The Sunday Mail
Tadious Manyepo in KIGALI, Rwanda
WARRIORS midfielder Marshall Munetsi is the only one not in awe of young James Makoni, and it is understandable given their history.
The Reims midfielder knows Makoni like the back of his hand, as the two were both nurtured at Friendly Academy.
They were also very good friends.
Munetsi was the workhorse and Makoni stood out for his passionate work ethic.
While Munetsi kept his eyes on the ball and eventually broke into the Orlando Pirates setup, before eventually moving to France, Makoni decided to pursue coaching.
At the age of 16, he was already a volunteer coach with the MK Dons juniors in the United Kingdom.
Along the way, he decided to incorporate analysis into his portfolio.
His CV is so good that his services have been enlisted by some big-name players in the world, including France legend Patrice Evra.
He has also been called up as the Warriors’ performance analyst.
“To tell you the truth, Makoni had unrivalled passion for the game while we were growing up in the Friendly Academy setup,” said Munetsi.
“I am not surprised with how he has grown to become one of the youngest performance analysts in national team setups across the globe.
“He could have become a very good player as well had he decided to pursue the playing route. But all the same, he is doing a fantastic job here.”
The United Arab Emirates-based Makoni was headhunted by ZIFA.
Warriors coach Baltemar Brito endorsed him upon going through his CV.
Brito, as it turns out, was spot on.
Zimbabwe play Nigeria in a 2026 World Cup qualifier at Huye Stadium in Butare, some 126km from Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, this afternoon.
After playing out a goalless draw against Rwanda in the opening qualifier at the same venue, the Warriors will be hoping to pick their first set of maximum points against the Super Eagles in a match they will be the home team.
And Makoni is expected to play a key role in delivering the result for Zimbabwe.
He was actually vital in the match against Rwanda, as he provided key information on how the opponents play.
“Going into that match against Rwanda, we knew their defenders can easily commit fouls outside the box. As a result, our players applied a lot of pressure on the defence . . . and we won three free-kicks just outside the box,” said Makoni. I know I have a lot to learn, but we are confident the information we provide to our technical team can be of paramount importance.
“The goal is to make sure we serve our country with utmost love and do as much as we can to hoist the flag high.
“I am happy with the commitment we have shown as a team.
“Nigeria is a big team but we have to pay attention to these small details, as they make a big difference.”
While doing wonders at MK Dons, Makoni was lured by Dubai-based Gulf United to take charge of their Under-12 team five years ago.
During his spell with the Gulf United development teams, he enrolled for football analysis and scouting, and he has already attained Level 3.
He worked with Newcastle coach Eddie Howe in the English Premier League while on his attachment last season.
With him being part of the team of analysts at Newcastle, the side managed to nail a UEFA Champions League spot.
“I learnt a lot under Eddie Howe. The setup is very professional and you get to discover a lot in terms of how football should be played,” Makoni added. I am very happy to have been part of that technical setup that helped Newcastle to a Champions League slot.”
Soon after his incredible experience at Newcastle, he returned to his club, Gulf United, in the UAE top-flight, where he is now an analyst for the first team.
With Swansea City and Wales great Neil Taylor in the cockpit, Gulf United won the league title, and Makoni’s popularity is growing by the day.
“I love the game and I am always trying to be better every day. The hope is to help Zimbabwe qualify for the World Cup in 2026 now,” he said.
In a country where performance analysis, which is now integral to the game, has never been taken seriously, maybe the incorporation of Makoni could be the game changer.
At least Kudzi Chitima — the ZIFA FIFA forwarding manager and a performance analyst of note himself — will make sure this box is always ticked for the benefit of the nation.