BY FORTUNE MBELE
LAST year he masterminded Bulawayo Chiefs’ giant-killing acts as the then Premier Soccer League newbies stunned big guns Dynamos, Highlanders and eventually Castle Lager Premier Soccer League (PSL) champions FC Platinum on their way to surviving relegation.
While he is not officially the head coach at Bulawayo Chiefs, Thulani Sibanda has been credited with Bulawayo Chiefs’ growing reputation for putting the spanner in the works of the so-called big teams in the domestic premiership.
Last month, the Ninjas, as the club is affectionately known effectively ended Chicken Inn’s hopes of winning the league title with a 3-1 win at Luveve before going on to derail FC Platinum’s title charge with a shock 1-0 win at Mandava.
It is remarkable that for a side that has been fighting relegation since the opening week of the current season Chiefs have collected four points from Dynamos while also managing to hold title favourites CAPS United at Luveve along the way.
The man behind all these exploits is Sibanda who, despite not being recognised as the official head coach of the team, is widely acknowledged as one of the emerging fine coaches in the country.
In an exclusive interview with The Sports Hub last week Sibanda, a holder of Bachelor of Science Honours degree in Sports Science and Coaching from the University of Science and Technology (NUST) attributed his individual success in the PSL to his sports science background.
“It is just application of sports science in training and observing exercise physiology when it comes to conditioning of players,” Sibanda said.
“It’s not like we are the best tactically, but when it comes to player conditioning, we are a cut above the rest. It is also to do with managing to craft a good periodisation programme and being able to maintain it,” he added.
Although he is effectively the team’s head coach, last year Sibanda sat on Chiefs’ technical bench as a technical analyst and this year as the team’s fitness trainer due to the fact that he is one of the several local coaches without the requisite Caf A licence coaching badge.
Sibanda is a holder of a Scottish C licence badge and a Caf B coaching badge in addition to his degree.
Although he has effectively been taking charge of all the head coaching duties at Chiefs without any censure from football authorities, Sibanda’s name was controversially struck from the list of coaches eligible for the coach of the year award.
Many judges were confident that he would land the Castle Lager coach of the year award, but it was Farai Tawachera’s name, which appeared on the ballot as Chiefs’ head coach.
Tawachera, who presided over the demolition of Dynamos in May at Luveve while Sibanda sat on the bench as fitness trainer, left Bulawayo Chiefs early in September, his last game being at Mandava when Chiefs were booted out of the Chibuku Super Cup.
Sibanda, according to sources was exempted to coach in the PSL by Zifa while he waits to enroll for the next CAF A Licence course, which implies that Bulawayo Chiefs could have slept on duty and did not register their coach with the PSL.
Sibanda, who got Chiefs promoted to the PSL last year and have seen coaches Joseph Sibindi, Garthly Chipuka and Tawachera at the helm while Sibanda remained in the technical team in different capacities.
The youthful gaffer, however, said he was not bothered by the authorities’ decision not to recognise him as the team’s head coach.
“This is not a problem of Zifa or PSL. I am still a young coach and my time will come. I am still there. I believe my abilities are inert and not outside of me and I will always be Thulani (Sibanda) even next year. My chance is going to come. It is my hope that as Bulawayo Chiefs we survive relegation and next year I start the project in my own name without any disturbance,” Sibanda said.
The rising coach’s history with the club dates back to 2013, when he led Chiefs, then known as Plumtree Chiefs to the Southern Region Division One championship.
He, however, had to wait longer before leading them to the premiership after the team’s leadership resolved to sell the franchise to Bantu Rovers and he moved to Harare where he joined ZRP FC.
In 2016, he was at Chicken Inn assisting Rahman Gumbo but quit his post after a short stint and returned to Bulawayo Chiefs; where he went on to guide them to promotion into the PSL.
In their first year in the league last year, Bulawayo Chiefs had players move to other top league clubs in what is another major endorsement for the technical team at the club.
Exciting attacking midfielder Perfect Chikwende was lured by champions FC Platinum, while the duo of Barnabas Mushunje and Polite Moyo joined Ngezi Platinum.
Other players who left the club included Gracious Muleya (Chapungu), Andrew Tandi (Black Rhinos), Stanley Ngala (Manica Diamonds) and Last Sithole to Chicken Inn.