The Zimbabwe Warriors have one foot in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) football finals to be held in Cameroon — needing just a point from their last two matches to make it.
By MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
The players have all been fantastic in this campaign, along with the technical team led by Sunday Chidzambwa and they all deserve full credit for the excellent performance.
But in all this, there is one man who has been, so to speak, the unsung angel of success — team manager Wellington Mpandare.
Mpandare, whose appointment at the beginning of the qualification campaign was met with a lot of doubts bordering on outright disdain, continues to confound his critics.
The former Gunners operations director is clearly giving his all, bringing home professional Zimbabwean footballers from around the world to play for the country.
He has brought in Wales-based versatile defender Alec Mudimu and two-time capped Nottingham Forest defender Tendai Darikwa, both of whom have been impressive in this campaign.
And he’s not finished. He says he has identified over 40 top Zimbabwean footballers dotted around the world and his focus is on them.
Right now, however, he is working to bring in Kelly Lunga (Germany), McCauley Bonne (England), Burnley academy winger Tinashe Chakwana, Andy Rinemhota (Reading, England), Tristan Nydam (Ipswich Town, England) and Reiss Nelson (Arsenal, England).
“Besides Darikwa, Mudimu, Chicksen, Benyu, Muskwe, Mkhosana and Bonne who have featured for the national team already, there are more than 40 players out there who can play for Zimbabwe,” Mpandare told The Sports Hub.
“Before the Congo-Brazzaville game, we were hoping to bring Lunga, Bonne, Chakwana, Rinemhota, Nydam, and Nelson, but it was not to be. We keep pushing nonetheless,” he said.
Mpandare has also written to Harare-born young Everton defender Brendon Galloway and is in contact with his parents, but the player, who has captained England age group teams wants to leave his options open for now.
There was uproar in December 2015 when Mpandare was appointed manager of the national team following the ill-conceived brief sacking of Kalisto Pasuwa and his entire technical team, including the then team manager Sharrif Mussa.
His appointment was dismissed as nothing, but a token of appreciation from Phillip Chiyangwa for the role he had played as the Zifa president’s campaign manager weeks earlier.
It was a debacle that smeared Mpandare’s reputation and blinded football fans to his capabilities as a competent team manager.
“I know a lot of people didn’t believe in me for obvious reasons because of what happened when I was brought to join Pasuwa. What people didn’t know was that Pasuwa approached me and asked me to help him because the then manager was at times not with the team because of his other commitments at his family business.
“So the arrangement was that Shariff was going to be the general manager of all teams and I become the senior manager. There was so much politics at play and there were people behind the scenes who were still fighting the new executive of Chiyangwa, hence, my appointment was blown out of proportion because of my relationship with the new executive,” said Mpandare.
While his influence in the team is not that obvious, it is only fair to say Mpandare has managed to galvanise the team into one unit and this is reflected in the back-to-back Cosafa titles and the fact that the team is on the brink of Afcon qualification.
Mpandare has not been perfect as a manager given his candid approach to issues which at one time brought him on a collision course with the Sports and Recreation Commission as well as Zimbabwe football legend Peter Ndlovu.
But he has enjoyed the experience so far, especially the team’s success.
“It has not been easy with the national team, but I work well under pressure. I enjoy challenges and enjoy solving them. I enjoyed working with Norman Mapeza and Chidzambwa and I am happy to have won the Cosafa tournament twice while the team remains unbeaten in the Afcon qualifiers.
“My relationship with the players is fantastic because I knew most of them before we started working together. Zifa has been very helpful and it would have been difficult without the help of Prophet Walter Magaya, who has been there for the team from the first day I came into office.
“After winning the Premier Soccer League with Gunners, my dream has always been to win something with the national team. It started with Cosafa for two consecutive years and now I dream of achieving more,” he said.
Mpandare’s interest in foreign-based players dates back to 2011 when he brought former Reading academy player Trevor Mutero using his own resources. The then young player featured for the under-23 side and also played for the Zimbabwe Under-20 team scoring a couple of goals.
Since then Mpandare views it as his personal mandate.
“My dream is to bring more players to represent the national team. I started compiling a list of those eligible a long time ago even though I was not part of the national team set-up.
“Initially it was difficult to get player contacts so I started working with the likes of England-based former player Chamunoda Musanhu. He is the first guy I asked to look for Darikwa. Musanhu was very helpful, but then he wanted to have an official contract with Zifa which was beyond me, so I engaged Zimbabwe Foreign Legion chairman Mistry Chipere and his team who have been helpful.
“There are a lot of players eligible to play for the national team, but they can’t all come at the same time. They will be introduced bit by bit.
Marshall Gore has also been there when I want players taken to the embassy for passport application; he uses his own resources to travel,” Mpandare said.
A football enthusiast, Mpandare’s history with the sport dates back to 1998 when former Division Two side Gateway was formed.
He became Gunners manager at their formation until they won the league title in 2009 before rising to become the club’s operations director.
Outside football, he co-owns a company that deals in industrial and mechanical spares as well as a Durban-based construction firm.