Football philosophies: Does Zimbabwe have one?

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“WITH regards to Zimbabwe Football, we don’t seem to have our own style and we have borrowed from abroad without seeming to decide what suits us … Chapungu under Lovemore Nyabeza had the Waka-Waka style, they played one or two passes in their half before lumping it forward to Nkulumo ‘Daidzavamwe’ Donga or Maxwell ‘Marhino’ to do the rest,” said one Garaba.
At one point Ashton “Papa” Nyazika is claimed to have said, “I just tell Stix, Joe and Stan to pass to Shackie and we will win.” This was during his coaching days at Caps United before he moved to Black Rhinos.
These assertions set me thinking and I set out to research what Zimbabwe’s style is hence this article. When one thinks of football styles or philosophies as most football commentators are prone to say, a number of nations cross the mind. They range from the “Joga–Bonito” of Brazil loosely translated as the “Beautiful Game”, a term popularised in the book ‘My life and the beautiful game, Pele’ [2007]. This style places emphasis on individual skills and attacking flair.
One is reminded of the Brazil team which captured the hearts and minds of football fans at the 1982 world cup tournament in Spain, with Zico, Socrates and Careca all producing scintillating individual performances. One can also talk about the German style with its emphasis on a well-drilled technical team which is efficient in achieving results. The German style is about efficiency.
Then one can also talk about the much lauded “Tiki-Taka”; this is the buzz-word in football parlance these days. This style emphasises possession above everything else and seeks to win matches by starving the opposition of the ball. The success of Barcelona and Spain in the recent past has led to every team seeking to adapt this style. The Italian style, the “Catennacio” loosely translated as the door bolt, places strong emphasis on defence and denying the opposition opportunities.
According to Football Bible [retrieved 2015.04.25], this style is premised on the idea that if the opponents cannot score a goal, they cannot win. The newsletter asserts that this system was developed by Karl Rappan, an Australian coach but made popular by Argentinian coach Helenio Herrera who used it successfully with Inter in the 60s. Many Italian teams adopted it and it became the Italian national team philosophy but of late modern thinkers regard it as obsolete; no team uses the extra defender any more known as the libero or sweeper.Advertisement

“Total Football” is another philosophy which many teams, especially the Dutch, have tried to use. Started by Rinis Michels the Dutch coach, it had in Johan Cruyf one its strongest adherents who had this to say about the system, “Attackers can play as defenders and defenders as attackers, everyone can play everywhere. Rotation of positions is the key to this philosophy and it served as the template for the development of “Tiki-Taka”.
Closer to home, South Africa came up with “Shoe-Shine Piano”, a system described as township soccer whose template is short intricate passes and individual brilliance. Its main proponent was former national coach “Screamer” Tshabalala.
All these styles have met with varying degrees of success and, needless to say, Zimbabwe has jumped from one style to another. Garaba, quoted above, seems to have given a damning assessment but I think it is possible to argue for a Zimbabwe style.
To achieve this, I will look at the strengths of the players which if properly harnessed can lead to the development of a unique football identity for the nation. It is also paramount to have a think-tank of former players, coaches, pundits, administrators and football scholars to sit down and come up with a template on football development.
We’ve basics right
As a starting point, let me say that Zimbabwean players have the basics right; basics such as ball control and passing. Even defenders can control and pass the ball; players like Ephraim Chawanda, Francis Shonhayi, and James Takavada come to mind. This is derived from years of playing on the streets or bumpy pitches. All over the country, young boys can be seen horning their skills on the dusty streets or football pitches. This means that their dribbling and ball control develops from an early age under difficult conditions.
It should therefore follow that coaches have players whose ball control and passing cannot be faulted. To succeed at the top, ball control is paramount. The other day, Chris Bascombe, a Telegraph football correspondent was purring about the ball control abilities of Jack Grealish, the young Aston Villa midfielder who had played a blinder against Liverpool in the F.A. cup. He said, ”There was one piece of skill when he took a high ball on his instep-that was pure class”. While I appreciate this praise, let me say that this is nothing new for any Zimbabwean football fan. Masters of the ball control who come to mind are Stix Mtizwa, Moses Chunga, Willard Khumalo, Ronald Sibanda and Archford Chimutanda. Ball control allows a player more time to make a decision and Zimbabwe is blessed in this area and hence our football philosophy should incorporate this attribute in football education.
Zimbabwe has always produced top defenders, the likes of Fresh Chamarenga, Shadreck Ngwenya, Ephert Lungu to mention a few. The added bonus of Zimbabwe football is that it has produced attacking defenders, players like Oliver Kateya, Mercedes Sibanda and Paul Gundani, to name few. It can be argued that for Zimbabwe it is possible to play from the back with the use of wingbacks, a concept which is not new considering that we have always had overlapping defenders. The argument therefore is not about reinventing the wheel, but simply identifying the strength and harnessing them to develop a football style for the nation.
Zimbabwe has never had a shortage of mid-fielders; I think this is one of the strongest areas of the national game. Great midfielders have graced the national game, the likes of Moses Chunga, Stix Mtizwa, George Shaya, Willard Khumalo – it is a long list. These players had all the attributes – ball control, vision and passing ability. The country has always produced midfield magicians and geniuses and hence creativity should not be a problem in any system agreed upon.
In addition, the country has always produced wingers who could create goals through dribbling, pace and crossing ability. I have in mind players like Stanley Ndunduma, Edward Katsvere, Madinda Ndlovu and Peter Ndlovu, again the list is long. These players had an assortment of skills which reflect a common trend, pace and dribbling skills. Masters of the dribble include Vitalis Takavira and Boy Ndlovu, and the system must take cognisance of these strengths in the national game.
But we cannot talk about football style without accepting that the game is about scoring games and in this department Zimbabwe has a niche of producing top strikers. The likes of Shacky Tauro, Gift Mpariwa, Peter Nyama and Adam Ndlovu come to mind. The football philosophy should incorporate this trend in the national game and remind the current players of this national ability.
A quick look at the past teams tell a story; for example Zimbabwe Saints perfected the pass and move style, almost like Tiki Taka; Highlanders have always played at a high tempo with width, trickery and pace while Dynamos are renowned for their passing and attacking prowess and the same can be said of Caps United. From these examples one can identify a pattern, close ball control, pace, trickery, width and attack and hence a national philosophy should capture these attributes.
Junior football development
To develop a football style, it is important to involve teachers in junior football development. Teachers who spend the early years with the young should be empowered with coaching skills up to, at least, a level two certificate. This will encourage a more informed approach to coaching at schools level – catch them young is the adage. I have attended football matches only to hear a teacher call out “Bhora muhondo” or “Bhora kumberi”, literally translated as “Kick it forward”. This is bad football education from an early age and this can be eradicated.
With more teachers empowered, a national philosophy will begin to take shape and this will be replicated at national level. The Germans are on record as having adopted this, hence their success. A national junior league should be the ultimate goal; Ben Koufie the former Ghananian national coach had this vision but it was never implemented. His recommendations are gathering dust somewhere.
It is a good thing that coaches now have to be qualified to work in the league, they follow a given curriculum. Academies are also coming to the fore and that is a good thing. However they should be monitored at national level and follow a set curriculum. Academies should be treated as schools, their curriculum should be monitored. This allows the development of the type of player and playing style that Zimbabwe needs.
I hear that Zimbabwe want to appoint Kalisto Pasuwa as national coach. This I think this is a good move because a local coach knows the strengths of the national game and will develop a style to suit the players. In Zimbabwe’s short history, we have been through coaches from all over the world. We have had a Polish, a Ghananian, a German, Dutch national, British, Brazilian and, add to that, local coaches and one can begin to understand the lack of clarity on style.
It is my hope that Zimbabwe can develop her own football philosophy or style; it will be a proud day when one day we can speak of a Zimbabwe style just as we speak of the much lauded “Tiki-Taka” or “Joga Bonito”. Ideas can be borrowed and football is a universal language but the end product should be our own.