Norman Mapeza is one of Zimbabwe’s footballing legends, his imperious playing style in both midfield and defence formed part of a high point for the country’s national team.
Now with his 40th birthday still ahead of him, Zimbabwe are once again looking to the well-travelled Mapeza, this time in his capacity as coach of the national team.
The Warriors have had Mapeza as a caretaker coach twice already, but in March they gave him the job on a full-time basis.
The former Galatasaray player has a one-year contract to try and get the team to the next CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals.
Zimbabwe lie third in their qualifying group, but are just two points off the top with two matches to go.
They host Liberia in their penultimate qualifier at Harare’s National Sports Stadium on September 4 and finish the campaign at group leaders Cape Verde Islands in October.
“I think we have some really magical youngsters coming through the ranks.
“We can be right in charge if we beat Liberia, and Mali and the Cape Verde draw in the other game in early September,” said the sprightly Mapeza.
Mapeza feels Zimbabwe should be in an even better position, but that they needlessly dropped points early on in the campaign – drawing in Liberia and at home to Cape Verde.
Zimbabwe picked up just two points from their first three matches, including a 1-0 defeat in Mali in Mapeza’s debut match in charge.
“Trips to West Africa are always difficult for the visiting teams,” he said about the loss to the Eagles.
But with some incredible talent coming through, Mapeza knows he has a team of much potential.
The confirmation of 21-year-old goal machine Knowledge Musona’s promise with his switch from the South African Premiership to Hoffenheim in the German Bundesliga, and the emergence of crafty teenager Khama Billiat at Ajax Cape Town in South Africa are two examples of the talent he can pick from.
“I think we have some really magical youngsters coming through the ranks. My job is to get the right mix of the young players with the necessary experience,” said Mapeza.
“When I was appointed as national team coach my mind immediately went to how to bring these youngsters through. They must all be given a chance to show what they can do at the highest level, although it must be at the right time. It is also key that we have some experienced players in our side.”
I think at the end of the day if we are organised and we have the right resources, we can certainly be as competitive as many of Africa’s top teams.
Mapeza says his own experience as a high-profile star who spent a decade in Europe also helps him with the blending process.
“I do a lot of explaining to the youngsters, especially in terms of representing your country with passion and being a proper professional player,” he said.
Mapeza also has an eye on the next Fifa World Cup, even if Zimbabwe were handed a potentially tough draw with Egypt and Guinea in the same group.
“These days you can’t tell with African football,” said Mapeza about his side’s chances.
“Everything is changing all the time. Look at what Botswana have achieved lately. I think at the end of the day if we are organised and we have the right resources, we can certainly be as competitive as many of Africa’s top teams.
“But we have a lot to do before those qualifiers start, like playing in two Nations Cup qualifying campaigns, first finishing the 2012 preliminaries and then starting the process for the 2013 finals. Our focus is not so much on the World Cup just yet, but it will be when the time comes.”