Grace Chingoma, Harare Bureau
ZIFA have leapt to the defence of interim Warriors team manager Wellington Mpandare who was the subject of vicious attacks, here and in South Africa on a dramatic Wednesday, in the messy tug-of-war battle for the stricken Khama Billiat to report for national duty this week.
Mpandare has been in the eye of a storm since former Warriors captain Peter Ndlovu and Mamelodi Sundowns’ spokesman Thulani Thuswa sharply criticised him for his conduct in the battle for Billiat to report for camp to undergo an assessment by the national team medical staff.
The local football controlling body reminded Sundowns that they should not be influenced by media reports but by official statements coming out of Zifa and, as far as they were concerned, none of their statements questioned the integrity of the South African club and their officials.
The messy affair has overshadowed the Warriors’ preparations for their 2019 Afcon qualifying opener against Liberia at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday.
The West Africans arrived in Harare yesterday for the big battle.
Ndlovu, the most successful Warrior ever who lead his team to its first appearance at the Nations Cup finals in Tunisia in 2004, accussed Mpandare of allegedly questioning his loyalty to this country and its football.
The former Coventry City star is now the team manager at Mamelodi Sundowns and flew to Harare, in the company of Billiat on Wednesday, to enable the Warriors’ forward to be assesed by the national team’s medical staff who ruled that he would not be able to play on Sunday.
“I am a Zimbabwean, I love Zimbabwe and I will never let my country down even for a split second and I feel sorry for those who want to smear me with mud,” said Ndlovu.
“I respect the Zifa president, (Philip) Chiyangwa, I respect the coach who was there before (Callisto Pasuwa) and I respect the current coach (Norman Mapeza).
“It is, however, very unfair for people to question my loyalty. I served this country very well and many times I would leave England after playing a match to come and play another game here straight from the aeroplane.
“I do not make decisions for Sundowns, but Billiat was injured on the ankle and he has been out. He still needs three to four weeks to recover. I wish there was a miracle that can be done for him to play on Sunday.
“I do not keep grudges. I am clean and I will stick and stand by what I said. Anthony Laffor, another international, is injured so is Khama. I am not angry, but Mpandare should not question my loyalty.
“My family is not happy about it. I do not stoop so low. Whether he likes it or not one day I will work for Zimbabwe and I hope people will understand that.’’
And, on the same day, Sundowns spokesman Thuswa also fired a salvo at Mpandare.
“First, I have to make it known that this Wellington (Mpandare) character is just getting too excited. Is he new in the job?” Thuswa told the South African media.
“In the past, we have always worked well with Zifa and have respect for both their president (Philip Chiyangwa) and coach (Norman Mapeza). We have always enjoyed good relations with Zifa because we have always had Zimbabwean players at the club and that shouldn’t be spoilt by this Wellington guy.
“The truth is that we sent them (Zifa) the doctor’s report and told them that if they want another opinion on Khama’s injury then they can always send him to an independent doctor here in Johannesburg.
“That way they would have been able to verify our doctor’s report which they might have issues with. We have a qualified team doctor and it is not for fun that Khama hasn’t played in the last three games for the club.
“Peter has not blocked Khama and we have given them all the reports.’’
But Zifa yesterday came out in full support of Mpandare.
“Zifa has noted with concern, distasteful sentiments expressed by Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club officials towards our senior national team manager, Wellington Mpandare,’’ the Association said in a statement published on their website.
“Mpandare conducted his duties in a professional manner in the process of requesting for the release of Khama Billiat to report for assessment by the national team’s medical team, therefore, we feel that denigrating comments made were unwarranted.
“And as Zifa we are fully confident of our team manager’s ability to execute his duties in a manner that ensures that relations between Zifa and Mamelodi Sundowns remain cordial.
“As an Association, we believe our team manager acted within the dictates of Fifa regulations in seeking the release of Khama Billiat for national duty and assessment by our medical team to determine the extent of his ankle injury.
“Zifa has great respect for the Mamelodi Sundowns president, Patrice Motsepe, his executive and club management, but we believe the vitriolic attacks on Mpandare were unnecessary, and they only engender disunity and unwanted hatred within the football family.’’
The Association said Sundowns should not be led by media reports.
“Zifa also takes this opportunity to remind Mamelodi Sundowns that all official correspondence between them and the Association is generated from the office, hence, they should not regard allegations from the media fraternity as Zifa’s official position in any matter
“Any displeasure from the Sundowns camp over the conduct of Zifa officials is accepted but it should be delivered through the proper channels.
“It is our ultimate goal to promote the spirit of unity and friendship that Fifa seeks to inculcate in the relationship between clubs and football associations, as well as with all stakeholders.
“Our relationship with Mamelodi Sundowns is mutually beneficial for both parties and it has been there for a long time, it is our keen desire to see it continue to flourish, for the benefit of both Zimbabwean and South African football,” said the statement.