Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
FORMER Young Warriors coach Philip Mbofana is determined to break the glass ceiling by becoming the first Zimbabwean export to coach in Europe’s professional football leagues.
Mbofana recently joined Polish Third Division side City Wilanow as an assistant coach. The team is based in the Polish capital Warsaw.
The move is a break from tradition as Zimbabwean coaches have often found it difficult to make the breakthrough overseas.
Most of the time they do not go further than South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Swaziland and Malawi. But the former Zimbabwe Under-20 and Under-23 coach, who had stints in Swaziland and South Africa, has led the way by pursuing his career in Poland.
His ambition is to go as far as the Polish top-flight.
“I joined the team during the off-season in July and it has been a wonderful experience from the off-season training, pre-match preparation, tactical approach to the game and the general logistics.
“There is more attention to detail here and as an assistant I am given specific tasks, be it at training or during a match.
“So far, so good and we’re doing relatively well at the half-way stage of the season.
“We are on winter break now until the end of March. I am with the club for at least until the end of next season and so far things are pointing in the right direction.
“The players have warmly received me and are enjoying my different approach to the game. Despite the language barrier, it has not been difficult to settle as nearly half the team speaks English, including the head coach and the other assistant,” Mbofana told The Herald from his new base in Warsaw yesterday.
The 50-year-old gaffer is a holder of a CAF B licence and is working towards attaining the UEFA A licence in Poland early next year.
Zimbabwe have exported football players to Poland, the likes of Norman Mapeza, Gift Muzadzi, Takesure Chinyama, Herbert Dick, Costa Nhamoinesu, Dickson Choto and Shingi Kawondera among a host of names, but this is the first time a coach from this part of the world is making inroads into that country.
City Wilanow are excited to have Mbofana in their ranks. He was a surprise appointment ahead of the current season. The league has taken a winter break, with the club in third place of the Polish Class A Group III. They trail log leaders MKS Polonia Parsazawa by 10 points.
“Before the start of the new season, many new faces appeared in our team,” the club said in a statement.
“Our training staff also changed a lot, and one of them was the addition of a coach, who was not expected by anyone in our club.
“You might have noticed him already on the sideline during matches or on photos, but today we want to introduce you to his profile and tell you a bit about our assistant coach — Phil Mbofana.
“Coach Phil, although we should call him Fidza in his native language, is a coach with great experience that he has gained on football fields for many years.
“ . . . Just like our club, Fidza is the type of winner who strives to be the best all his life, no matter what the obstacle is in front of him. That is why he found himself so well in our club and tries to lead us to achieve the set goals.
“He brought a lot of freshness to our coaching staff and a completely different view of football, for which we value him very much,” the statement continued.
Mbofana made history when, as a 28-year-old, he became the youngest coach to take charge of a top-flight side in the Zimbabwean Premiership in 1998. He was left with the reins at the now-defunct Mhangura FC after replacing Zambian Webster Chikabala.
His appointment was met with criticism from a wider section of the club’s fans who felt at his age he was not ripe enough to make the right decisions.
He, however, answered his critics in the best possible manner when he led Mhangura to the BP Cup final in which they controversially lost to CAPS United in his debut season. Apart from Mhangura, he also coached Douglas Warriors and was appointed the Zimbabwe Under-20 and Under-23 head coach in the mid-2000s.
He crossed the borders and landed at Swaziland’s Mbabane Highlanders, XI Men in Flight, Hellenics and Bush Bucks between 2007 and 2010.
After a three-year flirtation with Swaziland football, in August 2010 Mbofana made his dream move closer to coaching in the Super Diski by replacing compatriot Shepherd Murape at Inland First Division side Dynamos in South Africa.
Mbofana has managed to balance his pursuit in football and his banking profession. In his career as a banker, he rose from clerical to managerial levels with Barclays Bank of Zimbabwe and CBZ.
The former Young Warriors coach also paid tribute to the late footballer Gift “Guava” Kamuriwo, who died last week after a long illness.
“I met Guava for the first time in early 1998 when I joined Mhangura FC and he was one of the senior players within the team, who helped me to settle quickly as a rookie 28-year-old Premier League coach. We struck a very good professional relationship from then on until his sad departure to the other world.
“Those who played against him can testify that though Gift was very cool off the field of play that he wouldn’t hurt a fly, he was a completely different person on the field as he was a tough nut to crack.
“His talent and commitment to the team was such that I always looked up to him to rescue the team when the chips were down. He didn’t disappoint most times and was one of those key players who made my life enjoyable and unforgettable at the mine team.
“I was not surprised when he later on went to captain Black Rhinos and also featured for the Warriors,” said Mbofana.