Maybe talk of varying the rhythm play and changing the tempo of the game is being a little over-rating African football, particularly Highlanders Football Club, who played their friendly challenge match against Bloemfontein Celtic that lacked both the art and science of the beautiful game played at Ellis Park Stadium. In that match, save for physical condition, technique, tactics and the psychology of players was a little amateurish for a team of Highlanders’ size and stature.
But then, if we think the Zimbabwe giants are not in a class to do exactly that, given that TP Mazembe of the DRC were one brilliant moment away from being FIFA Club World Cup champions in an arena graced by clubs like Inter Milan, Manchester United and Barcelona, then they are involved in the wrong sport altogether. The dream and ambition should be to be like Barcelona, at least by getting to the class of Mazembe. Is it not why their fans call them ‘Bossolona’?
To start with, as protagonists in any sport, the Bosso players are just too thin. It is not really about weight but muscle, strength. The pencil sized outfit are exactly in the middle of a fair season so far, but then, it could be their opponents in the domestic league are just as small.
Talking football, owing to their lack of muscular strength or threatening frames, the Bosso players could not protect the ball at all. The whole problem did not lie in the issues of the flesh alone, but both mind and technique. The basic run of players was out of sync with the balanced stocky stance that wraps the legs around the ball and the elbows well positioned to shield the ball. We missed committed runs, tracking and tackling, save from Gilbert Banda.
They spent some considerable and valuable time on the grass, not that they slipped and fell, but they could not combat and win duels. The ask is not for the bodies of Willard Khumalo, Melody Wafawanaka or Eddie Dube, but simply physically imposing. In cases were bodies are inferior like in Enerst Maphepha Sibanda, football brain must take over. Peter Ndlovu was not heavily built either, and he did not need it.
In terms of technique, I must admit there is much more promise, even better than the tactical awareness. The ball and control proved to be at par with Bloemfontein Celtic. It is not that I rate the South Africans highly, but they are surely more professional in all aspects of the game. Worrisome was killing the ball in an instant when there was room to attack the space. The idea of positive touch is one coach Mkhuphali Masuku must address urgently. Some of these basics should be developmental issues for youth coaches. Creating a shooting angle for oneself or controlling the ball on the move, running with the ball and basic dribbling skills seemed well under-developed.
The biggest coaching dilemma is obviously everything else; tactical awareness, creating the space, exploiting the space, defending and attacking plays and midfield preparation. The list is endless but we can not suffocate ourselves with extreme details based on a single match. Obviously sore to the eye was lack of playing the ball beyond the defence for strikers to run on. There were no one-twos at all. The final pass was atrocious.
The element of surprise, sudden change of pace and direction was totally absent. The match was also devoid of incisive runs at defenders with the ball, basic 2-men moves, save for one that Bekithemba Ndlovu did, but still did not receive the pass. There was never going to be a 3-men moves or
the 3rd man running. Just for an idea, these are the moves we saw with Dumisani Savimbi Nyoni, Abraham Nejane Mbambo and Fanuel Launcher Ncube who made pocket runs with extreme ease.
Football science and tactics have changed direction since then, but portions of those plays must be seen to take place even within midfield positions to stabilize the opposition and open opportunities for goals. Attacking the primary or secondary posts by players from deep positions was deficient. Players could not open spaces for themselves or others.
Departmental tactics were also a big disappointment. The defence remained disjointed for extended periods of time. This was compounded by the fact that the four-man rearguard stayed rooted in the first third of the field when play moved to midfield. This did not help beef up the attack as the midfielders failed to support the strikers on time. The left channel of the field was stronger and the right failed to complement their effort. All these rendered the attacking options thin and there was never going to be any fire power to talk about. Wing play was non-existant.
The striking force was never going to be any better, given the long list of issues. Highlanders could have won the match by an avalanche of goals, but it was all totally wrong. One may ask if the coaching is at fault. Not entirely. Masuku is a good coach who has to gain experience, being thrown into the deep end after Mohammed Fathi was sacked last season. Many see him as a cost saving coach for the team, while the closer allies think he can be the real guy with time.
I fault the general mental strength of the team as a whole. They were so fragile in handling the situation and their decision-making appalling. As
a general rule, throwing away a 2-0 lead in a face-off match like a Cup game is suicidally novice. Teams scoring in the mid first half should be technically and tactically superior with the late goals coming from physically stronger sides that can last the distance. As it was, Bosso should have been fitter being on-season while Celtic were expected to struggle to sniff a comeback from 0-2 down. I must say they used a lot of substitutes, but then the coaching should have found remedial stances to simmer the match.
The team structure did not provide proper shape to have a 4-men defence supported by either a very strong and versatile anchorman or a duo with
either or both of these. The usual modern game plan actually employs these two. This, in turn, demands utilising very offensive midfielders who will aid attack perennially and fall back to defensive positions as is necessary. Beke Ndlovu was the sole anchor but his colleagues deserted him for most of the time, leaving him exposed and being beaten for pace but his experience bailed him out often enough. That role needed a strong intercepter and passer of the ball like Benjamin Nkonjera and Makheyi Ninja Nyathi to win the ball clean and then distribute it efficiently with defence splitting passes. Imagine both players in the same team!
Highlanders players did not exhibit enough hunger to warrant the win. They did not graft for each other when it mattered most. The fighting spirit was very much limited, but then, they may be factors unbeknown to us. Some fans at the match venue bemoaned the lack of individual brilliance that could set the stadium ablaze. I am sure these people are not asking for Peter, Adam Ndlovu or Stuart Murisa. They expected a player of electrifying pace and daring manoeuvres and trickery. They wanted to be entertained by an artiste of pure class. If what we saw is anything to go by, the wait for that player maybe a little longer. Without blaming or crucifying anyone, Highlanders, who travel to Gwanzura for a mid-week Castle League match against Kiglon, must be more professional all-round.