The Sunday Mail
YVES BISSOUMA’S multi-million-pound transfer deal might have happened a thousand miles from Zimbabwe, but the Malian midfielder’s move in the English Premiership has sent local football experts on another soul-searching exercise.
Bissouma recently moved from Brighton to London side Tottenham in a £25 million-pound deal, just over five years after featuring for Mali at the 2016 African Nations Championships in Rwanda.
Zimbabwe’s Warriors were in the same group with Mali and Bissouma actually featured in the Eagles’ 1-0 victory over Kalisto Pasuwa’s men in Rubavu on January 23, 2016.
While Bissouma has flourished, establishing himself in France where he went just five months after that CHAN tournament, before moving to the English Premiership, none of the Warriors he played against went beyond South Africa, except for goalkeeper Tatenda Mkuruva, who is playing in some league in the United States.
Ocean Mushure, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Lawrence Mhlanga, Stephen Makatuka, Ronald Chitiyo, Farai Madhanaga, Nqobizitha Masuku, Marshal Mudehwe, Roderick Mutuma and Edmore Chirambadare started for Zimbabwe in that 1-0 defeat to Bissouma’s Mali. Mushure faded in Zambia, Makatuka has disappeared off the radar, Masuku is still at Highlanders while Mutuma has since retired.
Chirambadare, Zvirekwi and Chitiyo are now playing lower league football.
“I remember he (Bissouma) was good but he was still not very mature,” recalls Zvirekwi, who won the local Soccer Star of the Year award that same year.
“Sometimes it’s about the links in West Africa which keep helping those boys to go far with football.
“You will find that we even have better talent here in Zimbabwe but movement of our players is limited because we do not have proper connections, no strong links,” argues Zvirekwi. Zimbabwe has only four players in the world’s top leagues with Marvelous Nakamba and Jordan Zemura playing for English Premiership while Marshal Munetsi and Tino Kadewere are in French Ligue 1.
The 26-year-old Munetsi is currently inked with Brighton, as a direct replacement for Bissouma.
Nonetheless, Zimbabwe has not been a significant exporter of players to top European leagues.
Peter Ndlovu was the first African to play in the EPL in 1992, but 30 years later, only three Zimbabweans — Bruce Grobbelaar, Benjani Mwaruwari and Nakamba, have featured in the English top-flight.
Zemura is set to become the fifth, with newly promoted AFC Bournemouth.
According to a 2021 research by respected auditors KPMG, over 500 African players are playing in European leagues.
“African footballers are contracted by these clubs’ first teams in the 11 leagues, which constitutes approximately 6 percent of their total player-base.
“Unsurprisingly, most of them come from West-African countries,” reads part of the November 2021 report dubbed “The African Power in Europe”.
Senegal, Morocco and Nigeria produce the highest number of players in European leagues, with 62, 55 and 54 players respectively, as of November 23, 2021.
Others are Cote d’Ivoire (50), Ghana (46), Algeria (32), Mali (32), Cameroon ((28), DR Congo (23) and Guinea (13).
Why has Zimbabwe failed to produce players who fit the bill?
Local experts have varying reasons for this.
“At the end of the day, the products which we produce are in tandem with the resources we invest when these players are juniors,” reckons Rodwell Dhlakama, who is famous for grooming the likes of Knowledge Musona, George Chigova and Khama Billiat.
“When the scouts look for players, they are looking for players who are properly developed in certain positions.
“Player development needs what we call progress evaluation of a player where we are basically looking at the player’s profile in terms of his progress, his weaknesses, his strengths and the like.
“But, what affects that player’s development is the way he is groomed.
“We don’t have structures to properly develop players.
“That’s why CAF now insist on proper football stadiums, they want to see if we are using the right equipment for the players.
“FIFA and CAF understand that the training methods and even the surface where we train also affects the players.
“But we are like amateurs or semi-professionals, because when you look at the amount of money that is injected in our league, it’s mockery on its own.
“That hampers development in so many ways.
“You talk about nutrition; the players are not properly developed physically,’’ Dhlakama said.
“You also talk about the psychologists to equip the players in terms of their attitude for them to understand and appreciate the sport.
“Even the time we put in training for our juniors is not enough. We are not looking at the finer details, what is needed at that level for a player to properly develop.
“Imagine you are coaching in the PSL and you get a player who played as a defender when he was a junior then he played in Division One as a midfielder, now he is trying his luck at ZPC Kariba as a striker.
“Yet he is no longer a young player. It is at junior level where we try players at different positions until we get a position where we say we are going to prepare you in this role.
“When you go out there they look at a lot of components of the game. If they see that you lack a certain component they won’t take you.
“We don’t have proper structures, we don’t have a curriculum that we draw the syllabuses that will be followed by all those in football in the country so that when we talk of Zimbabwean football it will have an identity,” said Dhlakama.
Seasoned junior football coach Lloyd Chigowe argues that Zimbabwe has “a lot of raw talent but lacks proper development organisation.
“It is unfortunate our level of organisation leaves a lot to be desired, in as far as junior football development is concerned,’’ he said.
The former Dynamos coach believes the majority of talent is marginalised.
“As it stands Zimbabwe junior football development league has set up structures countrywide after realising that we are marginalising 80 percent of our people in terms of development.
“Harare, Bulawayo and some urban centres have been continuously churning out talent.
“I would want to believe that if we are to take football seriously as a sport, let’s take it to all the corners of the country.
“That means we will have an avalanche of talent.
“If you look at Sadio Mane he is from the rural areas of Senegal but he got a chance and he is now playing at the highest level.
“Marvelous Nakamba is from Hwange and he got an opportunity. So why is it that we are trying to marginalise the greater majority of our people? Chigowe said.
“Why is it that there are people who want to marginalise the Zimbabwe Junior Football League which has been launched specifically to ensure that we go as far as Mbire, we go as far as Nkayi and Tsholotsho.
“As a result of this marginalisation, we have a lot of players playing in the PSL who lack basics because they came from remote areas.
“What is shining is their natural talent, but they lack the finesse which can take them into Belgium which is the entry point and ultimately England, France and Germany.”
Wieslaw Grabowski, who has scouted and exported a number of players to Poland and other European leagues is advocating for a development system that has competent coaches.
“It’s nice to have junior coaches who understand how players are developed at a tender age in terms of technique and other essentials.
“But, I have realised in most cases we have coaches who are not equipped well enough so in the end we have been producing half-baked players, most of whom cannot go beyond South Africa,’’ Grabowski said.
Legends Academy coach, Farai Dhliwayo, feels local players do not have a “clear plan on how they see their careers progressing.”
“We probably had players as talented as Bissouma at CHAN 2016 but it is said that talent alone is not enough and this is the case with footballers who want to make it to the top.
“Coaches and clubs who select players without merit, believe in juju, practice age-cheating or participate in financial referee manipulation end up producing players who lack the qualities to compete internationally.
“As football developers we need to equip our players with the right qualities like character, work ethic and ambition to complement the talent they have in their legs.
“These are the requirements to make it to the top level,” Dhliwayo said.