insidesport with MICHAEL KARIATI
On March 30, the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League season roared into life and if what was on offer on that opening day is anything to go by, then football followers should brace themselves for an exciting, if not entertaining, eight-month show.
This season will surely be hard to predict especially bearing in mind that the gap that existed between the big money boys — FC Platinum, Ngezi Platinum Stars, Chicken Inn and Triangle — and the rest of the Premiership pack appears to have been partially closed.
Over the years, Pure Platinum, Madamburo, the Game Cocks and the Sugar Sugar Boys could attract the top coaches, had the best players, and, above all, could afford to pay their players handsomely, while players from other teams were always on strike over non-payment of salaries and bonuses and could not produce their best.
That advantage has been swept away as Dynamos are now financially secure, while the likes of Caps United, Highlanders, Black Rhinos and Chapungu have landed lucrative sponsorship deals —to the extent that the usually low-scoring Chapungu could afford to plunder five goals past Bulawayo Chiefs on their opening game of the season.
It is a fact that Manica Diamonds are filthy rich, while the likes of ZPC Kariba, Herentals, Hwange, TelOne, Yadah and Harare City have also adjusted their budgets considerably to try to meet the demands of modern-day Zimbabwean football.
Probably the teams that are on the downside financially are the likes of Mushowani Stars and Bulawayo Chiefs, who are sponsored by individuals. That, however, does not mean that they would not be able to meet the demands on the field of play, although from the outset, they are most likely to struggle.
There should also be more to feel a measure of sympathy for Mushowani Stars. The newboys’ problems could probably be worsened by the fact that they do not have a home they call their own and are being forced to shuttle between Bindura and Harare where they are using Rufaro Stadium instead of Trojan Stadium, which was condemned for their use.
However, with one game gone, and the other following today, and 32 others still left, every football fan has already picked a team which he thinks will win the 2019 Zimbabwean championship.
The questions are: Will it be Dynamos? What of Highlanders or the Green Machine of Caps United? Will Manica Diamonds come straight from Division One and take the title and also become the first team from Manicaland to win the Zimbabwean football championship? Or will Ngezi Platinum Stars end the bridesmaid tag this time around?
What of Hwange? Will they finally have something to show for all their long association with Zimbabwean football? However, after looking at the off-season activity, the money for the league championship should, once again, be placed on FC Platinum’s Pure Platinum Boys.
FC Platinum have won the Zimbabwean football league championship over the past two years, creating a huge shift of the balance of football power in the small southern African nation after becoming the one and only team outside Harare and Bulawayo to win the title, not only once, but twice, and for that matter, in a row.
Although the Zvishavane side were a disappointment in the Caf Champions League, there is a world of difference between continental club football and the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League to the extent that it would be unfair to judge FC Platinum in Zimbabwe and FC Platinum in Africa.
In fact, the quality of football that the Zimbabwean champions displayed in their two matches against South Africa’s Orlando Pirates and what they paraded in their opening game against Harare City will probably justify their billing as odds-on favourites to win a third consecutive title.
Surely having contested against the likes of Esperance, Orlando Pirates and Horoya, Pure Platinum will not be intimidated by local opposition, and with the addition of the ebullient Lameck Nhamo from Triangle and Godknows Murwira from Ngezi Platinum Stars, Mapeza’s side have the overall strength to return to Pan-African football.
Mapeza wants to prove that he is still the best coach around despite his team’s poor show in Africa and those who know him better predict he will not fail in his adventure.
What is making FC Platinum’s position even stronger is the standing of the opposition. Dynamos have the talents and the experience, but whether they have a coach who can stand the heat when the going gets tough is the question.
Ngezi Platinum Stars — runners-up in 2018 — have a new coach and a lot of new players and might find it difficult to gel to seriously challenge for the title in the same way they have done over the past two years. Highlanders have an experienced technical adviser in the form of Madinda Ndlovu and a good young coach in Bekithemba Ndlovu, and will surely be an exciting team to watch. However, the young team is still not yet ripe for the league championship, their chance coming maybe in 2020 or 2021.
As for the Green Machine of Caps United, they spent a lot of money on “tired legs” who might find it difficult to last the distance especially in these days when the game has become faster.
Perhaps the team that will seriously challenge FC Platinum for the honour to be 2019 Zimbabwean champions are Chicken Inn. The GameCocks have an all-round team of youth and experience and a title-winning coach, Joey Antipas, who won the championship with the same team in 2015, and before that, with Motor Action in 2010.
In football, there are the champions and then those who seriously challenge for the title. There are also the pretenders, that is, those who sparkle here and then and then fizzle out. There are also those without ambition, teams who just want to keep their places in the league as well as the relegation candidates.
The beauty of football is in its power to surprise and I would surely be surprised if FC Platinum do not win the 2019 Zimbabwean football championship come the end of the season in November.
λ For your comments, views and suggestions, email email@example.com or WhatsApp on 077 3 266 779.