The Sunday Mail
Langton Nyakwenda Sports Reporter
FOR the first time in 20 years, no one will be crowned Castle Lager Soccer Star of the Year when the annum comes to a close in December.
The 2020 Castle Lager Premier Soccer League would by now have been entering its home stretch had coronavirus not stalled the competition which was supposed to kick off in March.
Subsequently, the traditional Soccer Star of the Year banquet will not be held.
While the Soccer Star of the Year accolade is seen as an avenue for local players to make lucrative foreign moves, worryingly, no Zimbabwean winner of this gong has ever made it into European leagues for the past 14 years.
The last Soccer Star of the Year winner to make it into any European league was Clement Matawu, who moved to Poland after scooping the 2006 award.
In fact, only six Soccer Star of the Year winners have made it into Europe leagues after winning the prestigious award since the inception of the Premiership in 1993.
Inaugural winner Agent Sawu had stints in Switzerland with SC Kriens, FC Lucerne and Young Boys while 1994 king, Memory Mucherahowa, managed some cameo appearances in both Belgium and Argentina.
Zenzo Moyo (2000) made it into Cyprus while Energy Murambadoro (2003) and Cephas Chimedza (2004) had respectable stints in Israel and Belgium, respectively.
Matawu then went to Poland after shining for Motor Action in 2006.
Since then, no Soccer Star of the Year winner has found his way into Europe’s lucrative leagues.
Perhaps, Leeds-based Zimbabwean coach Philip Zulu summed up this predicament in his brutal assessment of 2014 winner Dennis Dauda’s failure to land a contract in Azerbaijan at the beginning of 2015.
After excelling on the domestic front, the former ZPC Kariba defender failed to make the grade at lowly Azerbaijani club Galaba, prompting criticism from Zulu, who argued that Dauda’s failure was a reflection of a national game on its knees.
“His (Dauda case) is not only about any individual, it’s a national thing, the football education system has failed Dauda, the sporting policy in this country has failed Dauda,” Zulu told The Herald in January 2015.
Five years later, there is still no Soccer Star of the Year from Zimbabwe who has made it into Europe.
At 31, it looks like Danny Phiri (2015 winner) will wind up his career in South Africa, where he turns out for Golden Arrows.
Hardlife Zvirekwi won it in 2016, but has remained stuck in the country while 2017 and 2018 winner Rodwell Chinyengetere even failed at Baroka FC before returning to FC Platinum last year.
Last season’s winner, Joel “Josta” Ngodzo, is now plying his trade with Buildcon in Zambia.
Former Dynamos coach Lloyd Mutasa is worried about the average age of recent Soccer Star of the Year winners.
Eight of the 10 players who won the top gong in the last decade were over 25 years old.
The youngest winner is Denver Mukamba, who claimed the 2012 award with DeMbare at the age of 20, after Mutasa introduced him into the top-flight as a teenager at Kiglon in 2011.
“I think it has been an element of not giving youngsters the chance to showcase talent at an earlier age and putting too much trust on experienced players.
“This then gives ageing players the chance to become Soccer Stars when they are on the wrong side of age. Chances of them being recruited in Europe become remote since European teams would want to get players mostly under the age of 23,” said Mutasa.
“The other thing is, are we getting all the basics right, technically, physically, psychologically and tactically? Is the right age doing the right things?
“We need to have national junior leagues that will motivate the boys from a tender age and start equipping them with the rigours of top-flight league football”.
Ngezi Platinum Stars coach, Rodwell Dhlakama, who is renowned for unearthing gems like Knowledge Musona, believes the local football system is not well equipped to produce players who can make it in Europe.
Musona, who is now based in Belgium, Marvelous Nakamba (Aston Villa), Marshal Munetsi (Reims) and Tino Kadewere (Lyon) are the some of the few Zimbabweans playing in respectable European leagues.
They are all not past winners of the Soccer Star of the Year award, but they benefited immensely from local academies.
“Most of the local clubs do not have structures and clearly defined curriculum for players to follow.
“Players aren’t fully developed technically, tactically, physiologically and socially to meet the standards in Europe and other places,” said Dhlakama, a former national Under-17 coach.
“This makes it difficult if not impossible to compete with players from Europe and other places.
“We don’t have viable academies. The few we have can’t meet half the standards of modern-day football.
“Football has become scientific the world over. And we don’t seem to move along with the modern world. Players aren’t exposed at a young age to high performance training and proper nutrition to develop from an early age.
“Schools football isn’t as competitive and intact as it was before. The passion and desire to excel is also lacking in players and coaches.
“Appointment of coaches at various levels isn’t done on merit, but on regional basis and this compromises selection of talent”.
Former CAPS United defender, Charles Manjera, who now runs Dreamers Academy in Chitungwiza, thinks the weakness lies in marketing and failure by clubs to foster “twinning arrangements” with European clubs.
“Our football needs aggressive marketing. It needs to be packaged more professionally to attract good teams.
“We need most of our clubs to have twinning arrangements with European clubs. We need most of our teams going on tours in Europe through these partnerships so that players get used to the conditions there.
“Players must also be worked on rigorously on their professional behaviour off the field. Above all, everything comes back to the player if he has the desire to go an extra mile alone like visiting the gym or doing aerobics on his own.
“Diet has also become important. Players must know what to eat so that they have the right physical state,” Manjera said.
BN Academy director and Zimbabwe Soccer Coaches Association chairperson Bheki Nyoni urged player agents to be more vigilant when it comes to linking players with foreign clubs.
“The movement of players depends on the agents who handle them. At times the age of the Soccer Star also comes into play in determining what happens next.
“Marketing of our games also comes into play. Our local games are not watched live on many platforms across the globe,” Nyoni said.
But there is no doubting the failure of the Soccer Stars to excel beyond the domestic front has been a major cause for concern.