IT goes without saying and beyond any shadow of doubt that Manica Diamonds scripted one of the most fascinating stories in the just-ended Castle Lager Premier Soccer League 2019 season, providing a beautiful and different narrative to the usual discourse we have grown accustomed to.
The diamond miners, then Mutare’s sole representative in the elite league, finished a commendable fifth on the 18-team table, above such heavyweights as Dynamos and Highlanders at only the first time of asking among the big hitters of the domestic game.
They garnered 47 points from 34 matches, defying the odds heavily stacked against them as novices.
Put simply, they hauled their load and punched above their weight.
Looked at another way, the gold and black-shirted boys pulled it off beyond expectations for newboys usually have to work twice as much for half the reward.
Because among all the four teams along whom they were promoted with, they are the only one that enjoy the distinction of having stayed up while Hwange, TelOne and Mushowani Stars went down.
The former could not muster the “been there, done that” aura to salvage survival.
But that did not all come together without any unexpected trouble.
Perhaps owing to the inevitable teething problems, as newbies Manica Diamonds endured difficulties finding their feet following their promotion.
A stuttering start to the season saw them wobbling to a wretched run of woeful form which yielded a miserly four wins, seven draws and six losses for a paltry return of 19 points out of a possible 51.
It culminated in 37 percent failure.
That the self-styled “doctor of football” Luke “Vahombe” Masomere, whose monikers betray his aggrandisement, could not steer the club clear of impending danger spelt doom and it all looked bleak.
Stung by the indifferent results, they jettisoned him and at the time of his expulsion the team sat 11th on the log after 17 games.
At that juncture they had begun casting frenetic glances over their shoulders during frantic battles to duck the chop.
Enter Johanne “Dutch Mentor” Nhumwa, Masomere’s erstwhile understudy, to stem the slide.
Starting on a losing note, a baptism of fire in a 0-1 reverse at the hands of CAPS United in their Vengere backyard, Nhumwa eventually turned their season around and finished strongly on a high note with a 1-0 away win over Black Rhinos to conclude the campaign a respectable fifth.
In hindsight, handing the reins over to him now looks like a season-defining masterstroke for the club.
For their success rate remarkably rose, improving to stand at 55 percent even as the coach had been elevated into the hot seat against the backdrop of a winless seven-game streak (four draws and three losses). In the 17 games the Dutch mentor presided over, the team realised 28 points from eight wins, four draws and five losses.
To his credit he achieved that with virtually the same squad that Masomere had struggled exploiting and was not bolstered with any transfer additions.
While the unsung and unassuming gaffer Nhumwa was thrown into the deep end to hold fort he eventually earned his stripes in full colour with an impressive accomplishment which hinged on tactical tweaks to the previous system as well as giving hitherto fringe players like Last Jesi game time.
This just goes to show how much some coaches are criminally undervalued (good a story for another day!).
Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
In the end Manica Diamonds admirably stood their ground.
Overcoming the controversy which rocked their camp in the build-up to the season when ex-executive members Lazarus Muhoni and Lloyd Chinawa faced allegations of attempting to manipulate player recruitment as they were accused of demanding kickbacks to secure them contracts, the team still played on.
Their will found them a way.
The corporate backing they received from their parent company Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamonds Company also played a critical role in lending them some wherewithal on the park.
Tapping into the expertise of the likes of former Fifa panel match official Masimba Chihowa (chairman) and Ticha Zikai (team manager) immensely benefited the Gem Boys with a hands-on approach to the administrative side of the game.
Little wonder then that their form in the last five games was striking and only teams directly involved in mêlées at both ends of the table fared better than them — FC Platinum and Chicken Inn gunning for the title; as well as Yadah, Herentals and Triangle battling for dear life if results elsewhere did not go their way.
Manica Diamonds finished sixth in this context — winning three and losing two matches.
Overall, during the period Nhumwa was in sole charge (17 games, 28 points), they came a close third behind only the eventual champions (FC Platinum, 30 points) and their runners-up (Chicken Inn, 29).
Having preserved their Premiership status, they can always build on this momentum so that their survival among the big boys is not ephemeral and a flash in the pan.
Long may it continue!
This was a statement season for Manica Diamonds.
The Gem Boys shone brightly last term.
A diamond is forever!
If it is about football that you care let’s share the cheer because we are made for the game, mad about the game!
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