There can be few players to have played under so many great coaches as Kalusha Bwalya. The list of men the African great has performed for reads like a who's who of the best in the business. Recently appointed Zambia coach, Great Kalu is mixing their best ingredients with a bit of his own spice to prepare a winning dish to serve up at football's greatest feast.
Of his mentors, three led their countries to the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™, George Leekens (Belgium), Guus Hiddink (Holland) and Manuel Lapuente (Mexico). Leo Beenhakker (former Dutch National team and Real Madrid coach), Marcelo Bielsa (current Argentine national coach) and Bobby Robson (England's coach at the 1986 and 1990 World Cup) have all included Kalusha among their players.
With a coaching badge (taught in Dutch) in his pocket, the winning experience of taking Vera Cruz to the Mexican first division for the first time in more than 50 years, the Zambian idol rightfully believes he is ready to take his nation to a place they have never been - the FIFA World Cup™ finals.
"Being a coach was much easier than I thought," he admits. "I'd always been one to discuss tactics with coaches and playing for six or seven of the most renowned in the game gave me a great education in the role.
All for one
"But there is not one style I try to emulate, just to replicate the good things from all."
After cutting his coaching teeth so successfully in the Mexican league, Great Kalu became the obvious choice to lift spirits in the football-mad nation after the disappointment of failing to qualify for the African Cup of Nations in Tunisia earlier in 2004 and the subsequent departure of Patrick Phiri.
"I'm very satisfied with the work we are doing to resurrect Zambian football to the force we used to be.
"Since 2000 there has been a decline. We didn't make CAN this year. Now we want the base of the team to be local players with those who come in from outside taking the team to another level. We might not have the best league or the beat facilities, but we can find 14 or 15 players who are very good. Compared to those of Mali or Senegal, our boys lack experience of course but they have the strength and confidence to do well. Maybe this world cup comes too early but if they blossom, should be a good bet for 2010."
Zambia's stars of tomorrow could be keeper Kalililo Kakonje, Billy Mwanza, captain Mishek Lungu who "could play in any team in Europe", holding midfielder Isaac Chansa, and up front Jacob Mulenga, who "can get 30 goals in a season".
"There have been successful teams from Africa: Morocco, Cameroon, Nigeria, Cameroon. So why not us?" questioned the coach. "I have told my players that with sacrifice and hard work we can beat all these teams."
But the worldly Kalusha does not stop there.
"With some African sides, I think if they could play as a team, they would be world-beaters. In tactics we have been lacking for some time. Africans' strengths are enthusiasm, attitude to the game and joy, something you should never take out.
"We Zambians have our own distinctive style of passing and strength as a group. And if you look at our team today, I believe we have the qualities to make it to the world cup."