insidesport:with MICHAEL KARIATI
ZIMBABWEAN football — just like any other sporting discipline — is on a break due to the coronavirus outbreak with no date yet as to when the game will return.
The situation, however, will one day get back to normal and football will return with the biggest challenge for the Zimbabwean game being how to stop our most talented players from leaving the local Premiership.
Year in, year out, Zimbabwe’s top footballers — most of them Soccer Star of the Year winners and some finalists for the same award — are leaving the country for what they claim to be better-paying leagues.
Since 2011, six of the nine Castle Lager Soccer Stars of the Year — Washington Arubi (2011), Denver Mukamba (2013), Danny Phiri (2015), Rodwell Chinyengetere (2017 and 2018) — left for South African clubs while Joel Ngodzo (2019) left Caps United for Zambia at the end of the 2019 season.
Only three — Tawanda Muparati (2012), Dennis Dauda (2014), and Hardlife Zvirekwi (2016) — remained at home, not because they did not want to leave Zimbabwe, but because they did not get any offers.
There were others like Talent Chawapihwa, Knox Mtizwa, Kuda Mahachi, Ronald Pfumbidzai, Walter Musona, Elvis Chipezeze, and Evans Rusike, who instead of staying at home, also left the country when they were turning on the style in the Premiership.
It is a fact that Zimbabwean teams have not been doing all that well in Pan-African football, but could have been doing better than just a place in the group stages had it not been for the loss of this talent.
Every season clubs win the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League title and the Chibuku Super Cup, but by the time they play in African football — the next year — they would have a new side as some of the players would have left for foreign clubs.
The question is: If our clubs could reach the group stages of the Caf Champions League after losing a lot of players, what then would have been the case had they remained intact for the Pan-African football competition?
It would have been better had those players been leaving for European clubs, but instead Zimbabwe has become a football talent breeding ground for other African football leagues.
In fact, some of the Zimbabweans are going to lowly ranked African football leagues like Botswana and Mozambique where they claim there are better financial spinoffs than the local Premiership.
At first, South Africa was their destination, and now, it has become Tanzania, Zambia, or somewhere else — even Swaziland — where they claim they are getting far much better remuneration than in Zimbabwe.
Ironically, clubs like FC Platinum and Ngezi Platinum Stars are paying decent monthly wages — on top of other incentives such as winning bonuses — yet some of the players are even leaving Pure Platinum and Madamburo.
What is even disturbing is the fact that more and more exciting talent is coming through our football and more and more of it is leaving for foreign clubs where some of it is being destroyed.
Evans Gwekwerere, Mukamba, Roderick Mutumwa, Partson Jaure and Simba Nhivi left Zimbabwe when their football stars were shining, but after a brief stay in South Africa returned home when their form had gone off the boil.
The question is: What should we do to stop our players from leaving for other African football leagues? Should the PSL — just like the other industries —- put a cap on the minimum salary that a club should pay its players in the Premiership?
If that is part of the solution, will our clubs be able to afford those salaries when some of them are struggling to pay affiliation fees of
$208 000, just about US$5 200?
More importantly is the question as to where would the clubs get that extra money to pay those “reasonable” salaries when sponsors are becoming hard to come by and the clubs’ major source of income is drying up?
Most of the clubs rely on gate-takings for survival, but the crowds have deserted the stadiums and gone are the days when low-key games attracted crowds of around 12 000 or so while those involving Caps United, Dynamos and Highlanders attracted around 30 000 people or more.
A match report of a game between Black Aces and Zimbabwe Saints in the 1980s at Gwanzura Stadium had an estimated attendance of 20 000, yet some games today do not attract more than 1 000 people.
Yet, the game at Gwanzura was a match involving not the most popular teams during those days.
So, the Premiership needs to find ways and means or that extra attraction to bring back the crowds so that clubs have extra finances to spend on their players.
The truth is that the fans are there, but something is making them stay at home. If they can flock in their thousands to watch the Warriors play, why can’t they do the same when Caps United, Dynamos or FC Platinum are in action?
It is also hard to disagree that the game can also be made more attractive to fans and more rewarding to both the clubs and the players if there could be many knockout tournaments.
Right now, football followers are still talking with affection about the long-gone BAT Rosebowl, Rothmans Shield, Chibuku Cup and the Castle Cup or Zifa Cup, which contributed to the clubs’ coffers, yet today, there is only one tournament — the Chibuku Super Cup.
Bringing in more and more knockout tournaments will make the game more and more exciting and in the process attract the fans which will in turn attract club sponsors to the game.
What has already happened does not matter much, but the focus should be on the future — on how to bring back the fans to stadiums, how to attract more club sponsors, and, above all, how to make the Zimbabwean game more attractive by keeping at home our most talented players.
In the light cold of the day, the players are justified in leaving the country for better pay because they survive on what they earn from football.
The question is: How do we stop our players from leaving for other African leagues?
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