Under-20 boys need help
Published On March 3, 2023 » 2819 Views» By Times Reporter » Columns, Sports
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SO MUCH has been said concerning the dismal performance and subsequent elimination of the Zambia Under-20 team from the on-going Egypt 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final tournament.
Emotions have been and still running high among football fans, administrators and government over what was witnessed in Egypt where the boys failed to win a single match after defeats against Tunisia and Gambia, and a draw against Benin.
While such a performance was a ‘disgrace’ as Sports Minister Elvis Nkandu put it, shaming the boys directly will not only demoralise them but bruise their egos and future ambitions.
Yes, we cannot and never should we celebrate such dismal shows but there is a lot involved in moulding a winning team.
Games are just but only a small fraction of the whole system. In fact matches are won way before they are played.
It is sad that a lot of negativity has been attributed to these young lads at the expense of offering solutions on what needs to be done for the team to recover from the trauma.
Some of these boys are still very young and will still be eligible to feature for the under-20 in the next two to three years. Bruising their self-esteem is not what they need, especially that most of them are aspiring to progress to the senior level.
It will take a bit of time and brave characters to recover from the bashing that is coming from all corners following their exit from the AFCON tournament.
Expectations were of course very high especially that the Junior Chipolopolo have been champions before and it is understood why tempers have been flaring since that fateful day when Tunisia hit the last nail to our boys’ coffin.
But the comments by the coach that some of the players had a low Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was somewhat too strong and unfair on the players he personally selected for the tournament.
Unless he meant that the locally based players’ IQ could not be compared to those playing in the foreign leagues as was the case with some of the opposition Zambia faced in Egypt.
Whatever he meant, the statement was too strong and demeaning. The coach’s choice of semantics will bring into question his and the technical bench’s own IQ levels. The technical beach had enough time to assess the players before the tournament and all these issues would have been pointed out and corrected way before their trip to Egypt.
Questioning the players’ IQ after their exit from the competition says much more about the technical bench than the players themselves, unless they had no hand in player selection.
The issue at hand is to probe why the team performed like that and whether the players picked were really the best Zambia could offer for such a huge national assignment.
In addition, there was ample time for the coaches to pick the best players Zambia could offer although going by the players selected, there is a unanimous national consensus that does not think so.
But without dwelling much on which players were picked from which side, we need to ask ourselves as to how much investment has been made at youth level, especially by clubs in the Super League and to some extent teams in the Division One.
Failure by the Chipolopolo to qualify for the AFCON coupled by Zambian club’s pathetic show in the CAF InterClubs Championship is a true reflection of the performance of the national Under-20 players.
The problem is bigger than it might look and the earlier this is realised the better because a good number of these players play for these teams struggling in the Super League as well as the Division One league including some academies.
Thus, as stated earlier, I feel the boys have suffered enough abuse and condemnation at the expense of the technical bench that made the selection.
The bench must take full responsibility for the disaster and to use an old but intelligent proverb, ‘It is a poor carpenter who blames his tools’.
These boys need counselling to recover from this disaster and how they can become better players because condemning them without offering solutions will not make the team improve but slide down further.
Signs were there before the AFCON got underway when the team endured defeats to Nigeria and Senegal in the friendly matches.
But sadly, someone somewhere opted to paint a very rosy picture and still send a team into a battle that was ill-equipped when the mistakes could have been corrected earlier. For comments email eliaschipepo@gmail.com

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