The question of whether Zambia has enough cash and other resources to employ an expatriate coach to train the National Team for Russia 2018 World Cup finals and beyond has returned to haunt the nation.
After 51 years of independence, does Zambia need the services of a foreign coach? If so what are the compelling reasons because local trainers have when given an opportunity proven that they are just as capable?
These are but just a few of the questions most people must be asking themselves following the announcement by the new Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) executive committee headed by Andrew Kamanga that the country is to hire an expatriate coach to replace George Lwandamina who has been recalled by his club, Zesco United.
Ideally Lwandamina should have been the right man for the job because from the time he took over from the interim trainer Honour Janza, the Zesco mentor has demonstrated that he possesses what it takes to handle the Chipolopolo boys.
Lwandamina took charge of the National Team last year after Janza was relieved of his duties by the old Kalusha Bwalya administration following a series of disappointing results, including failure to defend the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 2013 which Zambia had won for the first time the previous year.
Janza’s sudden removal was naturally greeted with protests and suspicions by people who felt that he had performed relatively well despite the odds. When French coach Herve Renard left after successfully piloting the Chipolopolo to that historic AFCON triumph against pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast in 2012, Janza, who had been his assistant, was named his successor but was never given a written contract by FAZ.
Be that as it may, I believe the former Chipolopolo coach raised important issues before he left the coaching chores for the technical bench (to which he was relegated. He said:
“Zambian football is sick and needs medicine, people can say things about me but I am ready to receive all the insults and criticism as long as the future of the Chipolopolo is bright.
“I believe in what we are doing as a technical bench, the restructuring process is very painful in any sector and it leaves many hurt because results are not immediate and others fail to understand the process until results are seen,” Janza added.
Now FAZ is interviewing five short-listed candidates for the post of full-time coach of the national team including former South African coach Gordon Igesund, Raoul Savoy and Sebastien Desabre.
Zambians will welcome anyone selected for the job as long as he is able to deliver the desired results. The only question is: do we have the money to pay a foreign coach because expatriate manpower does not come cheap?
Zambia has had running battles with foreign coaches over unpaid salaries, gratuities and other terminal benefits in the past. If the country can afford to hire one and be able to meet its obligations after the two to three-years contract, well and good.
What must be appreciated is the fact that the world seems to be experiencing a shortage of top notch coaches, if the movement of recycling coaches/trainers among clubs in Europe is anything to go by.
One, therefore, hopes that FAZ and other stakeholders have done their homework to avoid embarrassment in future.
Some people may argue that yesterday’s answers have lost their relevance, but I believe the next coach could learn much from what former Yugoslav coach Ante Buselic suggested at the end of his contract in Zambia – and which the in-coming mentor should note if the country is not to lag behind in soccer.
The new Chipolopolo mentor should not ignore rural areas because there are many highly talented young players who could prove useful to the National XI if identified and properly drilled by qualified personnel.
The other recommendation Buselic made was on the importance of having qualified coaches at club level in the country because club provide the reservoir of national team players.
He was right. Zesco is performing exceptionally well in continental competitions partly because the club has Lwandamina as its coach. Lwandamina is a qualified mentor and is currently among the best in Africa.
The same can be said of league leaders Zanaco, Nkana, Power Dynamos and other FAZ/MTN Premier League title contenders who are enjoying the services of locally trained coaches.
In the region, Zambian coaches have done equally well, a fact which King Mswati acknowledged during his recent visit to Zambia. Speaking at a special state function in Lusaka, King Mswati said football in Swaziland had developed because of Zambian coaches and players who had worked in his country.
Coaches like Freddie Mwila, Ackim Musenge, Dickson Makwaza, Samuel ‘Zoom’ Ndhlovu, Kaizer Kalambo, Beston Chambeshi and Lwandamina himself have coached clubs such as Township Rollers, Gaberone United, Nico United, Lobatse Extension Gunners and BMC, which are still performing well in the Botswana beMobile Premier League.
Zambian players featuring in the South African Premier League like Collins Mbesuma are also popular and could be roped in as Chipolopolo national trainers as they have much potential for the job.
Against this backdrop, one hopes that at the end of the in-coming expatriate coach’s contract, Zambia will have no need to engage another foreigner because we have enough qualified trainers who deserved to be empowered economically.
Zambia has one of the best localisation programmes in Africa; why shouldn’t the country have its own full-time national team coach after 51 years of political independence.
Although other developed countries like England for example, have had to hire foreign coaches, it is time we revised our strategy.
Piece-meal planning or fire-fighting strategies will take us nowhere.
That is the challenge facing the Kamanga administration and indeed others that will come long after they have left Football House. We simply have to learn to invest wisely: make maximum use of the man-to-be-hired in the short-term – and zambianise the post in the long-term.