AT the start of every season, it is difficult to bet which team will win the league title in Zimbabwe but one thing you can put your money on is financial problems rocking several teams along the way, especially Harare football giants Caps United.
Tuesday’s incident — where a group of agitated Caps United players besieged the offices of club vice-president Nhamo Tutisani and nearly manhandled him demanding payment of outstanding salaries is a reflection of the financial challenges weighing heavily against individually and community owned teams especially.
Although COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation, cash -flow problems have been a defining feature of the Harare football giants and several other teams without corporate support.
It has had profound effects that have in most cases impeded search for greatness both at domestic and international level. Some of the teams have struggled to retain premier league status.
Only last season, the Harare football giants were in a firm position to win their first league title since 2016, but a stand-off over outstanding salaries in the lead up to their must-win match against Ngezi Platinum demoralised the players and Caps lost 3-2.
That result saw them losing their grip on the title to nearest rivals FC Platinum who then applied a coup de grâce in Harare in the final game with a 1-0 victory over the Green machine.
Having invested heavily in playing staff during the off season, Caps United looked like the team to beat this season before the coronavirus pandemic forced a delayed start to the season.
They signed some of the best players available on the domestic scene, Ishmael Wadi, Innocent Mucheneka, Ian Nyoni, Tatenda Tumba and Lee Roy Mavhunga among others. With some of them having signed one-year contracts except for a few like Mavhunga, it is difficult to imagine them renewing the contracts under the circumstances.
It is a shared and uncontested view that Caps United is a big institution that thrives on its brand equity, luring several stars to their stable who go on to play outside the country’s borders.
Gabriel Nyoni joined from Highlanders last season but barely six months into the contract, he had attracted the attention of clubs in South Africa where he is currently playing for Maritzburg United.
Their attractiveness, which has seen most players falling over each other to join despite the club’s history of struggles with paying salaries can perhaps be explained by their continental success in 2017 when they reached the group stage of the African Champions League.
That success story has earned them reputational capital on the international scene and it is not surprising that more Caps United players continue to find it easy to break into the lucrative leagues outside the country.
However, several other teams have also wilted under the weight of an economy dislocated by corruption, poor policies by the government and general mismanagement which has ordinary citizens struggling to make ends meet.
Teams like Mushowani faced serious cash flow problems last term to a point that they could not pay player salaries while Nichrut faced the same problem when they joined the PSL in the previous season. Both teams were relegated.
Local football history is full of such sad stories — Motor Action, Monomotapa, Mwana Africa, Lengthens, Douglas Warriors, Underhill, Triple B, Tsholotsho, Dongo Saw Mills and Hardbody could not keep up with the cost of surviving in the PSL for a sustained period of time.
With most clubs reliant on gate receipts, those clubs that do not command a big following are bound to face extinction while traditional giants Dynamos, Highlanders and Caps United, the most supported teams in the country have managed to survive.
It is a herculean task to be able to run a football club in Zimbabwe under the prevailing economic environment with pretty much no returns on the investment.
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