'Grassroots football key'

HARARE - Visiting Dutch football coach Jan Pruijn says Zimbabwe needs strong grassroots development programmes if the country entertains any hopes of establishing a prominent place in the world of football.

The likes of Peter Ndlovu, Norman Mapeza, Bruce Grobbelaar, Benjani Mwaruwari, Newton Katanha, George Mbwando, Moses Chunga and Harlington Shereni are some of the Zimbabweans, who played for clubs in major European leagues.

But in recent years, local footballers have struggled to break into European top clubs mainly because they do not receive the basic training when they are still young.

Pruijn, who has specialised in junior football in both his native Holland and South Africa, was speaking on the sidelines of talent identification exercise at the newly-established football academy, Sports Avenue Academy, over the weekend.

Former Warriors midfielder Edzai Kasinauyo came together with former CAPS United board member, Nhamo Tutisani in the establishment of the academy which is currently based at Mt Pleasant High School.

Sports Avenue joins other institutions such as Aces Youth Academy, Highfield Academy, BN Academy and DC Academy among others in seeking to develop untapped talent.

“There is a very huge need for youth development programmes in Zimbabwe and that should be the starting point for the country’s football,” Pruijn said.

“If you want to improve as a nation in as far as football is concerned, you need to start with the youth.

“Youth football is vital to any country’s success because it lays the foundation.

“I know a few Zimbabwean players and I also know just like other African countries, facilities are few but those few should be used to churn out talent.”

Pruijn paid tribute to the famed Aces Youth Soccer Academy for producing some of the players who went on to make it on the big stage.

“When Khama Billiat arrived at Ajax he was almost a complete player. He is a naturally talented player; he was gifted by birth,” said the Dutchman.

“I do not know which academy he was at but for sure they had fine-tuned him. When he came to Ajax he was a player who could make the difference.

“Although he is still lacking some few habits which are required by European leagues, there is a big room for improvement from him.

“I think that’s exactly what I spoke to these coaches about for this programme to be a success in the next say four to five years.

“There is a certain need of that education which Khama didn’t get and I am sure it’s there in the country.

“If Khama had got all the education at this point in time he could be in Europe.”

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