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It couldn’t have ended any other way

How Pasuwa let himself and everyone down

Woefully out of his depth? ... Zimbabwe coach Kalisto Pasuwa (right)

27/01/2017 00:00:00
by Enock Muchinjo
Zimbabwe coach Kalisto Pasuwa
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THE fairytale was unfolding nicely.

In typical Zimbabwean style, all-round optimism was in the air. You could hear that familiar hopeful inner voice say: “Ignore all the nonsense, and hope for the best!”

As excitement built across the nation and sports bars filled up hours before the first game against Algeria – expectations lifted by a generation of footballers the local media had dubbed a “golden generation” – Zimbabwe could not distantly remember her people more united under a single cause.

In every Zimbabwean football diehard there was faith that in spite of everything, this could be the turnaround of things.  

It just had to have a happy ending. Sadly, it didn’t.

And now there are lots of questions that need to be answered.                  

A postmortem of Zimbabwe’s show at the Africa Cup of Nations can best be narrowed down to on-field and off-field factors, and all the little things in between.

For the immediate concern of this article – but only for the simple assumption that the corporate governance inadequacy we so often decry is well known – I shall for now concentrate on the on-field stuff.

First, the coach; to me the most important on-field aspect that needs to be addressed.

Before I offer my most humble take on Kalisto Pasuwa’s performance, let me first acknowledge that here is a man who had odds stacked high against him all the time and, in truth, never had the confidence of everyone from the beginning.

Professional sport is cruel and its fans (including us journalists) are a fickle lot. Had Pasuwa been successful, he would have of course been feted as a national treasure and superhero.

But if he failed, then he is a poor coach.

The latter happened and Pasuwa is now dismissed as a poor tactician. The latter assertion is what I’m going with, and I will not run away a bit from the fact that I would also have been one of those showering Pasuwa with praise had he succeeded in Gabon. But let’s face it – chance of that happening was never really there.  


Khama Billiat

Pasuwa’s technical deficiency at this level of the game had been the subject of much scrutiny well before the Africa Cup of Nations, and if one examines the facts and records, it’s an argument that had meat on the bone.

Having dominated local football in Zimbabwe by winning four straight league titles with Dynamos, Pasuwa’s tactical frailties would be brutally exposed in the African Champions League, where he was never able to beat any of the stronger clubs on the continent. Twice under Pasuwa’s stewardship, Dynamos meekly tumbled out of the Champions League in the early stages.

A further argument against Pasuwa is his failure in the regional Southern African competition, the Cosafa Cup, and the home-based African Nations Championship (Chan) where even the much-vilified Ian Gorowa had made Zimbabwe dare to dream by taking the Warriors as far as the semi-finals.

So against this background, what was there to be done ahead of the Afcon? Replace Pasuwa, or keep him and appoint someone on top of him as a technical advisor? The latter sentiment did crop up several times before the Africa Cup of Nations, but it seems no one was brave enough to make the move.

Surely, who would even dare touch him! Pasuwa had been the first coach in a decade to take Zimbabwe to the Africa Cup of Nations finals. And that no one can take away from him.

Appoint someone ahead of Pasuwa? NOO!

Let Pasuwa enjoy the fruits of his labour. Let him have his cake and eat it.

In leadership you stop to think, then make decisions for the greater good.

Misleading qualification campaign

A situation analysis would have given key technical pointers and raised critical questions ahead of the Warriors’ Gabon campaign.

For example, would under the circumstances in which our real biggest threat in qualification, Guinea, were clearly not at their best, where Swaziland was not good enough in the end despite punching above their weight in the campaign, where Malawi were poor as they often are – any other coach than Pasuwa not made Zimbabwe qualify?

You could also take at a closer analysis of the results from the qualification campaign to build a solid argument; three wins, two draws and a defeat for the Warriors. Two of the three wins were against no-hopers Malawi, who we’d beaten on home turf even after the Warriors arrived weary by bus midnight before the match, and a 3-0 stroll in the park in Harare.

A captain's despair ... Zimbabwe skipper Willard Katsande (right)

The other win was another one-sided affair at home against a Swaziland outfit that has in recent times shown signs of improvement, but, with all due respect, are yet to fully emerge from their lightweight stages of African football.

The fact that Guinea were able to take four points off Zimbabwe – never mind that we’d already qualified with a game to spare by the time the West Africans beat the Warriors 1-0 in the final qualification game in Conakry – is still a blot on Pasuwa’s record against good quality opposition.

Yet with this kind of record, Pasuwa still had an opportunity to redeem himself before Gabon. It was an opportunity spurned.

To start with, the make-up of the coach’s 23-man squad was pretty shocking. Seven strikers and five midfielders for a major tournament! Totally absurd.

No serious football coach has ever done that. What it did is that it left the Warriors grossly imbalanced in combinations and thin on midfield options - a critical area for any team in such a big tournament.

Poor squad selection

To me, it’s quiet clear that Pasuwa wasn’t prepared and bold enough to exclude from the final squad some of his favourite players, most of whom, it seems, are strikers. Tragically, those few bad selections terribly affected the whole chain and proved the Warriors’ downfall in Gabon. 

There’s nothing wrong with a coach insisting on players he feels loyal to him, players he can go to battle with and do the job for him.

But Pasuwa stubbornly refused to listen to clarion calls that he was never going to be vindicated by sticking with such players as Cuthbert Malajila and Nyasha Mushekwi, whose best days are clearly behind them. And for that Pasuwa must take full responsibility for single-handedly handicapping the team in Gabon.

It’s not just Malajila and Mushekwi who shouldn’t have been on that plane to Gabon in that bloated Warriors strike-force.

I’ve not seen much of Tino Kadewere, but colleagues who covered Zimbabwe’s training drills in Harare before the tournament spoke so excitedly of the young Sweden-based forward’s ability.

This is good. It means he’s one for the future. And he is going to become a better player if he keeps playing at that level of the game in the Swedish top-flight, if not even higher.

But that Kadewere never featured in all three pool games in Gabon means he was way down the pecking order in Pasuwa’s squad. So why select him, extra baggage, at the expense of a key midfield department that, as we all saw, was crying out for reinforcement and depth?

Where was the need for an another striker, worse a sixth or seventh one, when only one or two start a game at a time, and we all know four is the standard number in an entire tournament squad, and when you have also selected and classified as a midfielder someone like Khama Billiat who strives at club level in an upfront attacking role and is surely that extra striker that you need?

All totally irrelevant questions now that it’s over, so it would seem, but brush aside for a moment the familiar administrative incompetency in Zimbabwean football. A weak bench is one of the reasons the Warriors are back home earlier than we’d hoped.

And looking at the record of the man in charge, it cannot be inappropriate that Zimbabwe’s campaign ended that way.

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