Zambia/Mozambique: Wedson Nyirenda's Midas Touch

The Baroka FC coach is held in high regard in Zambia and Mozambique after winning league titles with unfancied teams in those countries. Bakgaga wants him to add South Africa to that list.

The way Wedson Nyirenda speaks about his achievements makes you realise how extraordinary they are, and why he is no ordinary coach. The Zambian coach has mastered the art of defying the odds, which is why he didn't shriek at being set his biggest challenge to date: win the league with Baroka FC.

The way he talks about his achievements may come across as arrogant, but he's far from it. In fact, Nyirenda has every right to go on and on about how he has won titles with clubs that had trophy cabinets gathering dust when he arrived.

Anyone who can win a major title with Baroka and go a whole season at the club without being fired deserves huge respect. Bakgaga chairperson Khurishi Mphahlele is not afraid to wield the axe when things are not going well for the club, but he's held on to Nyirenda knowing full well that he has the ability to bring even more success after last season's incredible run in the Telkom Knockout. They beat Mamelodi Sundowns in the quarterfinals, Bidvest Wits in the semis and Soweto giants Orlando Pirates in the final to become the first club from Limpopo to win a title in top-flight football.

"The first five months when you go to a new place are always tricky. You are trying to get to know the place. You want to know what people do and you want to know what happens here. But my time here has been so satisfactory because I think in the first five months I managed to win a trophy in the PSL [Premier Soccer League], which is also a historical one for Limpopo.

"No other team [from Limpopo] has collected a trophy, so that is historical. But I am not surprised because I am a man of [making] history, a man of breaking records. I break records wherever I go," Nyirenda says with so much pride in his voice.

"Being here previously as a player, I got trophies with Kaizer Chiefs and I became a legend for Mzansi, and to come back as a coach to get a trophy within five months ... I understand people have come here and they've gone back empty-handed. But it's not because I'm clever. It's by the grace of God. I must understand that God is with me. So hard work, coupled with spiritual guidance, I think it's been good for me so far. The first season for me was great."

Inspired by an impossible challenge

The coach, who is also a pastor and a published author, goes on: "I think the chairman has seen something in me that he has never seen in other coaches he has been having. Probably my pedigree is also too high. The way I understand the game is so different.

"The chairman understands that we are getting somewhere with the team. We got the cup and I think the best is yet to come. The chairman has shown me respect. He knows what I want and we know how to relate [to] each other. He is a straight man and I know how to handle him. Our relationship is so healthy."

Nyirenda defied the odds to win league titles with Zesco United in Zambia and Ferroviario da Beira in Mozambique. Ferroviario were formed in 1924 and the only league title they've won is the one clinched with Nyirenda at the helm. He says that, to this day, people in Mozambique are calling for him to make a return, such was the impact he made.

So when Mphahlele says he should win the Absa Premiership, the Zambian does not see it as an impossible challenge. It inspires him to do it and prove wrong anyone who does not believe Bakgaga can do it. There's no challenge too big for the man who never doubts his ability.

"I've been a championship coach. Every other year I get the championship in different countries. For me, it's not a heavy burden for someone to ask me to win the league, as long as there is cooperation with everyone I am working with. It's not a heavy burden because I have been winning championships in different countries. Winning the league with Baroka is not a thought that can make me shake because I think it's possible. Who believed Baroka could win Telkom? Nobody."

Bakgaga start their title defence in the Telkom Knockout on Saturday 19 October 2019 against SuperSport United at Lucas Moripe Stadium. Nyirenda has shown in his time in the country that he is not the type of coach players can walk all over and would never be afraid to put players in their place when they are out of line. He is firm, but fair, too, and sets high standards for his players.

"My management style is so simple," says Nyirenda. "I believe in the four Ps. I researched in my own way and I have formulated my own management style. The four Ps, in this order, are planning, programming, preparation and progression. I don't like names in terms of my players. What I want is players, not names. I don't want big names, just come and play. Do your job as a player and follow the rules."

The pros of being a pastor

Coaching involves so much more than just working on tactics and telling players where to go and what to do on the pitch. It requires communicating with players and supporting them through difficulties off the pitch as well, and Nyirenda's background as a pastor gives him the added advantage of being able to guide his team members.

"The essence of talking the word of God to the players is not that I need to win games with prayer. No, prayer works with hard work. Ever since I started the ministry, most of the players in Zambia, Mozambique and even here in South Africa, you see the difference. Players in Mozambique have built big houses, because they know they can't throw money anyhow. They are God-fearing. Their families are happy and they are living a good life."

It's clear in the way Nyirenda speaks that Baroka have someone special at the helm and that it could be another remarkable season.

"I'm on a two-year contract with an option to renew. I love the place. I love the people here. Depending on how we move on, I think it would be good to get the Baroka empire together and see where we can end.

"My belief is that wherever I go, I know it is the will of God to cross paths with any new person in my life. And when that happens, I always cherish the relationship.

"The job is there and I have to do the job, but if my works are not needed it does not mean the relationship has to end. If ever my services are ended, I will leave with a lot of peace and a lot of love because I have gained one thing, which is the relationship with the people I have found here. That relationship has to go on because God will never cross two people's paths for nothing."

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