I MUST confess from the start that, for the better part of a decade, I did not think much of players in Zimbabwe’s Premier Soccer League (PSL) competition.
I felt, in my own defence, that a league that had exported stars like Nyasha Mushekwi and Willard Katsande only a few seasons earlier was now suddenly struggling for quality players to make real impact anywhere outside Zimbabwe.
In more recent times, the country’s best players have been signed by teams in South Africa and in minor European leagues.
Those few lucky ones to escape Zimbabwe however did not stand the heat and quickly got out of the kitchen – quickly returning to the comfort of home after failing to make the grade abroad. So I couldn’t be bothered, to be honest, I really couldn’t be, for the most part.
And for that I make no apologies. Often, I hear people I know well getting excited about some of the talent left in the PSL. It does give you a sense of relief because after all, regardless of your misgivings, it is still your national league, your country. It is one of those occasions when you wish you can be proven wrong, for all your reservations.
I couldn’t have been the only one not at ease with the number of PSL players in the Warriors squad that had been selected for the opening double-header of World Cup qualifiers against Rwanda and Nigeria last week.
How naïve we were, I thought, to think that a league that had been suspended for several months because of shortage of grounds, can have players to stand a chance against Rwanda, who have been investing heavily in sports and infrastructure as part of a wider nation-building exercise. Let alone a Nigerian side, with its array of ever-exciting European-based stars.
But what a shift put in by the lanky Highlanders fullback Andrew Mbeba at right-back over the two games in Rwanda. Mbeba was an ever-calming presence in that Zimbabwe line of defence and I would like to see him make that position his own for many more years to come.
The new Zimbabwe firstchoice goalkeeper, Donovan Bernard, who plays his domestic football at home for a club called Chicken Inn, was another outstanding Warrior over the two ties in Butare.
Some irate Nigerian fans on social media, frustratingly heaping scorn on their own team in disappointment, couldn’t resist the temptation of drawing attention Donovan definitely didn’t chicken out as the 28-year-old stopper exhibited bravery to thwart the Super Eagles on numerous occasions.
Add Walter Musona’s stunning free-kick from 30 yards out in the 1-1 draw with Nigeria. The FC Platinum forward, time after time in the Zimbabwean league, has proven he deserves another chance abroad after earlier stints didn’t bear fruit. What of Tanaka Shandirwa, the Dynamos play-making starlet?
Well, he should have sealed the three points for Zimbabwe against Nigeria with a last-gasp winner, but blew a glorious chance deep in added time.
But what a cameo role he had, what a player this chap promises to be for the future — a clever footballer with remarkable vision, technical ability and vision on the field. Is this a true reflection of the quality in the Zimbabwean PSL? I have of late been spending some time with Leonard Fiyado, the free-scoring former Gunners and CAPS United striker.
The quality isn’t exactly obvious across the PSL right now, he tells me. But there is some real talent in the league, pretty good footballers, whose natural ability doesn’t quite show when they play locally because they are surrounded in their own clubs by 50% mediocrity and equally the same percentage in the opposing teams.
But when you put them in an environment of teammates like Marvelous Nakamba, Andy Rinomhota and Marshall Munetsi — and then against opponents of the same pedigree — you will see the real Donovan Bernard, Andrew Mbeba, Walter Musona and Tanaka Shandirwa.
It is definitely something markedly different from the sporadic flashes of genius you see from them every week in the PSL. So I wanted to know from Fiyado: how do you then make sure that the PSL’s finest crop continue to develop into something even more special for the nation?
“Make them spend more time with the foreign-based professionals in the Warriors set-up, in the meanwhile, if you can’t immediately get them signed abroad.”
How do you do that, on the first one, taking into account the tight Fifa international calendar? Well, somehow.