Sharif Mussa: A true Warrior

HARARE - When the legendary South African footballer Jomo Sono said coaching is a thankless profession, he must have probably forgotten to mention the backroom staff that works behind the scenes as well.

As the Warriors prepare for a new era under a new coach following the departure of Kalisto Pasuwa, the senior team would also have to make do with a new team manager after the long-serving and hard-working Sharif Mussa decided to call it a day.

As the Harare businessman waved goodbye to the Warriors, the national game chose to be thankless to a man who served it with so much distinction and sacrifice.

Mussa’s contribution to the Warriors for over a decade even touched those he worked with such as former Zimbabwe coach Charles Mhlauri.

Mhlauri, who is now based in the US, worked together with Mussa during the Warriors qualification campaign and at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament in Egypt in 2006.

Interestingly, when the Warriors took part in their third Afcon tournament in Gabon earlier this year, Mussa was the only surviving member of the Zimbabwe delegation, who had been to both the 2004 edition in Tunisia and in Egypt two years later.

In 2004, Mussa travelled as the team liaison officer with Sunday Chidzambwa as head coach and Rafiq Adam the manager.

Two years later, under Mhlauri, he was the assistant manager with former Highlanders chairperson Ernest “Mapepa’’ Sibanda the manager.

Sandwiched between those Afcon appearances were some Cosafa Cup tournaments and the African Nations Championships (Chan) finals and a variety of international assignments ranging from Afcon and World Cup qualifiers in a career that spanned 15 years.

Mhlauri said it was sad for Zimbabwean football to lose a man like Mussa and felt that Zifa could have done more to convince him to change his mind.

The former CAPS United coach noted that managing the Warriors especially against the background of Zifa’s vastly limited resources was not an easy task meant for the faint-hearted or for those seeking to make a fortune from being associated with the national team.

“It was sad for me to learn of Mussa’s decision to resign.  I respect his decision to step aside and I know he gave it careful consideration and it must have been difficult since he is a football person,” Mhlauri, who is now a director of coaching at Lightning Soccer Club in Vermont in the US, told the Daily News on Sunday.

“He was a valuable asset to the Warriors. I wish to see him back in the game at some point in some capacity be it at club or at national teams level.  I really enjoyed working with him. He was an honest, competent and forward-looking manager.

“He was inspiring, intelligent, broad minded and courageous. Managing the Warriors is never easy for reasons you know. There is always a challenge that needs a man of means with people skills and good communication to keep the train on track.

“He did just that. I had the privilege to see him in his private business, it was amazing how he would still juggle things to make time to help/manage the Warriors.

“He had great organisational skills and could multi-task, manage and plan ahead when it came to the welfare/travel of the team in general.

“I also liked his good ethical commitment to the success of the Warriors and still remain at the back without seeking to glorify his contribution. This is the man who would do the job and let others take the glory.

“I really enjoyed working with him and Mapepa Sibanda whose work is also another bible of gratitude and selflessness.”

Warriors skipper Willard Katsande, just like Mhlauri and many of the players that have worked with Mussa, was also saddened to hear of the manager’s departure.

“We shared some wonderful moments with Mussa over the years. He made us feel comfortable when things were tough,” Katsande said.

“Actually, his motivation made us qualify for the last Afcon tournament. The guy is a true professional.” 

During his time with the national team, Mussa was never the one to seek glory and the likeable Harare businessman somewhat downplayed the huge sacrifices he often made for the Warriors.

There were many times Mussa dug into his own pockets to pay airfares, accommodation and other necessities for the team.

Fluent in eight languages including French, Portuguese, Arabic, Spanish and Swahili, Mussa was also a priceless asset when going through immigration formalities across the continent.   

“As a responsible manager and patriotic Zimbabwean there were numerous occasions when I felt I needed to chip in and get things going given as waiting for Zifa would not have’s an open secret the association is financially challenged,” Mussa told the Daily News on Sunday.

“As for the figures it’s now difficult to quantify because it was not a one-off occasion. I used my resources to support over the years and in various ways.

“I only got monies when players went into camp like how they all get (allowances and all). But you know before camp starts there is need to plan, strategise, run around day and night, follow up in all areas and make phone calls among other things.

“I used to do all that when actually this is the job of the secretariat but because there were always running behind and issues of resources they just couldn’t get down to make it happen well ahead of time  and so I saw it best to be doing things rather than leaving it to the last minute.”

Mussa sees the experience he gained during his tenure as a life lesson and does not regret taking up the challenge.

“I would say it has been somewhat of a roller-coaster ride. No doubt it has had its many memorable occasions and there have been some highs and some lows,” Mussa said.

“Naturally, one grows with experience and for sure I matured in the game from the time I started as team liaison officer, assistant manager and eventually manager.

“I was an understudy to Adam who was also one of the best men to have worked with the Warriors.

“It’s been a wonderful experience taking charge of the human resources aspect of the Warriors brand during two of the three Afcon tournaments, I have been to two Chan tournaments and the many Cosafa competitions including the one we won on home soil in 2009.

“A lot of the downsides are related to lack of adequate provision of resources which led to some poor travel and failure to play friendly matches or at times get the players in as we would have loved.”

Over the years, Mussa worked with a lot of talented players from the likes of Peter Ndlovu right to this current generation. 

“It’s really difficult to choose which of the group of players is best. I would say every set of players have their own stories to tell and I tried to treat them equally but obviously you enjoy more with winning squads because the ultimate goal in this sport is to win,” he said.

Now that his time in football is up, Mussa, 46, is now concentrating on his family business empire.

“To be successful it requires a lot of hard work, dedication and sacrifices...and I gave just that and I believe in this because my parents and family inspired me, motivated me and they made sacrifices.”

Maybe just one day he can return to football again as a manager or in a totally different capacity.

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