ERIC Rosen, who died in Harare aged 69, had qualities lacking in most Zimbabwean football administrators – a clear vision, philosophy and assuredness.
Motor Action Football Club, which he co-owned with wife Liz, was more than just a football club. It was an academy in its own right, an institution with which he envisioned to revolutionise Zimbabwean football and produce quality, well-coached footballers for the country.
Win or lose, at Motor Action, a club the Rosens acquired in 2000 from the ashes of Blackpool FC, football was supposed to be played in a certain way.
They taught football there. It was supposed to be structured, and players had to apply most of the tactics they worked on during training sessions.
To achieve this, Rosen adopted unique scientific-based coaching methods and a professional model of running the club, something unseen to Zimbabwean football around that time at the turn of the millennium.
When they initially made its entrance into Zimbabwe’s Premier Soccer League, the club look destined for years of mid-table obscurity, or even worse with relegation a real possibility.
But even in those early days, the philosophy and the passing style of football, as well as the purity of intent, was still obvious. It was very clear that there was something special going at the club, and players were certainly buying into the concept.
It was clear also, as the club owner, what Rosen wanted from his team. He probably saw his team as the local version of Barcelona, the Spanish and European giants who have changed the way people play and view football forever.
Dynamos demolition job
After five years of PSL football, the club’s real potential started to emerge. Nothing better represented that emergence of a new force in the Zimbabwean game than the 5-0 demolition of giants Dynamos in the very first game of the 2005 season.
In search of elusive league glory, Rosen, a businessman who had made a fortune in the motor vehicle industry, put together, that season, an expensively-assembled team that was the envy of even the country’s leading clubs.
Coach Rahman Gumbo had arrived with an impressive resume and a well-earned reputation as a two-time title winner with Highlanders – and pundits were quickly talking of Motor Action as one of the championship favourites.Advertisement
I vividly remember that annihilation of Dynamos at Rufaro Stadium 11 years ago. I was then a young reporter on the Zimbabwe Independent, and Lloyd Mutungamiri, the Sports Editor of my employers’ sister paper, Standard, had asked me to cover the game for them.
I sat with Mutungamiri in the VIP section at Rufaro as Motor Action ripped the record Zimbabwean champions apart with a devastating brand of fast, attacking football – and I remember my senior colleague next to me, in the typical old-school humour of his, advising me to stay strong and focused in spite of my supposed fondness for Dynamos.
It was a painful football lesson for DeMbare by the ambitious young club, totally and mercilessly torn to shreds by a 90-minute non-stop blitz of fluid attacking football, clearly a match-day display of well-worked training ground drills and countless hours of hard work during the off-season.
For me, right-back Edward Tembo – recruited from Bulawayo’s Railstars and who would go on to become one of the club’s longest-serving players and deservedly honoured for it three years ago – was the most outstanding player on the park that Saturday afternoon.
In addition to his defensive duties, Tembo was almost unplayable down the right channel, in a display reminiscent of some of the world’s best attacking wing-backs such as the Brazilians Roberto Carlos and Dani Alves.
With his pace and strength, Tembo, time and time again, gave rookie Dynamos left-back Elias Makako a torrid time every time he flew forward. That nightmarish afternoon made poor Makako a figure of contempt and scorn among Dynamos fans, and probably fast-tracked his exit from the Harare giants.
To cap a brilliant afternoon, Tembo was among the five scorers for Motor Action, with Edmore Mufema, Salimu Milanzi, Musa Mguni and Dabwitso Nkhoma also adding their names onto the scoresheet.
Though not among the scorers, another star performer on the afternoon was Motor Action attacking midfielder Clemence Matawu, whose overall showing that season would set the tone for him being crowned the country’s finest footballer the following year.
Champions in ten years
They say hard work is always rewarded. Five years later, a dream finally manifested and Motor Action’s fullest potential was realised, being crowned Zimbabwe’s champions 10 years after the club’s formation, following a stellar season.
Guided by coach Joey Antipas and powered by the league’s player-of-the-year, Charles Sibanda, Motor Action edged out nearest rivals Dynamos to experience the sweat taste of glory for the first time – a manifestation of a decade of astute administration, good coaching and adherence to professional standards.
But Motor Action would soon fall victim of Zimbabwe’s worsening economic situation. Unable to still finance the club soundly, Motor Action lost a lot of players and were duly relegated in 2013 with proprietor Rosen admitting bankrolling the team in that environment had taken huge toll on him and his family.
Following relegation in 2013, the club went into a mothball, failing to participate in the second-tier Division One competition and confirming the demise of an admirable and noble individual effort to bring Zimbabwean football at par with the best in Africa.
He might have tragically succumbed to a heart attack on Sunday, but in life, Rosen had a never-say-die spirit.
Even when it was clear Motor Action were teetering on the brink of relegation in 2013 and facing the grim possibility of extinction, the club had gone back to its founding principles, giving opportunity to young, gifted players to showcase their talents.
Unable to retain experienced players due to cash-flow problems, Motor Action went into some kind of partnership with the famed Aces Youth Academy, in a deal which saw apprentices from the Harare football school filling in, whilst at the same time getting an early opportunity to play top-flight football.
I had the opportunity, while visiting relatives in Mutare that season, to catch a Mbada Diamonds Cup knock-out match between the youthful team and CAPS United at Sakubva Stadium.
It didn’t take time for Motor Action to turn on the style with a brand of passing, entertaining football so good on the eye it charmed even the majority CAPS supporters inside Sakubva. They lost the match to a much experienced CAPS side after a penalty shootout, and were also relegated from the PSL at the end of the season.
Not quite the saint
Two years after his beloved club disappeared from the scene under that heavy cloud, Rosen has died of a heart attack.
But maybe the turnaround of things, when he realised his vision had collapsed, when he realised the demise of a football project he had so dedicated his life to and cost him quite a personal fortune, also weighed heavily on Rosen in his last days.
Yet Rosen was not exactly a Saint.
He was not always the same man in private as he was when the spotlight was on, susceptible to sudden bursts of rage on occasions.
Rosen was twice in 2004 and 2005 embroiled in two different racism controversies.
The most prominent incident was when he was accused of racially-abusing referee Ronald Mwanjira during his team’s match against Masvingo United in Mutare in 2005, calling the whistleman a “baboon”.
Rosen’s horrible slur was never proven to have been uttered, but all the same, it was very disappointing and hurtful to imagine that a man who had done so much for the greater good of a game played and administered wholly by his black countrymen, could be capable of such primitive prejudice.
Abuse of football referees by fans, players and officials is rampant across the world, with the worst imaginable slurs – like their wives and mothers being called women of questionable sexual morals – being hurled at the men in the middle, sometimes within earshot of their children and families.
From that angle, it would make “baboon”, as Rosen allegedly called Mwanjira, slightly acceptable in a game notorious for short-tempers and frustration in the heat of the moment.
But then again, the historical derogatory background of that term in pre-colonial Zimbabwe, where it was used to racially demean a race in a country the coloured community was classified as above the indigenous ethnic blacks, is a dent on Eric Rosen’s repute during his lifetime.
The one thing that cannot be questioned, though, is that Rosen was a giant in Zimbabwean football, and his legacy shall live on.