have expected them to fully back such grand initiatives like the Betis Academy, because of the vast opportunities that it presents to our national sport.