Petros Kausiyo Deputy Sports Editor
PROBLEMS haunting Zimbabwe’s fractious football landscape took another sad twist yesterday with a showdown exploding between Zifa and the Premier Soccer League after the association directed that mid-week matches scheduled for today and tomorrow be shelved to pave way for the Warriors’ commitments. The Warriors had been hoping to resume their training camp this morning for their rescheduled African Nations Championships final qualifier first leg tie against Zambia at Rufaro on Sunday.
But the Warriors’ plans were scuttled after the PSL arranged matches across the country today and tomorrow to shake off nearly five weeks of an unplanned lay-off that has left their member clubs crying foul.
The move to slot in midweek fixtures, however, did not go down well with Zifa, who insisted the top-flight body should have consulted them first and taken note of the fact that the CHAN final qualifier was a big fixture where “the national team ought to take precedence over all other local matches’’.
Zifa chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze said they had been surprised by the league’s decision to arrange fixtures and maintained that the games should be shelved and allow national team players to be in camp.
Mashingaidze’s PSL counterpart Kenny Ndebele was, however, adamant the matches would go ahead and the message they had communicated to PSL clubs was that the fixtures were on and the teams were free to use their Warriors players.
As a showdown between Zifa and the PSL exploded, Warriors coach Ian “Dibango’’ Gorowa also threatened to quit if he was not granted his wish to have his players in camp with the former Moroka Swallows mentor insisting that the magnitude of their CHAN qualifier against Zambia required that his squad spend more time together in camp.
A furious Gorowa argued that getting his players back on Friday would be “tantamount to reducing the national team into a select side that is not serious about its obligations”.
The Zifa, PSL stand-off also threw the players into a quandary as they have been caught in a club versus country row.
Such clubs like CAPS United and Harare City travelled to Zvishavane and Beitbridge yesterday with their Warriors players for their respective league matches against FC Platinum and Tripple B.
CAPS United have the trio of Tafadzwa Dube, Hardlife Zvirekwi and Dominic Chungwa in the Warriors squad while FC Platinum provide Ali Sadiki, Charles Sibanda and Nelson Maziwisa.
Warriors assistant coach Mkhuphali Masuku and his Chicken Inn pair of Felix Chindungwe and Danny Phiri were also in a similar catch-22 situation with his national team boss Gorowa expecting them to be in Harare by last night while their club ordered that they stay for their game against Simba Sithole’s How Mine at Barbourfields today.
It also emerged that Zifa had threatened to withhold referees if the PSL did not back down and postpone their programme.
Mashingaidze also said it was regrettable that the association and their affiliate league had to haggle when both parties’ objective was to develop local football.
“As Zifa, we have always allowed the PSL games to go on even when they have not paid their dues because we believe we are both working for the progress of our football. We don’t believe there is any antagonism between Zifa and the PSL.
“In this case we cannot afford to take chances and then face Zambia with an under-strength side because there could be loss of players through injuries and fatigue.
“We understand the PSL clubs’ predicament but we are saying they must bear with us and for this national cause, where our Warriors just need to clear this Zambian hurdle and qualify for the CHAN finals and in that regard, we need to understand that the national team is not about Ian Gorowa or Jonathan Mashingaidze, it is about all Zimbabweans and the coach and his players need our united support at this hour,’’ Mashingaidze said.
Ndebele, however, said a continued postponement of the PSL games had now become untenable as clubs were complaining of huge losses while their sponsors had been severely compromised.
“The league games are going ahead but it is the BancABC semi-final games over the weekend where have had to postpone matches.
“I don’t think it would be fair for the games not to go ahead because we have already incurred huge losses for the postponed BancABC semi-finals matches.
“We had agreed that for the CHAN matches there would be no restriction in terms of the number of players to be selected from each team because we understood the significance of the tournament even to the PSL.
“Last time we had a situation where fixtures were cancelled late and a club like Hwange had already travelled because they always leave two days before their fixture. Some teams have already travelled and they cannot afford to incur further losses through cancellation of the games.
“It’s a pity it is a holiday and we have not had a chance to officially apologise to BancABC for the cancellation of the semi-finals because we had already made all the relevant bookings for those matches,’’ Ndebele said.
Zifa vice-president Ndumiso Gumede said it was unfortunate that the association and the league had found themselves fighting from different corners “when we ought to have a win-win situation’’.
“I really appreciate the national coach’s problem, unfortunately the soul of the national team lies with the PSL and they have found themselves in limbo for a long time owing to the international commitments.
“The problems which the PSL and the national coach have are not easy to deal with, but the predicament that we are in has nothing to do with the bungling of Zifa.
“Having said that, the loss of PSL action is also not good for our football because it affects the fabric of the game,’’ Gumede said.
The Zifa vice-president, however, said in view of the scenario before them, the national team takes precedence and added that he had directed both Mashingaidze and Ndebele to find a solution to the crisis.
“I spoke to Twine Phiri (PSL chairman) yesterday (Monday) and told him that they should have not rushed to cancel the BancABC semi-finals without trying to find a way round that one because unlike the mid-week league fixtures, these matches could have gone ahead in Bulawayo.
“I have tasked the Zifa and PSL CEOs to find a win-win situation because we understand that the national team is born out of a healthy PSL and the easy route is that the national teams take precedence.
“But the practical scenario is that we risk postponing the PSL programme ad infinitum and that is worrying because our duty is to promote and protect both the game and the clubs.
“Clubs fund the workers which in this case it’s the players and they have not been in their employ for nearly five weeks, but Ndebele ought to clear whatever he has to do with Mashingaidze,’’ Gumede said.
Gorowa threatened to throw in the towel if the players were not released for national duty.
“It is sad that the PSL are adamant that the games should go on and we will only get the players together on Friday and I don’t believe that any serious nation that wants to qualify for a tournament as big as CHAN would want to go into the final qualifier without preparing.
“I am supposed to be playing a team that is in France preparing and has some of their players also preparing from Zambia and yet we will not get together to prepare.
“Maybe as a country, we are not yet ready to take the national team seriously and the best thing in such circumstances would be to walk way and come back when we are all ready because we are here with absolutely no preparations at all,’’ Gorowa said.
Gorowa said he would not accept the excuse that the players would prepare by playing for their clubs.
“Being in camp with the national team is different from playing for the respective clubs and in any case, the players would need at least 72 hours to recover if they play for their clubs so it is not good to tell me that we can use league action as preparations.
“I have been often told that if you don’t prepare then prepare to fail and this is what we could find ourselves doing if we are not serious about our football,’’ Gorowa said.
While Zifa and the PSL were haggling, their Zambian counterparts seemed to have found a way around their challenges and resolved to postpone only those league matches involving teams such as Nchanga Rangers and Nkana Red Devils, who have players in Hervé Renard’s CHAN squad.
Renard, who also has one eye on their decisive World Cup qualifier against Ghana next month, reportedly directed that his assistant continue with preparations for the Zimbabwe tie while he takes charge of their international friendly against Senegal in France tonight.
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