The fact that Dynamos have decided to relocate to the Maracana of Zimbabwean football — Rufaro — a venue where they usually thrive on intimidating opponents, David Mandigora and his men have thrown themselves back into the furnace.
BY Michael Madyira
The Glamour Boys begin their Premier Soccer League (PSL) fourth straight title defence by hosting Buffaloes.
Of course, they are used to this football theatre, but considering that Mandigora has inherited a side that reigned supreme in the past four seasons, will he manage to keep happy the hard-to-please Vietnam?
The reigning PSL champions have already melted in the Rufaro cauldron this season, losing to bitter foes CAPS United in the Sino-Zim Cement Challenge Cup two weeks ago.
Prior to this defeat, their last loss to CAPS at Rufaro had been in 2009 in a league match.
After spending the whole of last season based at the National Sports Stadium, DeMbare players’ relationship with their fans was not as intimate as allowed by the Rufaro environment where the supporters are clinical at making opponents uncomfortable.
On being appointed Dynamos coach for a second stint, David Mandigora admitted he has a “tough task” to please the fans after Kalisto Pasuwa’s run of four straight league titles.
“Of course I am facing a tough task to maintain what has been set by the previous coach. I know Dynamos fans want something and we will try to deliver with the squad that I have,” said Mandigora.
With a pre-season that has witnessed much activity on the transfer market, this year’s PSL campaign promises to be an awe-inspiring contest.
FC Platinum have already presented their steely selves in the CAF Confederation Cup.
The platinum miners’ coach Norman Mapeza has made little changes in last season’s squad with former Black Rhinos forward Brian Muzondiwa the notable newcomer.
Their impressive run in the continent’s second tier tournament has so far thrust them into the spotlight as serious contenders for the championship this year.
But Mapeza has played down their title chances, saying his youthful side is still learning PSL business amid stiff competition.
“We will never be satisfied,” said Mapeza.
“With football you have to work hard all the way. You learn everyday. It is too early to start talking about the league title, so I do not want to put myself under pressure. We are going to take each game as it comes.”
In 2011, FC Platinum came close to becoming the second team outside Harare and Bulawayo to win the league title but Dynamos snooped them at the finishing line.
That has become Mapeza’s yardstick, locally set for him by then Platinum coach Rahman Gumbo.
Former Cup Kings CAPS United have what appears to be a modest squad but have already rang loud a warning knell by overpowering fellow traditional giants Dynamos and Highlanders this pre-season.
Today’s Bob91 Super Cup final match against Dynamos will be the third big match in succession for English coach Mark Harrison who claims to now have an informed insight of local football.
The Briton has however ruled out winning the league title this season but the Green Machine fans want to haul every silverware on offer to justify their traditional institution billing.
It is now a decade since United were last crowned PSL champions, but Harrison has ruled out winning the league title this season and has placed emphasis on laying foundation for a formidable team for two more seasons to come.
The Green Machine were last season disturbed by financial woes that caused player unrest that led to Tafadzwa Dube, Charles Mukanhairi, Kelvin Bulaji, Dominic Chungwa, Tendai Samanja, Tongai Magwendere, Asani Nhongo, Honey Chimutimunzeve and Nicholas Alifandika leaving the club.
“We are trying to move forward,” said Harrison.
“The matches we have played against Dynamos and Highlanders have so far given me an idea of the level we need to be at. I now have exposure of playing against big teams. It is good that we have won the matches against these sides and losing would have been a disaster in terms of player confidence.”
Having started work three weeks ago, Harrison feels the postponement to the kickoff of this year’s league campaign is an advantage to his work.
“Yes, it is a blessing that the start to the league was postponed. It gives me more time to work with players. I think I am left with 40% to have the players reach the level I want them to be at.”
Nine years after Highlanders last won the league title, there is pressure on new coach Bongani Mafu to deliver.
The Bulawayo giants might win some prestigious trophies this year, but failing to lay hands on the ultimate prize of Zimbabwean football attracts a backlash from fans.
“Winning the championship is built game by game. The next game wins you the league. I think I have a good squad to win things,” said Mafu.
The Europe-oriented coach has embarked on concerted efforts to radicalise his players to the Bosso tradition that has been diluted by “mercenary” players in recent years.
That has already been put to test by last week’s Bob91 Super Cup loss to CAPS United.
“I think we still have to polish up the psychological aspect, as well as the way we approach big matches. It is important that players have big match temperament,” said Mafu.
Bosso begin their league campaign with a date against ZPC Kariba and Mafu cannot wait for kickoff while he bemoans the postponement of the league’s start.
“It is tactically and technically disturbing that the league will not begin as initially programmed,” he said.
“It is an uncomfortable development because we had already planned for that certain time. It is now important to be given an exact date so that we sit down and plan.”
At How Mine, Luke Masomere has opted to fortify his side with battle-hardened players.
The gold miners are likely to produce the most lethal strikeforce that boasts of last term’s top three goal-scorers in the league.
Charles Sibanda, Kuda Musharu and Limited Chikafa can form the most feared forward line.
“We are just like any other team,” said Masomere.
“To be honest with you, what people are saying is misplaced. Players should not be judged basing on their past, but the present.”
Just like last season, How Mine have been mocked for signing ageing players and pre-season injuries in their squad have already hit the senior players.
Above 30 years old are Menard Mupera, Limited Chikafa and Tawanda Muparati who are already nursing injuries and will miss the opening matches of the league.
This has drawn questions on his preferred recruitments.
“We are doing well despite having a number of injured players. We are playing friendlies and not looking at results but combinations.
We are not going to challenge for the league title. Those going for the championship are known and we will just put up a brave fight.”
How Mine have played Harare City, Chicken Inn, WhaWha and Division One outfit Magwegwe Pirates in friendlies so far.
In their war chest, Harare City have also added more arsenal, especially in their defence which is now headlined by ex-Kaizer Chiefs stalwart Lincoln Zvasiya and Themba Ndlovu, formerly of Dynamos.
The city fathers would be trying to recover from last season’s terrible outing that saw them survive relegation on the last day of the season.
That was in stark contrast with 2013 exploits where they were nearly crowned champions and lost the race on the last day again.
Coach Taurai Mangwiro is not yet satisfied with the squad he has assembled but however feels they can be surprise packages to the league title.
“There is some hard work that still needs to be done,” said Mangwiro.
“We will improve as the season progresses. I guess this year’s championship race will be the most exciting because it seems other teams are building strong squads. We had a bad season last year and we have to improve this year. We however cannot be talking about the league title at this juncture but we will just launch a formidable challenge. I think we have players who can help us win some trophies.”
After almost winning the league title in their debut season last year, ZPC Kariba could pull another shocker this term.
Their pre-season started quietly with few signings but they now have what appears to be a strong squad.
Latest additions George Magariro and Russell Madamombe have arrived to complement Mukanhairi, Ghanaian Sylvester Appiah and former Dynamos utility Thomas Magorimbo.
The loss of Chikafa to How Mine, Obey Mwerahari and Tonderai Mateyaunga to Dynamos, as well as Ephraim Mwinga and Peter Muzondo who switched to Triangle might not be felt.
Coach Saul Chaminuka has preferred to shun media attention as he quietly loads arsenal into his war chest.
Newboys WhaWha, Dongo Sawmills, Flame Lily and Tsholotsho have also been quiet in their preparations while opting against big-name players.