LEGENDS Football Academy director Farai Dhliwayo believes the authorities have to use the time during the FIFA suspension to go back and establish the basic structures since ZIFA have over the years been overlooking the core aspects of football development in this country.
Zimbabwe face a long road back to international football after CAF confirmed the Warriors will not be allowed to play in the upcoming 2023 AFCON qualifiers.
Dhliwayo and many other stakeholders involved in football development feel that, instead of agonising over missing out on the Africa Cup of Nations, the focus now must be on using the time wisely and investing in junior football development.
“We are currently banned by FIFA and cannot participate in any international tournaments for a period of time that we cannot quantify. This is our reality.
“The move by the Sports Commission to suspend the ZIFA board was necessary as our football had become captured and dysfunctional. For a nation to develop the game, ZIFA and the Government have to be working together and moving in the same direction. This is a fact in every nation.
“Football development must be the primary purpose of a national football association. If a country can develop high-quality players, then it will have a competitive national team. This is the goal in every nation.
“Therefore there is a need for new ideas and a roadmap that starts with junior football and ends with the senior national team. The problem is not missing AFCON 2023 but rather what we are doing at this time whilst we are suspended. We need to use our time wisely,” Dhliwayo said.
Former Zimbabwe international striker Alois Bunjira also believes junior development should take precedence. Bunjira is a product of the development programmes of the 1980s and 90s. But Zimbabwe’s junior development progammes have been shambolic over the years, with no clear intentions and development blueprint on the part of the authorities.
Dhliwayo said there must be a progressive junior football policy.
“Simply running a junior league is not the answer alone and this antiquated thinking is a continuation of the problems we have had before.
“There needs to be a progressive junior football policy and standards set so we produce better players which ultimately leads to a stronger pool for our national team.
“The policy trumps the running of a league and sets the tone for standards that must be adhered to in order to safeguard junior players.
“There is a need for massive investment in junior football infrastructure and structures. This is where the bulk of FIFA Forward Grants should have been channelled to in the past with additional financial support from the Government.
“We need to ask the tough questions. What are the different levels in junior football?
“For instance, what constitutes a community youth football team versus a school team versus a football academy?
“If an academy is the highest level then what are the standards and requirements set to be a football academy?
“How many coaches does a football academy have? What certification is there? What qualifications must those coaches have?
“What policy is in place to ensure the children who attend are protected from abuse? How many days a week should there be training? What size fields should be used? What age-groups? What size of soccer balls? Is first aid available?
“Are players required to be registered on ZIFA connect from a young age so we end the scourge of age-cheating? How do we track and keep talented players in the national structures from junior to senior teams?” Dhliwayo said.
Most of the key members of the Zimbabwe national team that played at the last AFCON in Cameroon are approaching the twilight of their careers. Already captain Knowledge Musona has since retired from international football and more are expected to follow before the 2025 AFCON qualifiers.
Dhliwayo, who is the director of the club that has groomed some of the players such as Whawha forward Callum English-Brown and South Africa-based Douglas Mapfumo, thinks that this international break should be used wisely both in terms of infrastructure rehabilitation and identifying talent.
“We can use these international breaks to invite all illegible players playing inside and outside Zimbabwe to camp and have showcase matches in our stadiums so we get the local fans excited about possibilities and we work towards a Warriors team that can compete upon return.
“We are allowed to have select team matches against ourselves. Warriors’ prospective players versus Warriors Select at all age-groups from the juniors to seniors.
“This can be an inclusive process allowing those in the diaspora we have never seen and the best local players to compete for places in front of a local audience,” said Dhliwayo.
Zimbabwe were suspended by FIFA for third party interference after the Sports Commission had sacked the ZIFA board led by Felton Kamambo. The suspended board was also accused of letting the game down because of lack of development strategies.
The Sports Commission have since set up the ZIFA Restructuring Committee, which has begun its rolled out programme that includes a stakeholder engagement process, discussing what they consider pertinent issues and also football development with several stakeholders.
The nine-member committee is undertaking matters of a strategic nature, as outlined in their terms of reference, in line with the provisions of Section 21, 19(b), and 20 (c) of the SRC Act. The committee’s term of office will run up to December 2022.