28 June 2014

Zimbabwe: 'PSL Lacks Big Name Stars'

AS the chorus of concern over the declining standards of the domestic game continues to grow louder, former Blackpool and Kaizer Chiefs striker Liberty Masunda has become the latest of football's former sons to add his voice and believes the Premiership is lacking in star attractions.

Masunda had his career cut short by injury while he was 28 with a recurrent sciatic nerve problem ending any hopes he had of featuring for Scottish outfit Partic Thistle in 2002.

Sciatic Nerve pain is defined as any "pain associated with the Sciatic Nerve, which is the longest nerve in one's body. It can cause back pain, hip pain, and all down your leg and at the foot. But it's generally because of pressure on it in the back and pelvic area".

Now 40 years of age, Masunda has since 2002 been based in the United Kingdom and, just like many Zimbabweans abroad, he finds time to return to his fatherland to visit family, friends and relatives.

Masunda has been in the country in the last two months and being a football man the former Zimbabwe international, who also had a brief stint with CAPS United, has been following the domestic Premiership and was last Sunday part of the crowd that watched the Battle of Zimbabwe between giants Dynamos and Highlanders.

Domestic game's biggest encounter however, once again failed to illuminate the cool afternoon at the National Sports stadium.

After watching a series of matches on the local front, including the Warriors 2015 African Cup of Nations qualifier against Tanzania at the National Sports Stadium at the start of this month, Masunda gave his verdict on the standards of the game just like a host of former players, he was not impressed by what he saw.

Masunda said the decline in the Zimbabwean game was a worrying trend for everyone concerned and revealed that it had also become a major talking point whenever Zimbabweans in the United Kingdom meet for social gatherings.

"Since I have been around, I have been following a number of matches every weekend and I noticed several things and, sadly, I noticed that a number of things are lacking but I will touch on a few that really struck me.

"I have observed that the players are getting too small and even though there are small world class players, ours are too small and thin.

"I have also noticed that the fitness levels have gone down and it was evident in the match against Tanzania which I must say was so disappointing.

"Our players didn't look fit and the fact that we opted for the long ball could have been sign of that lack of fitness and our midfielders could not cope with the requirements of that department where you are supposed to join in defence and also quickly join the attack and it left me with a lot of questions," Masunda said.

Masunda said he had noted that that fans had generally deserted the Premiership and attributed it to the lack of "star attractions among the current crop of players".

"Fans need something that excites them, something they can talk about before, during and after the matches and sadly we don't seem to have that at the moment.

"Our football is lacking players like Vitalis (Takawira) Peter (Ndlovu) or even I could take on their opponents.

"Now we do not have exciting contests which fans can look up to yet in the past they could go to the stadium knowing that there would be an exciting battle between Tauya Murewa and Joseph Dube or even Dumisani Mpofu and Akwa of Angola.

"You hardly find any imposing defender anymore and the strikers are not as intimidating and generally many teams are struggling to stitch five passes together and let alone create clear cut chances," Masunda said.

It is that glaring lack of standout players which Masunda said left fans opting to alternatively watch football from the big screens in the pubs, hotels and their homes.

Apart from reminiscing over the past Masunda, who also played for the now defunct South African Premiership stars Sevens Stars after a two-year stint with Kaizer Chiefs, also offered his opinion on what he thinks ought to be done to revive the game.

"Our government should intervene full time so that we can start marketing our football more aggressively. We also need proper administrators and government intervention should not just be about providing resources, it should be about making it mandatory that we have junior football.

"During our time as young footballers junior football had sponsorship and I even have a medal I got for winning the Bonar Under-12 League. Yes we understand that companies have been folding but football is our livelihood and we need to find a way to take people away from the pubs so that they come back to the stadiums.

"We need to take people's minds away from other activities and even the social vices so that they take sport and football seriously and in that regard the media has a big role to play.

"It saddens me to note that people in UK follow Zimbabwean football through online media but the discussions are mostly about yesterday football, about the big contests between Dynamos and CAPS United, Black Aces and Arcadia or Highlanders and Zimbabwe Saints and nothing much about the current players.

"I think schools also have a role to play to revive our football and we should see the stars of the Copa Coca-Cola graduating into the Premiership.

"During our days schools fought fierce battles and I remember that at Zengeza High 2 I used to have players like Stewart Murisa in my team and Zengeza High 1 had the like of Alois Bunjira, Lloyd Mutasa while Seke II had players like Morgan Nkathazo, Edelbert Dinha, Norman Mapeza and Lloyd Chitembwe and you can see how the schools contributed to our Premiership.

"We do not seem to have as many numbers coming from there now like we did when Churchill provided the bulk of the players to Dynamos' Kidznet.

"I think government must also make it mandatory that schools are coached by qualified coaches at least two per school and this will also create employment for the many former players who have gone into coaching but are without jobs."

Masunda reckoned that young players would always "feel motivated to be coached by their role models and if we have former players going into schools, it will inspire a lot of young players too. I was inspired to be coached by Joel Shambo who was my role model too," Masunda said.

As he prepares to return to his base in the UK Masunda, who is currently studying for a Level 3 coaching badge with the England FA, also challenged former players to come together and " be organised in undertaking such projects like academies or challenging for administrative posts at clubs, the PSL and Zifa structures".

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