Complete Sports' radio show, Sports Planet has been speaking with Zambian football legend, Kalusha Bwalya, about his glittering careers as a player and as an administrator. Interview by TUNDE KOIKI. Excerpts …
SPORTS PLANET: I’m here with another great African legend and former African footballer of the year, Kalusha Bwalya. Thank you for joining us.
KALUSHA BWALYA: Thank you for having me and how are you doing?
Very well. How have you been with your family, your career, your football administration, I mean how have you been generally?
KALUSHA: I’ve been okay, God has been kind to us. I started on this journey a long time ago and for me, football is my life and motivation. I must support football and my family members understand me, travelling all the time in the name of football, what can one do?
Being with Zambian football as the chairman of its football Association, it’s always important to bring out good programs and also that our teams are participating and I’m happy to report that we have representation at every tournament. We were at the Under-17 tournament in Niger, Under-20 in Senegal last year. We were also at the African Cup of Nations and we’ve always been present there. We were at the Under-23 competition in Senegal back again and even before that, we had some major success which is unprecedented in Zambian history where women’s football had the girls representing us at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica. The women also participated at the African Women’s Championship in Namibia for the first time. So far, so good, I think that we are on the right path.
How would you describe African football in general as of today?
African football has progressed so much. I came into African football as a player, not as a fan. As a fan, if you think about the seventies, where African football was and I count myself as a football player coming from being a student in the eighties before I joined the main league, I mean a lot of things have happened.
Been on the road with the Zambian National team from 1982 until the year 2000, I mean it’s a long road, a total of 18 years. From then, I think that we have seen accelerated development, the pitches are much better, they are no longer like those dangerous pitches we used to play on in those days. The home ground advantage did prevail back then but today, we play in modern stadia all over where we have matches and the turfs are wonderful. This helps African players who play their club football in Europe a lot as the pitches back home in Africa too are wonderful. The players are ready to play good football whether they are in Ghana, Senegal, Guinea, Nigeria, Morocco, Egypt, we have good fields everywhere, all around.
So, infrastructure has developed, the commercial part has developed, the African Cup of Nations today is a tournament that you can see far and beyond. The CHAN, a tournament for African football players based on the continent which just ended, people kept calling us from far away America and the Middle East to show you how impressed they are with African football. So, here we are in a healthy state, however, we can’t sit on our laurels, I think that we still have to improve.
Yes, there is good football being played, better administration, we have better administrators in Africa all round, our competitions are healthy, people want to win games, our players have emancipated, they are playing everywhere and they come back, having made names for themselves. So, yes, we are in a healthy state.
Away from CAF and good football in Africa, talking about FIFA, how would you describe the recent scandal in FIFA?
For me, it’s difficult because it pains me as an individual that has contributed to the game and also being a member of FIFA sub-committee since 2004 and so, yes, it’s difficult to describe. It’s been difficult months but hopefully, once the election passes, a new breath of fresh air will come to prevail. It’s difficult to see a situation where especially, somebody like Sepp Blatter is involved after giving forty years of service to FIFA but we owe it to ourselves to uphold the good name of football. Football is fair play, football is our life, it’s our wellbeing, we hope that the waste is behind us so that we can move on, hold hands so as to continue with the development and also, its aspiring nature as a game, the games that we enjoy to see, the football that we see. I hope that is the thing people will remember and hope to see in the future that football is remodeled and we can show the best of football in the world.
Do you have a preferred candidate from the five men vying for FIFA presidency?
Yes, I have a preferred candidate, but we as CAF have to sit down to make the choice of who would be Africa’s preferred candidate.
On a personal note, do you agree that you are Zambia’s all time greatest footballer?
No, I don’t. I think that I have been around in Zambia for a long time and I think before me, there were fantastic players who had played for the national team. My two heroes; Godfrey Chitalu was a legend in African football who made his marks amongst other good players and then Alex Chola who was my mentor. I preferred Blackpool when he was still playing there. I played under him at Under-14 and at a particular time, we found ourselves together in the national team. And I always tell the national team players that when I went to the national team and Alex Chola was there, he used to tell me can you take my boots to go and clean them so you can imagine your teammate telling you such but that was the type of respect that I had for the man. He was a legend, he used to make magic on Sundays back then when games were played on Sundays. I learnt a lot from him, I learnt a lot from many different players and coaches in Zambia and I bless God everyday for the privilege to be given a prolonged life with the national team of Zambia and I’m still here, so I’m happy.
Your best moment as a footballer.
I think they are many, there are many phases. I was quite young when I went to the national team, but having been to six African Cup of Nations, I played over hundred games for the national team and scored a lot of goals for the national team, close to fifty,Y but I think that to be crowned the African Player of the year in 1988, nothing beats that. I mean my children showing their own children what their grand dad did would be wonderful, telling them this is what your grand dad did. I’m happy to have contributed to African football and still contributing, I think that we still have a long relationship and I would always love to put my country first and also to uphold the good name of African football.
Do you have any worst moment?
No, I think difficult moments are many. In 1993; to lose our national team, nothing beats that. My dad and my brothers are not there, people who encouraged me. I’m sad that they are not able to see me where I am today. My dad was one of my most ardent supporters and really encouraged me to play football. When I was four or five years old, my brother was two years older than me, my dad used to take us every weekend to football matches which was important and he always had great belief in my ability, and I’d like to hope that I surpassed that but I think that he would have been proud to have seen me in the position that I am today.
Finally from me, how soon do you think an African side can win the Women’s World Cup and the Men’s World Cup?
I think that there are lots of teams working very hard and sometimes, you can get a surprise. We hope that one day, an African side would be able to surprise us.
I think that we are as good as some of the teams that have beaten us in the past. But if you look at the five representatives that went to Brazil, I will start with the men, they had what it took. If you look at Ghana, Algeria, the football that they played; Nigeria, the potential that they had; Cote D’Voire of course with the team that they had. African players, individually, are as good as the eleven starting players for Brazil, England, Spain, Germany, Argentina and Uruguay, but the difficult part for us has been to bring those good moments in the 90th minute or 95th minute and then to hold it consistently for five, six, seven games. I think that is the thing. I think that we have to talk about the consistency of our players to be able to produce the best form in those five, six, seven games because you know as well as I do that I have seen Cote D’Voire, Nigeria and Ghana play football and on their day, they are as good as the top three or four teams in the world that we perceive to be the best teams.
So, I hope I am not too far off in answering your question, I am confident in this time, this lifetime that we will be able to see an African team to qualify for the semi-finals of the Men’s World Cup. Let’s start with the semi-finals and then, we can talk afterwards.
Thank you very much.
I appreciate it.
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