With the recent release of the brilliant Zambian film “e18hteam”, we thought this was a good time to reflect on Zambian soccer in general and the way forward.
The majority of the Zambian population enjoy soccer either at home or in a sports bar, making it one of the most popular spectator sports in Zambia. The Zambian team is popularly known as Chipololo for the men and She Polopolo for the ladies. e18hteam, produced by Juan Rodriguez-Briso and Ngosa Chungu, is all about “the epic Chipolopolo journey from tragedy to triumph”. It artfully combines retrospective clips of Italian football, Zambian football and the 1992 Gabon tragedy, together with the thrills of the 2012 Afcon victory game (you can watch the trailer here). The film seeks to express what all this means to the Zambian consciousness in terms of national identity and the evolution of a confident and achievement-oriented people. I believe it succeeds in this.
Zambia has had its fair share of wins and losses in the game of football. There were massive celebrations in 2012 when the Chipolopolo boys brought victory to Zambia by winning the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) with Herve Renard as the head coach. This gave Zambia a continental title, becoming the fourteenth nation to win the title. Dedicated to the Zambian players who died in the 1993 plane crash, this win attracted investment into Zambian football. But there has not been too much to show for it.
Recent disappointmentsThough there have been investments on two new football stadiums, and a lot of excitement every time the Chipolopolo boys are playing, of late Zambians have been disappointed with the team as they have either lost or drawn every game. There has been a lot of speculation on what should be done to change or improve soccer in Zambia, who should do what and how. I could write an entire book about what needs to be changed but I will summarise my thoughts…
Academies, coaches and moral supportWe have been too dependent on the same old players who won us the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012. They need to be replaced. But the question is who can they be replaced with? We don’t seem to have a very good crop of young stars as can be seen from the poor performance of the junior Chipolopolo sides. I suggest the following steps are taken:
1. We need to reinvest in the young and teach them to play soccer right from the start. It’s time we convinced the big firms to support the Zambian football clubs financially, fund their academies and commercialise them. We need to form and strengthen academies, ensuring they are schools of excellence. Don’t just teach soccer, teach mathematics, English, Science and critical thinking. This will allow our teams to think outside the box, calculate their moves and socialise with other teams worldwide.
Consider the Spanish team, they were under achievers until they started getting results from Barcelona, Real Madrid and other La Liga academies. Barcelona and Real Madrid reserve teams play in competitive leagues. This means they have a huge base of potential players to pick from and these are very active players.
2. Let’s bring in an experienced coach from Europe, America or anywhere in the world, to come and manage the Chipolopolo. Attach Zambian assistants to him, let them learn for some time and then elevate the Zambian coaches. By that time the performance of the grassroot soccer teams, the academies and the leagues should have been optimised for maximum results. These recommendations are based on models that have worked before.
3. Our teams need moral support. We need to start going to watch the matches at the stadiums.
With strong academies, developed football clubs, huge financial investments and youngsters that start kicking the ball at a tender age, Zambia can have a national team that will win at an international level and put our country on the map again!