The Sunday Mail
George Mbwando may have stirred up a hornet’s nest when he rallied current and ex-footballers to look beyond their playing careers and plan their future, but the Germany-based former Zimbabwe international has received huge backing for his bold assertions.
Mbwando recently told former players that their ex-clubs had no obligation to look after them at the end of their careers, and those that did so would largely be acting out of compassion.
“There is a certain time when you are playing football, you would think things would stay good forever. Every footballer knows what I am trying to say. When you are still playing, you are the darling of everyone and life is different, you get pats on your shoulder, everyone knows you and everyone wants to associate with you.
“In most cases, players will be earning more than a normal worker almost everywhere, but a football career is very short and it can end anytime. It takes an injury in training and everything is over; if you are lucky, nothing happens until the end of your career,’’ warned Mbwando in one of his social media posts.
The former Warriors defender, who played domestic Premiership football for the now-defunct Blackpool before moving to Germany, also bemoaned the stigmatisation of ex-players, which forced some to disappear from the radar.
“Most former footballers go into hiding after their careers because if you are not playing anymore, people forget you very fast, which is very normal.
“Our society is also to blame, because everyone would want to know how we are living . . . mostly people would want to criticise your new life; because of this, former players lose this connection back to the society . . . That is (the reason) why you do not see a lot of players on social media, because of fear of being judged.”
He gave the example of former Warriors coach Charles Mhlauri who was reportedly derided “for selling eggs” despite the fact that he is running “a very successful chicken farm in Bulawayo selling up to 30 000 eggs daily”.
Many players, he added, simply retreat from the public eye for fear of being unfairly judged.
Mbwando also spoke of ex-players who have a false sense of entitlement.
“I always read stories back home that when a former footballer dies, there is always an outcry that teams are neglecting their former players who die in poverty.
“If a contract ends on June 30 or the 1st of July, the club has nothing to do with you anymore. Reality . . . how can a club in Zimbabwe help a former team legend when they are struggling to help those that are playing now?
“Former players need to change their mindset and know if I am not offering the club anything anymore, why should I expect anything?”
He urged players to tap into the potential inherent in their popularity as former players.
“I had to go back to school at 40 and study for three years, which was not easy considering doing everything in German language and family commitments, but it worked and I reconnected with the society, and I do not hide from anyone now that I exchanged my boots for spanners as a technical engineer, doing things I never thought I would, and it is a lot of fun doing something different in an oil refinery because I changed my mindset,” Mbwando said.
His views are shared by ZIFA technical director Wilson Mutekede, former Dynamos captain Edward Sadomba — who hung up his boots at the end of the 2019 season — and ex-Warriors gaffer Charles Mhlauri.
“What George wrote was very informative and educative, where somebody who has seen everything and played through all levels and understood that there are levels at which one can claim benefits.
“You can never go back to an institution simply because you played or performed for it and demand that they take care of your welfare long after you have left. Yes, what they owe is some respect,” Mutekede said.
He said ZIFA, PSL and clubs need to find ways of accrediting ex-players and ensure easy access to football matches for them.
Sadomba, who says he was inspired by former Dynamos star striker Tauya Murewa since his childhood days in Mbare, believes players should emulate success stories locally and abroad.
“My advice is sport careers are very short . . . only the grace of God can sustain our longevity. I was a kid, but I learnt from ‘Doctor’ Murewa that in life there must be many sources of income during and after (a player’s) career. Other examples are Sebastian Mutizirwa, Peter Kachirika, who are prosecutors; Heath Streak doing well in farming; Charles Mhlauri; and abroad, Wade Davis, a baseball player, is a farmer. In DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), Robert Kidiaba (former TP Mazembe goalkeeper) is now a member of parliament, just to mention a few.
“So we can do more while still playing. I am also into farming . . . the most important thing is for people to unite and help and support each other in different professions,’’ Sadomba said.
Mhlauri, who led CAPS United to rare back-to-back league titles and guided the Warriors to the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, said the issue was not peculiar to local players.
“Zimbabwe is not unique to this problem. Across the Limpopo there are well-documented cases that include Philemon Masinga, Steve Lekoelea and Jabu Mahlangu. Some recover, some do not.
“Out of respect, I will not name any of our players that have gone down the road and ended up in sorry states. We cannot blame the clubs; however, we have to look at the system and see how it can be improved,” he said.
“Ronaldinho entered stardom at the age of 14. Therein lies the problem, for most of our stars enter the bubble too young and innocent.”
The seasoned gaffer said it was unfortunate that top clubs like Dynamos, Highlanders and CAPS United often get the stick “for not looking after their former players or legends during their retirement’’.
“The playing window is tiny and can be even shorter in case of an injury. This can be about five to 10 years playing at the professional level. This means whatever the player earns has to look after him for the rest of his life. That is not being realistic.
“Once the contract is over, clubs close the door behind you and move on. This is understandably difficult to understand and process. At the onset, it appears very cruel, especially for some of our players who will have given the club their entire life and, in the process, helped achieve so much. The sad truth is that the clubs have no other obligations outside of the contract of employment. Please note, I used employment, as the club employs the players. This is an employment contract. All rules apply.”
“The problem here,” Mhlauri added, “is that players earn a lot too soon after leaving high school.”
“They reach their peak salary too quickly too early. The career is usually over before the player can even formulate a retirement plan, with no proper budget; some are still in their parents’ houses or rented houses when the career ends. They do not have appropriate financial guidance and most clubs do not provide much other than the team doctor and the physiotherapist.”
Players often lose sight of the big picture, he said.
“They want to live a flashy life, which will be problematic when they retire. The bar is already low as the player’s target becomes to win the championship and, in the process, losing sight of the bigger picture – his final destination. More money is spent celebrating victories than planning for the future. While a player’s attention is always on the next game, life is all about long-term planning, and that creates a problem. Players cannot generally see things that far if not properly advised.”