The Herald (Harare)

9 November 2012

Zimbabwe: The Launda Battle Was a Sorry Display of Tactical Poverty By Rahman and, Sadly, It Cost the Whole Nation Its Golden Moment in the South African Sunshine

opinion

When half-time came in Angola, the tactics that Rahman Gumbo and his assistants -- Peter Ndlovu and David Mandigora -- turned to, in their battle to save the game, were tantamount to applying lip-stick to a frog and hoping that its face will look any better. I had always made it a point

to argue with my colleagues each time there was debate about football and would witness the usual inherent bias by some, especially among us the journalists, leading them into making all sorts of crazy conclusions.

Most of such conclusions, inevitably, are based mainly on partisan interests, suspicion and even malice.

These include, and are not limited to, some alleged shadowy plot at Zifa to make its leadership an entirely Ndebele clique as well as that the same conspiracy extends to the appointment of national teams' technical staff as well as the selection of national team players.

I have grown tired of the habit by many football writers and fans to impulsively engage into the gear of shouting "Zifa must go", "Dube must go" or that the national team coach "must go" without objective as well as realistic analysis of things.

Before we forget we had Rafiq Khan, then came Vincent Pamire, followed by Wellington Nyatanga at the helm of Zifa.

On the coaches' side the list is even longer, with the likes of Sunday Chidzambwa, the Brazilian Valinhos, Charles Mhlauri, Norman Mapeza, Rahman Gumbo and even the comic alliance of Mandinda Ndlovu and Tom Seintfiet.

At every turn "must go" would pop up, even unreasonably.

Not that I intend to defend failure, corruption and madness surely witnessed along the way in the life of Zimbabwean football, such as blatant abuse of resources.

For that reason, I have been challenging the proponents of the alleged Ndebele conspiracy, or the Rahman "must go" mantra to prove their point.

I have been giving Rahman the benefit of doubt all the way until that Sunday when the world crumbled around Zimbabwean football in Angola.

I am convinced, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the two legs against Angola were there on the plate for Zimbabwe to win and with that qualify for the 2013 Nations Cup finals.

And I am one of those who believe the manner we lost in Luanda has everything to do with the technical deficiencies of Rahman Gumbo as well as his two assistant coaches -- Peter Ndlovu and David Mandigora.

Honestly, I was left embarrassed and ashamed because, by any standards, the Warriors' coaching department's lack of technical awareness and their questionable knowledge of modern football tactics was not only shocking, but also scandalous.

Football, just like life, is dynamic

The beautiful game, like technology, is evolving fast and has become a science more than just a game of luck, juju or muscle.

The contest involving 22 players from two teams on the pitch has largely become a battle of tactics, strategies and even intelligence but the performance of the Warriors that Sunday in Luanda was devoid of any of these features of the modern game.

It left me reminiscing and, rather shamefully, flooded by ancient memories, such as those of the era of Reinhard Fabisch's "Dream Team" in terms of backwardness of tactical awareness. You remember those days of Mandinda Ndlovu being thrown into the fray to do nothing else but sprint down the flanks to bring crosses into the area.

For starters, many of us were shocked to see Gumbo and company not only setting out an archaic 4-3-3 formation, but choosing to stick to it all the way towards the exit from qualification.

This is one of the oldest tactical formations of the game.

I remember us playing football at Mbizi Primary School in the early '90s and the instructions I would get from our trainer, Mr Mukondya, that if you are on the right wing (number 7), you stick to the touch line, the same orders that would be given to the left winger (number 11).

Then our coach at the Highfield Juniors, Zondai Mwanasanga, introduced us to 4-4-2 in 1992, leading to the transformation of Tapuwa Kapini from a number 7 to being an attacking midfielder, of course before he became a goalkeeper.

But, in those years, the new phenomenon started taking our football by storm, the 4-4-2 formation.

As time moved, more and more formations emerged, such as 3-5-2, or 4-3-2-1 and 4-5-1, now being variously used across the globe.

The main reasons behind this evolution were the increasing competition on the pitch, higher pace and the demand for subtle, as well as indirect strategies, for both defending and attacking.

In other words, like chess, the game of football now involves deeper and more intricate moves, models of positioning as well as tricking the opponent towards victory.

That is why the game has witnessed strategies doing away with the too obvious and conventional models or tactics.

That explains Vicente Del Bosque setting out a Spain line-up without a centre striker at the Euros this year, and, of all players, having Cesc Fabregas to emerge in the territories known for the number 9 when need arises.

Or, at times, Andreas Iniesta and even Juan Mata popping up in those areas ready to provide the finishing touch that, in the old days of Mbidzi Primary, would be done by the old-fashioned Number 9.

The effect was to make it difficult for the opponents to defend, in that final third, because almost always, a different player would emerge on the flanks or at the centre and only when play gets there.

At Barcelona, Lionel Messi spends the entire match drifting from the centre to the flanks in positional formations that keep rotating from 4-1-5-0 to 3-5-1-1 and eventually, the little assassin will either strike from anywhere or be part of a move towards a brilliant goal by any other of his teammates.

Cristiano Ronaldo, the heartbeat of Real Madrid, keeps changing from right to left and at times pops up in the central striker's position to get clear at goal in Mourinho's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

Now, Rahman and company in their wisdom, or clearly lack of it, chose to take the Warriors' most lethal attacking weapons, Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat, and render them useless on the flanks, oh dear, not for 45 minutes, not for 60 minutes but, diabolically, for the entire match.

It was unbelievable and, I am sure, the worst betrayal of the technical ineptitude we had invested hope into.

That was the first major basis, on which we lost the match, which was there for the taking.

The easiest thing for Angolans was to man-mark our stars and make sure each time there was an attempt to play them, any means possible would clear the ball away.

Secondly, Rahman and company proved to be incapable of knowing what modern coaching demands and to understand what distinguishes between success and failure.

That which distinguishes Manchester United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, or Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho from the other characters in the business today.

It's their ability and strength to respond to situations, apply appropriate answers and change the game.

The fact that the Angolans were 2-0 up by the sixth minute should have made Rahman and company's task easier, but only if they had even a little bit of modern football mentality and the know-how required at this stage.

The score-line, so early in the match, imperatively meant the Warriors had to change strategy and approach to the whole match.

All that they had prepared for, be it defensive or whatever, in defence of their two-goal lead, needed to be revised and, to our advantage, we had 80 minutes to play in a game where every goal that we would score would be golden as it had the capacity of sending Angola out of the tournament.

All that the Warriors needed was a goal and not only would it change the outlook, it would knock out Angola.

Therefore, there was one obvious technical demand on the Warriors, which was to do anything and everything to press towards finding a goal and see what happens next.

But what did our technical department do?

Of course, they left the positional set-up as it was, yet the Warriors were struggling to get into the final third and even shoot at goal.

A Bad Coach is Exposed at Half-time

What worse, half time came, where Mourinho or Ferguson would have certainly rung significant changes such as taking our Rafael from right back and replacing him with Paul Scholes in central attacking midfield at Manchester United in order to increase possession and attacking ability.

But Gumbo, Ndlovu and Mandigora simply applied lipstick to a frog by taking out Vusa Nyoni for Kingstone Nkhatha -- double tragedy that was.

Nkatha, from the look of things, just went upfront to join the useless trio of Musona, Billiat and Cuthbert Malajila (later Edward Sadomba) to spend 45 minutes running up and down and doing nothing without significant supply from midfield.

Secondly, by taking out Nyoni from deep midfield and deploying Nkhatha upfront, Gumbo, rather stupidly, further opened up the midfield department where, in essence, only the aged and very slow Tinashe Nengomasha was left to battle against a mobile four-man attacking Angolan midfield.

Achford Gutu was simply overwhelmed and nowhere to be seen when we had to defend deep in midfield.

That is reason why it was a highway for the home team each time they launched meaningful attacks and resulted in more pressure on the defence line of Noel Kaseke, Carrington Nyadombo, Esrom Nyandoro and Onisimor Bhasera.

What a bonus that was for the home side because it simply ensured they pinned their opponents down into their own half, thereby forcing our Musonas upfront to be part of the capacity crowd in the terraces.

Combined with that, it also meant the Warriors midfield was largely non-existent even when attacking, forcing defenders to always try pumping the ball forward only for the Angolans to have the honeymoon of repelling the pint-sized Musona, Billiat and even Nkhatha.

That was merely a classic display of tactical poverty by Rahman and his technical team and, the sad part of this horrible story, is that it cost the whole nation its golden moment to enjoy something good about football.

Shockingly, our technical team seemed content with that and allowed things to go all the way that way, even introducing Sadomba to join the circus upfront without even an attempt at goal for the minutes he spent on the pitch.

In a game where Rahman could have been served better by the element of surprise, he somehow decided to keep a forward of Denver Mukamba's ability on the bench only to try and introduce him a minute into time added on.

Whatever, Rahman thought Denver would do, in those dying embers of the game, noone knows.

But, as we expected, he never kicked the ball and the attacking talents of one of our best players were lost in a game where his contribution, over let's say 20 minutes, had the potential of making a difference.

I could go on and on about the very glaring technical nonsense displayed by our coaching department in Angola, which, surely could be the only basis to suspect match-fixing.

Indeed, one could easily conclude that Rahman and company deliberately bungled to throw away the match, but I have thoroughly analysed things to conclude that, rather, they were simply exposed as being very poor and dull technically when push came to shove as was the case that Sunday.

This has a background in the way things are done in our national game, and certainly provides an opportunity to correct them.

Special One Who Can't Deliver

For whatever Rahman has achieved, mainly by moving around the Southern African region winning titles with different clubs, he needs to develop his technical abilities further and also adopt modern technical coaching skills.

Rahman has won league titles in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Botswana.

But it's not a coincidence, I'm sure, that none of the three nations, where our so-called "Special One" made his name, qualified for the next Nations Cup finals.

Botswana leaked seven goals in two legs against Mali, the same Eagles that Mapeza beat at Rufaro, when we were really building a proper national team, and the same Eagles who struggled to beat us 1-0 in Bamako, of course, without Musona.

Malawi failed to score even one goal, over two games, against Ghana and were beaten in Accra and Blanytre and, just like us, will watch the 2013 Nations Cup finals from home.

Zimbabwe somehow blew away a 3-1 first leg lead.

Zifa must seriously consider creating opportunities through which coaches go for courses and developmental programmes to keep up with developments and changes in the game.

We used to have Mhlauri benefitting from such opportunities, as well as Norman Mapeza and I am sure they demonstrated positive results in that regard.

The same applies to Peter Ndlovu, whose exploits of yesteryear for Warriors still puts a smile on my face when I reminisce but left me wondering that Sunday if he has any idea of using his legendary status to influence a result within the Warriors.

Or simply, I was left convinced, just like Rahman, Peter has a lot to do if he can become a coach capable of leading the nation to glory in the dungeons of modern football.

Peter's brother, Adam, another jewel from the Ndlovu brothers to do well in service for our country, has been learning his stripes in the tough trenches of the local Premiership.

If all goes well, Adam's team, Chicken Inn could finish third this season and qualify to play in the Caf Condeferation Cup next year.

That's what every coach needs, such tough examination at club football so that when you graduate to national level, where the team plays, at most, four competitive games in a year, it will be an easier role.

If I had a choice for a Ndlovu brother to be an assistant coach in the Warriors' set-up, then Adam would get my vote because he has proved that he can do it at club level.

Well, Yogi surely must be challenged to either quit and apply for a farm or upgrade himself to become relevant in the world of modern football.

He is a good guy, of course, and gives the media its due respect but he is now completely out of depth with the demands of football at this level and if he couldn't make an impact in Mozambique, why did we believe that he could do it with the Warriors?

Therefore, as the choruses rumble on, debate continues and all sorts of theories are thrown about, the Luanda debacle must help us make a committed mission towards investing into the technical development of our coaches.

We have heard all sorts of stories, especially from Zifa House, and one of those was that the Angolan game was fixed.

There hasn't been any evidence advanced to support such a line and the tragedy about it all is that it also puts into question the integrity of the 2013 Nations Cup finals because if our match in Luanda was fixed, the story just doesn't stop with Zimbabwe but also moves to the Angolans.

It means the Angolans qualified, not on merit, but some wicked people played games with our chances of qualifying and that brings the entire 2013 Nations Cup finals into disrepute since one of the participants, if we stick to that line, in this case Angola, would not have qualified on merit.

But that mess is for the people at the Confederation of African Football to sort out because they are the ones who safeguard the integrity of the Nations Cup and who have kept this tournament as the one that every country in Africa wants to win when it comes to football.

What really concerns me, right now, is what has happened to our football after our failed bid to qualify for the 2013 Nations Cup finals.

What I find questionable is how, and on what basis, did the embattled Zifa board, decide to disband the Warriors, whatever that means or is intended to mean, and then spare Rahman and his coaching staff the axe.

In Angola, it was Rahman and his coaching crew, Peter and Mandigora, who failed this nation and not the players who are being disbanded.

It's tragic that suddenly we have already forgotten that the same players, who are being disbanded or painted with a dirty brush, made us celebrate, just a month before the Luanda game, by beating the Angolans 3-1 at Rufaro.

They even led 3-0 in the first half before their coaches, again, decided to impose their questionable tactics, in defending that led, and we became negative in the second half and conceded that away goal we all dreaded.

What is clear is that Rahman, and not Billiat or Musona or Gutu, was to blame for our failed 2013 Nations Cup campaign and that he has stayed this longer, still holding on to a job that he just can't handle, is the only surprise.

The sooner we move out of our denial mode, especially within the Zifa board, and begin to see Rahman as a coach who is out of depth, when it comes to the Warriors and what is required to make them competitive in 2012, the better we are likely to find solutions to our challenges.

But if we keep ourselves, as appears to be the case now, in a web of conspiracy theories and see match-fixing where it doesn't exist, accept results as fair only when we win as was the case at Rufaro against Angola and see shadows when we lose as was the case in Luanda, we will not move an inch forward.

The few at Zifa who trusted Rahman to deliver, when the whole country was asking how a coach who had failed at FC Platinum, where he didn't face the financial challenges that are common at our mother body, would deliver for the Warriors, have somehow gone into hiding.

Zifa can, and should, come up with a programme that will see at least the majority of our coaches get opportunities to develop technically -- Rahman, Peter, Adam, Mandigora, Agent Sawu, Bigboy Mawiwi, Mkhuphali Masuku, Luke Masomere, Callisto Pasuwa, Moses Chunga, Mapeza and even the Under-17 mentor, Lloyd Chigove.

Of course, not leaving out the "Lion of Zimbabwe", Gishon Ntini, who probably, even in my humble submission, could have done a better job in Luanda than the mess that Rahman presided over.

The ball, as they say in tennis, is in our court.

How we play it will have a huge bearing on not only our immediate future but that of our kids who, in all fairness, should not be left to suffer for the sins of their fathers.

Itai Dzamara is a veteran journalist and publisher.

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