By Authur Choga
CHARLES MABIKA is a football commentary legend.
He made his name on the old Radio One (Now Classic 263) station before moving to television.
He has a long-running football show called “This is Football”.
In 2006, just before the Warriors went to the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt, he invited then national coach Charles Mhlauri onto his show.
At one point, Mhlauri, commenting on how frustrated he was with sections of fans who seemed to only seek negatives around the Warriors, said: “Some of our fans have a morbid propensity for negativity.”
Mabika stopped him and asked him to repeat the statement.
His point was, there are some people who wish national teams, players and administrators would encounter misfortune so they have something to talk about.
This came to mind last week after someone posted an uncaptioned picture of former Zimbabwe Warriors captain Moses Chunga seemingly flagging down a lift.
Moses Chunga was the country’s Soccer Star of the Year in 1986.
He was also the top goal scorer, with 46 goals, in the same season.
In 1988, he moved to Belgium to join Eendracht Aalst, where he spent the next four years.
He is highly regarded and always given five-star treatment whenever he is in Brussels.
In fact, in December 2012, he was given the city of Aalst’s highest civic honour — an invitation to sign the Golden Book of Aalst.
During his time in Belgium, Chunga once refused to play for the national team, declaring: “I don’t play for peanuts.” This was in reference to the paltry allowances paid to the Warriors at the time.
When he hung up his boots, he coached Gunners FC to the league title in 2009.
The conversations that emerged following Chunga’s recent viral photo generally show how sportspeople, particularly football players, are stereotyped in this country.
Some Zimbabweans have a tendency of laughing at the country’s football heroes when they fall on hard times.
The erroneous assumption that all football players suffer later in life is accepted and normalised.
Granted, local football is largely a thankless occupation.
Salaries are paltry and clubs are not innovating to generate resources to build on, and the players end up with the short end of the stick.
This has to change.
Image rights, endorsements, partnerships with different service providers are all avenues that would allow players to have more money in their pockets while strengthening club finances.
However, former league winners like More Moyo (marketing and TV football analyst) and Francis Chandida (transport and logistics) come to mind when one thinks of recent players who have built names for themselves after football.
It is advisable for football players to convert the adoration of their fans into long-term investments by tapping into their networks. Captaining the senior national team is a great honour.
Chunga captained the Warriors, and that counts for something.
He should be revered as a national treasure. Cricket is instructive in the way those involved with the sport treat their heroes.
After disclosures about match fixing and other related matters, those in the sport closed ranks and managed the matters internally.
Those in football would have exposed and ridiculed the affected players.
When former South African captain Thabo Mngomeni fell on hard times, those in the sport rallied around him and brought him back to his feet.
While South African football is better-funded, that is never an excuse.
Players’ contracts and packages continue to be referred to as “players’ welfare”, which comes from back in the day, when football was largely social.
Players are the club’s biggest human resource.
Once a player retires, the income from the club stops immediately.
Former players often end up hanging around their former clubs, hoping to strike an opportunity to coach the juniors or the reserve side.
The football ecosystem needs to create opportunities for school and community programmes funded by sportswear companies and corporates, with the motive of capturing young minds. These programmes would then employ former players as consultants.
The old “Sports for All” model, spearheaded by the Sports and Recreation Commission, as well as a model that was run by Zimbabwe Rugby, could serve as baselines.
With the advent of new television stations and community radio stations, football analysts will be required.
Football punditry is a major income earner globally.
Former English Premier League players like Jamie Carragher, Roy Keane, Efan Ekoku and Alan Shearer find it worthwhile to analyse football matches.
Locally, Alois Bunjira and a few others are doing great work in this field as well. Charles Mabika made a name for himself on radio. Those with creativity and passion can similarly create their own beautiful stories.
Clubs should, therefore, invest in media skills for players, who are easily their biggest brand ambassadors.
Football stakeholders must make a deliberate effort to get the game on a professional footing.
Training twice a day does not make a club professional.
There is a back-end process that includes the club structure, how it positions itself on the market and what it stands for.
These fundamentals, when done right, will bring more into the players’ pockets, as business finds a better fit with clubs and communities relate better with teams.