The wait is over. The 2017 Castle Lager Premier Soccer League season roars into life this month in what promises to be an exciting eight month show featuring 18 of the top football teams in the country.
The league’s sponsors, Delta Beverages, have added another incentive to the show: a two team tournament to feature the winners of both the league championship and the Chibuku Super Cup to be played at the end of the season.
The tournament, dubbed the Castle Lager Challenge will see the winners of the match pocketing $30,000 with the losers taking home $20,000. So, there is even more the $100,000 league championship prize money up for grabs this year.
Since the league got a sponsor in 2010 only one of the three traditional giants of Zimbabwean football, Highlanders, have NOT won the championship. The other two, Dynamos won the championship for four years running between 2011 and 2014 and Caps United’s chance came last season.
In between Dynamos and Caps United were Chicken Inn who took the championship in 2015, under the guidance of Joey Antipas who had won the title with Motor Action in 2010 when the league did not have a financier.
So will this be Highlanders’ year?
Coach Erol Agbay believes it is. “People are going to see a far much different and a far much stronger Highlanders. We are ready for the challenge,” said Agbay, a Dutchman, and the only foreign coach in the Zimbabwean Premiership.
Agbay’s confidence is borne in part on the fact that Highlanders did not lose any stars during the off season break. Peter Muduwa and Prince Dube are still available, and this is in addition to Roderick Mutuma they acquired from Dynamos.
Whilst there is no doubting Mutuma’s talent, Highlanders will have to instil discipline in the player to going to get the best.
Bosso also have the experience in the form of Eric Mudzingwa who has turned down moves to South African clubs to stay at the popular Bulawayo club. Not forgetting reliable goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda.
The Bulawayo giants have played bridesmaid for too long and the 2017 season presents them with the chance to banish all that.
However, it is defending champions, Caps United, whom on paper fit the profile of 2017 champions. There are many who believe that the five time winners–combining excellent teamwork and individual flair–should be on the winners’ podium when the curtain comes down on the contest in November.
“I think Caps will win the championship again this year. Although they have classy individuals, they rely too much on teamwork. That is where they have an advantage over the other teams,” says former Caps United defender Charles Kanjera.
The Green Machine will also be driven by their impressive run in the Caf Champions League where they have reached the mini league stage after eliminating five time champions, TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Their confidence was also boosted after their 3-2 penalty shootout win over Highlanders in the final of the Zimbabwe National Army Charity Shield.
On their way to the final, Green Machine had also beaten Dynamos.
Zimbabwe’s 2016 top goalscorer, Leonard Tsipa who was rumoured to be moving to Tanzania is still at the club. So is reigning soccer star of the year, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Phineas Bamusi, Tafadzwa Rusike, Dominic Chungwa, Dennis Dauda, and Ronald Pfumbidzai.
In addition, Caps United have also signed Ronald Chitiyo from Harare City to add guile to their midfield.
The Green Machine, however, will find the strain of playing in both the CAF Champions League and the domestic league a lot to bear.
What of Caps United’s neighbours, Dynamos? There is no season that begins without Dynamos being among the favourites for the title and the 2017 programme is no exception.
Dembare have been very active in the build up to the season by playing a series of friendly matches across the country.
Although they lost Walter Mukanga, Dominic Mukandi, and Godknows Murwira to Ngezi Platinum Stars, as well as Wisdom Mutasa and Elisha Muroiwa who are moving to Tanzania, and Tatenda Mukuruva who went to South Africa, Dynamos still have former soccer star of the year, Denver Mukamba, Obey Mwerahari, and Valentine Ndaba, to look forward to for inspiration.
Former Warriors defender Lincoln Zvasiya has also joined the popular Harare club to steady the defence which leaked like a sieve last season.
They have also discovered a new gem in the form of Emmanuel Mandiranga. If his off season performance is anything to go by, then Mandiranga could be the saviour Dembare has been waiting years for.
Coach Lloyd Mutasa has also brought on board a host of other youngsters among them, Tonderai Mateyaunga, Peace Makaha, Takunda Sadiki, and Gift Saunyama.
However, there are some football analysts who believe that Mutasa’s youthful side will need a year or so to make a serious challenge for the championship.
The analysts point to cash rich FC Platinum and Ngezi Platinum Stars as the serious challengers to the traditional giants’ domination of Zimbabwean football.
The platinum miners were the biggest beneficiaries of the transfer market with Norman Mapeza’s Kugona Kunenge Kudada acquiring the services of Bret Amidu from Dynamos, Gift Bweti from Hwange, and Talent Chawapihwa from ZPC Kariba.
Although they lost Walter Musona who left for South Africa, FC Platinum won’t feel it as they have Bweti, Rodwell Chinyengetere and Marshal Mudehwe to look to for goals.
Coach Norman Mapeza knows that failure to win the league title this season would lead to his departure from FC Platinum and the coach cannot afford to lose that huge salary.
On the other side of the platinum coin, Tonderai Ndiraya has built a strong Ngezi Platinum Stars laden with experience.
Captain Liberty Chakoroma will lead the team from the midfield. With the assistance from the likes of Partson Jaure, Neslon Chadya, Kelvin Bulaji, Donald Teguru,Washington Pakamisa, and the new signings Qadr Amini from How Mine, Xolisani Ncube from Bulawayo City, and the former Dynamos trio of Mukanga, Mukandi, and Murwira, Ngezi Platinum Stars, should be one of the strongest challengers for the championship.
Ndiraya claimed after winning the Chibuku Super Cup last season that Ngezi Platinum Stars were on a learning curve, and promised the miners would be challenging for honours this season.
What a year it would be for the rural community of Mhondoro Ngezi, should Ngezi Platinum Stars win the league championship?
As the season readies for kick off, It is a fact that those teams with a huge financial base especially those owned by institutions like FC Platinum, Ngezi Platinum Stars, How Mine, Chicken Inn, Triangle, and ZPC Kariba as well as the crowd pullers like Caps United, Dynamos, and Highlanders, will always have an advantage over teams owned by individuals or driven by the community.
The question, however, is: Who will be crowned the 2017 Zimbabwe champions? On November 26, the answer will be provided.