Joey Antipas has been forced to make a dramatic U-turn and question the quality of Zimbabwean footballers, while heaping praises on their South African counterparts as a special breed of talented players, in a desperate attempt to find acceptance in his new working environment in South Africa
The 57-year-old coach, who guided Chicken Inn to their maiden league title in a grand achievement described by Zimbabwe international striker Tendai Ndoro as a fairytale as good as Leicester City’s Cinderella tale in the English Premiership title race this season, yesterday criticised the quality of the local footballers as he tried to quell a storm triggered in South Africa by comments, attributed to him, carried by the Kick-Off website.
Antipas left Chicken Inn, amid revelations that his contract ended on December 31 last year, and is now joining South African Division One side AmaZulu who have, among their players, Zimbabwe international goalkeeper Energy Murambadoro.
Asked why Zimbabwean footballers were successful in South Africa after Khama Billiat became the latest star from this side of the Limpopo to set Super Diski alight, with his 20 assists representing a new golden era of goal-creating brilliance in that country’s Premiership, Antipas told Kick-Off that his countrymen owed their success to their hunger to scale greater heights in the game.
“You see the guys there in Zimbabwe are hungry for success and the guys work really hard and Zimbabwean football is not well sponsored as it is here,’’ Antipas told Kick-Off.
“And one thing about those boys is they eat, drink and they sleep football because they want to make a name for themselves and move to Europe.
“I’d say Zimbabwean players are much more hungrier than South African players.’’
Those comments triggered a storm with brickbats being thrown between Zimbabwean football fans and their South African counterparts, on the section of the website where readers can post comments, with players from this country being labelled by some as “cows” who are prepared to get peanuts and work for even less than R10 000 a month.
Others said Zimbabwean players were “hungry for anything, including match-fixing” while Antipas was warned that he could face a rebellion from South African players who will play under his wing when he starts his job at Amazulu on July 1.
However, other South Africans appeared to support Antipas but said there was a reason why foreigners tend to put more in their shifts than the locals.
A number of Zimbabweans also contributed to the debate in defence of their countrymen with a number of them pointing to the success stories written by Billiat, who is favourite to win the South African Premiership Player of the Season award, after taking his goal tally to double figures and his 20 assists a record for a player in that country’s top-flight league.
But as the storm raged yesterday, Antipas was forced to make a U-turn by his new employers and in his “clarification” of the statements carried by Kick-Off appeared to mock the quality of the Zimbabwean footballers , instead, heap praises on the South African players.
Antipas described Zimbabwean footballers as a bunch of players who only “survive on their hunger for greener pastures,” and said the South African players had more talent.
His new employers, AmaZulu, even posted a message on their official website which was also carried on their Twitter account.
“AmaZulu’s new Head Coach, Joey Antipas has explained the context in which his comments on Zimbabwean and South African players came about in an effort to clear possible confusion from an online article of last week,” the Durban club said on their official website.
“Antipas spent three days with the club and was in attendance at the Milano United match on Sunday afternoon at the Princess Magogo Stadium.
“The 57-year-old was full of praise for the Delron Buckley-led side who dominated proceedings despite falling short of pulling the trigger throughout the afternoon.
“On Monday the Zimbabwean tactician travelled back to Bulawayo to round up his season with Chicken Inn and will return on 01 July to resume his duties formally.”
Antipas spoke about his comments to Kick-Off.
“I was asked a question on whether there is a difference in Zimbabwean players and South African players, which I explained in my opinion that I believe South African players have more talent and skill while Zim players survive on their hunger for greener pastures because there are not a lot of sponsors like here in SA,” said Antipas.
“This was just an opinion not intended to belittle or promote anyone, but one’s view which will be fascinating for me when I begin my work with AmaZulu.
“Division One is very tough, that’s how it is in Zim and I believe it’s the same here in the First Division, you need soldiers.”
Antipas’ comments that Zimbabwean players are not as talented as their South African counterparts, and only thrive because they work harder and are hungry for success, is likely to draw protests here just like the storm which he triggered by suggesting, in that Kick-Off interview, that the local players are powered by a greater determination to succeed than those from Mzansi.
Can Antipas claim that a player like Billiat is not as talented as the best that can be found in South Africa and can he justify his belief that Khamaldinho’s rise to become the star that has dominated Super Diski this season has all to do with his hard work and “hunger for success” and not the natural ball-playing skills that he was born with?
Can Antipas claim that a player like Knowledge Musona is not as talented as the best that can be found in South Africa and can the coach justify his belief that the Smiling Assassin’s rise to become the golden boy at Kaizer Chiefs, and to overshadow his South African teammate Andile Jali at Belgian club KV Oostende this season, has to do with only his hard work and “hunger for success” and not the natural ball-playing skills that he was born with?
Is Antipas right that a player like Tendai Ndoro, whose goals have powered Orlando Pirates in the closing stages of the South African Premiership, is all about hard work and the “hunger for success” and not the natural goal-scoring skills that he was born with?
Can a player like Tinashe Nengomasha last this long, playing in South African football, through only hard work and not the skills that he was born with?
What about Willard Katsande, who only two years ago was voted the outstanding player at Kaizer Chiefs, sweeping all the major honours at the club, Wilfred Mugeyi, the first Zimbabwean to win the Player of the Season Award in that country, Rabson Muchichwa, one of the best wingbacks to grace Super Diski, and Benjani Mwaruwari, who was good enough to play for English Premiership giants Manchester City?