Where is the fire inside black and white?

THE talking point in football corridors across the country is the bad-patch that has hit Highlanders of late. With the advent of social media platforms, it is now talk of the world because the world has become a global village. No matter how you want to put it, the truth of the matter is that you cannot put a lipstick on a frog to change the way it looks. A frog is ugly and it will remain as such and the world knows that Highlanders are playing badly and that is a fact.

It puts a lot of strain on fans for a big team like Highlanders to lose three Premiership games on the trot and it even worries their opponents because they want a strong Highlanders for football to be exciting.

The sponsors of Zimbabwean football come in expecting to get return for their investment through exposure from the game when clubs with a following like Highlanders and Dynamos are playing well and are still in the running for the big prize. With Highlanders already out of the BancABC, the remainder of the competition will undoubtedly lack something, and one thing that is already out of the way is the dream final featuring Highlanders and Dynamos.

Perhaps the good thing about this season is that Caps United appear to be back to life, but it will always be the big two — Highlanders and Dynamos — who are the footprints of Zimbabwean football. And for our game to be lively, they need to be at their best, giving new well funded teams like FC Platinum a good run for their money.

Highlanders might have gone into the weekend fixtures still on the top of the log standings by superior goal difference to Chicken Inn, but the truth of the matter is that they have done themselves some disservice by dropping points when their old rivals Dynamos are on the rise.

The Bulawayo giants should have learnt a lesson from last season and surely, by now, the players and coaches should have adopted a policy that “small teams we hammer”, and they better pray hard that the three points they lost to How Mine do not come back to haunt them come end of season.

Highlanders coach Kelvin Kaindu is the kind of guy who would not lash out at his players for a shoddy display in public. He will always try to draw some positives from every game, just like on Saturday when they were booted out of the BancABC tournament by FC Platinum.

“This was a cup game in which the team lost and is out of the tournament. If it was a league match we would have gained a point with a draw. We again failed to convert the many chances we created and we are paid for that,” said Kaindu.

Perhaps everyone will agree with Kaindu that it was a Cup game and losers are out of the running, and that is the mentality that should have driven his boys to produce results on the field. His players better be reminded that the world out there yearns for a Highlanders team that will fight and literally die on the pitch. The fans keep talking about the likes of the late Mercedes “Rambo” Sibanda and the Rahman Gumbo generation. How those guys would fight and push for a goal until they got it. How they would trouble the opposition goalkeeper with stinging long range shots, how they would trouble defenders with hard runs down the flanks and tough tackles at the back.

Not so long ago, the world saw fighters in black and white colours, the likes of Richard Choruma, Gift Lunga (Junior) and Honour Gombami who would not stop running until the final whistle. Players who would go from box to box chasing the game until they got the result.

Assistant coach Bekithemba Ndlovu was part of a team that would never throw in the towel. He used to marshal the defence with captain Thulani Ncube and Dazzy Kapenya and when the chips were down, he would personally take matters into his own hands and venture upfront to get the elusive goal. There was Zenzo Moyo who would prefer to kick the ball and the man when the going got tough, but results would come and the question that Bosso fans are asking themselves now is what has happened to the “monster” inside Highlanders players. Where is the fire inside the players to repel any loss at home? Kaindu played for Highlanders and knows very well what BF meant to visiting teams back then.

Barbourfields Stadium is supposed to be “sacred”.  Not all teams should come to Emagumeni to play Highlanders and go back home with their tails up. No, How Mine should have gone back to the mine with their tails cut and Chicken Inn should have left Emagumeni with their tails tucked between their legs and so should have Motor Action. That is what the Highlanders of old used to do to visiting teams and that is the team that those passionate fans at Soweto stand, who sacrifice walking 10 km to the match venue to part with their hard earned $5 long for.

There are questions that are being asked at this crucial time by football fans out there. Are the players giving it their best? Are they well motivated? If not what is the problem? Are the coaches happy? Is head coach Kaindu getting the right kind of support technically from his assistants and players, and from the executive? The league has reached its halfway mark and club card holders will be meeting tomorrow to review the first half of the season and they better talk serious business to take the club forward rather than concentrate on petty personal issues.

There has been talk of Highlanders beefing up the squad, but we do not have to forget that these are the same players who were glorified last season for going for 23 games unbeaten. They were expected to improve from last season’s performance and go for gold but they seem to be stuttering along the way and the coaches and executive must give the owners of the club some answers. But I have a feeling that some players are being carried by other players and in fact, about three of first team players at Highlanders will struggle to break into the first team at Harare United for example, and that should get whoever is tasked with recruiting players worried about the kind of players they bring into the team.

Their next match is against Caps United, who come to Barbourfields with their tails up after winning the first fixture in Harare 2-1, and the writing is on the wall in as far as expectations from Highlanders fans. They want those tails cut come end of the game. That is the kind of pressure that Kaindu and his boys find themselves under. That is the kind of pressure that chairman Peter Dube and his executive find themselves under, but that is the nature of the game and that is the price that comes along leading a big institution like Highlanders. It’s a given, the fans will not stop talking, and even opposition fans will not stop talking, and the media will also not stop talking, unless of course journalists are drunk and have abdicated their duties.

With the transfer window open, chairman Dube says they are weighing their options.

“We have been looking into the issue of signing one or two players during the transfer-window and we stand guided by our technical team. The truth of the matter is that we do not have a free-rolling budget but what we are doing is to approach clubs to negotiate for players and look for funds. We will definitely help the coaches bolster the team and we will turn to our supporters and partners in that regard,” Dube said.

Last week Kaindu hinted that he was on the lookout for a striker.

Highlanders’ conversion rate of late has been worrisome despite the fact that they scored 26 goals, the highest number in the first half of the season. Njabulo Ncube who is supposed to be the club’s chief striker has gone on a dry spell and has five goals in his account from 15 games, half the number of goals by leading scorer, Chicken Inn’s Tendai Ndoro.  Graham Ncube has four goals just like midfielder Mthulisi Maphosa and at the bottom is Beavan Chikaka  with three.

Cleopas Dube who joined Bosso from ZPC Hwange during last year’s mid-season transfer window has failed to command a regular first team place and is reportedly on his way out, with baby faced Ozias Zibande falling by the wayside while youngsters Ryan Howes, Mgcini Sibanda and Bobby Nkomo are struggling to break into the team despite 24 players being tried in the opening half.

This publication noted this week that what is worrying could be the fact that a majority of the players are over 27 years and the Under-20 contingent registered to ensure there is development within teams is struggling for game time. Some have been in the picture since 2011.
Kaindu noted that some of the players will have to be released to make way for new signings.

“To be honest it’s difficult to say which areas need reinforcement because you have to take into account the availability of resources. There is also the issue of finding out the available players on the market. As for releasing players, we have to consider the nature of the contracts the players have with the club.  As for the youngsters those under the age of 20 years  are the future of the club and by now they should be commanding first team places but they are not there because we need to nurture them. These players have come through the youth system at the club but because we are looking for results as a coach I have to play senior guys. The youngsters’ turn will come and that is why we are keeping them within the system,” Kaindu said during the week.

A Bosso fan, Edwin Mateta, writing on the social network Facebook, made his verdict of the team’s last two games.

“We lose again eeeish, good show from the captain (Innocent Mapuranga) and Bruce Kangwa, Heritain (Masuku) and (Masimba) Mambare, Simon (Munawa) is a midfielder not a defender thus he was drifting inwards and most of the time was caught off position, Milton  (Ncube) and Rio (Peter Moyo) are both slow and at the centre there was wasn’t any creativity. Just wondering how Milton (Ncube) finished 90 minutes. An improved performance from Hillary (Madzivanyika) but need to improve on his concentration. These days we are playing badly, too much reliance on long balls. What happened to knocking the ball around? We need to pull up socks otherwise championship is slowly slipping away. I hope this defeat we allow us to concentrate on championship, kasifakeni phansi ibhola.”

On the Caps game Mateta said: “Caps United scored from an offside position (winner) but the way Bosso played in the second half is pathetic, this 4-4-2 system is not working. We should revert to 4-3-3 or 4-5-1. Starting with Njabulo and Graham who are both slow was a recipe for disaster considering our midfield which had Milton and Peter who are both slow, this leaves us vulnerable to counter attack as they tend to play more on the wings. Also our right back wasn’t aiding our attack, passing these days is way off which is what made us invincible last year. The positive is that Mthulisi is back on the anchor role, siyinqaba.”

At times you have to digest what the fans, who are the owners of the game, think. They might give you one or two pointers.

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