BY TERRY MADYAUTA
NORMAN Mapeza’s name will forever be etched in Zimbabwean football champions FC Platinum’s folklore.
An incredible five years in Zvishavane saw Mapeza win back- to-back league titles for FC Platinum as well as create an impenetrable fortress out of Mandava Stadium.
In the 81 home matches that Mapeza was in charge of the Midlands side, he won 55 and lost just five since August 2014 an average of one home defeat per season.
Last week, Mapeza and FC Platinum severed ties under unclear circumstances, at a crucial stage of their title defence as well as in the CAF Champions League.
What could have transpired that resulted in “mutual separation” of the two parties?
“FC Platinum club wishes to announce the departure of head coach Norman Mapeza from the team through a mutual separation agreement,” a statement by club president George Mawere read.
Mapeza’s exit from probably the richest football club on the local front has divided opinion among FC Platinum officials, players and fans as it coincided with a massive purge at Mimosa Mine, the club’s principal sponsor, where staffers have been sacked for allegedly swindling the company.
The 47-year-old gaffer had a praiseworthy stay in the small mining town of Zvishavane, where he not only won titles and individual accolades, but will also be credited for turning FC Platinum from under-achieving big spenders to a dominant force in Zimbabwean football.
But during his five-year stay, so much happened behind the scenes, including clashes with executive members over player transfers, alleged salary stand-offs and run-ins with players. Nonetheless, the actual reasons for his abrupt departure have remained a mystery.
Although the official line maintained that the former Warrior wanted to take a break from the demanding dugout, some of players and officials interviewed by The Sports Hub said Mapeza, who had somewhat become a public relations catastrophe for the club, left to protect his reputation.
“He (Mapeza) was operating with a thin squad, especially after the departure of key players from the club. This we all knew was his main challenge because he raised concerns about the issue so many times.
“Knowing the demands, it was always going to be difficult for him to manoeuvre with so many challenges. But like it is said, a good dancer knows when to leave the stage, the coach wanted to protect his winner reputation,” said an official who commented on condition of anonymity.
Despite facing the enormous task of defending their Premier Soccer League title, while at the same time flying the country’s flag in the prestigious CAF Champions League, FC Platinum failed to hold on to a number of their top players with most of them leaving the club either for rival local clubs or for greener pastures outside the country.
“There was too much pressure on him and the rest of the team because right now, it is difficult to divide attention between the league and Champions League. We want to do well in both competitions, but the pressure is just overwhelming,” said another senior official at the club.
“That might have made him decide to leave the team. We are just hoping to keep the fighting spirit he left within us so that we achieve our end of the season goals because that is what football is all about,” said one of the senior players.
Mapeza’s departure also threw the Zvishavane-based side into deep soul-searching amidst accusations of betrayal from the club’s fans.
“As supporters, we are saddened and shocked by the prompt departure of our coach Norman Mapeza. We would have loved to achieve more together but since it is his decision, we will respect it and we wish him well in his future endeavours,” said Kudakwashe Gumbo, who is the club supporters’ chairman.
However, it will be interesting to see how the platinum miners will manage without the firm grip of Mapeza, with Lizwe Sweswe in charge on interim basis as the club hunts for a substantive coach.