For years, Zimbabwean clubs have failed to make an impression in pan-African football, with most of them failing to pass even the preliminary stages in both the CAF Champions League and the CAF Confederation Cup.
It remains a wonder how a team as strong as FC Platinum cannot make it into the group stages, especially given its financial stability, quality of players, and the fact that it prides itself for having one of the best coaches in the land — Norman Mapeza.
Questions will always be asked how a team like Harare City with its heavy player artillery would struggle against a team as insignificant as AS Adema of Madagascar — whose country has no football history to talk about in Africa.
At the time of writing this article, the chances of both Chicken Inn in the Caf Champions League and Harare City in the Caf Confederation Cup were hanging by a thread following narrow home first-leg victories.
The question is: what really is the problem with our clubs given that our national team — which taps talent from these same clubs — is regularly qualifying for the Africa Nations Championships — a tournament for the best teams made up of home-based players? Is there something we are not seeing that should be put right?
The explanation from our coaches, Mapeza, Joey Antipas and Taurayi Mangwiro, has been that their players would not be fit enough for these matches. Their reasons are that the CAF Champions League and the Confederation Cup come at a time Zimbabwean football clubs would be on their season break — a period when they rest without practice for more than two months.
The other reason is that the CAF competitions come at a time when clubs would have acquired new players for both the local championship and the continental title. Thus, when the tournaments start, the players would not yet have adapted well enough.
The Castle Lager Premier Soccer League calendar traditionally begins in March and ends either on November 30 or during the first week of December. The clubs will then take a break for about two and half months, and at times more.
The football calendar for the rest of the world begins in August and ends in May. When the CAF Champions League begins in February, the rest of the world’s season would be in top gear, while the Zimbabwean players would be sitting at home without training.
How can someone who has been inactive for two months compete with somebody who has been in action for seven months?
The national team faces similar challenges. The Africa Nations Championships run between January to February. The Warriors are taken to this competition straight from home where they would have been siting since December.
Their coach Kalisto Pasuwa raised this issue before departure for Rwanda, saying his players were not match-fit for the tournament. The disastrous results were there for everyone to see. The team managed to pick up only one point from three matches.
In my view, Zimbabwe should put the domestic league calendar in line with the rest of the world and make the Zimbabwean soccer season run from August to May and break between June and July when there are no international engagements.
While it can be argued that our stadiums do not have good drainage systems and grandstand cover in the case of rain, it would be useful to remember there was a time when the then Super League would run from the first week of February to December, with the clubs resting for only one month and there were no problems with rain.
In fact, season opening tournaments like the BAT Rosebowl were held in early January, and were never affected by rain.
The football world is changing and Zimbabwe cannot be immune to change. As long as we are not willing to move with the rest of the world, we will remain the laughing stock of the international football world.
Let us realign our football calendar.
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