Solidarity after the civil war
Artur Semedo is one of the many successful exports that has made Mozambican footballers legendary, coming off a production line that spurned the likes of the 'Black Panther' Eusebio and the European Cup winning captain Mario Coluna.
For decades Mozambique has provided its former colonial power Portugal with outstanding players and Semedo, who went to Benfica in 1981, was one of a distinguished list. Now back in his home country, the former midfielder has been handed the task of coaching the national team, the Mambas, who are unfortunately a far cry off the legacy of Eusebio, Coluna, Hilario, Sheu, Matateu and others.
Semedo has a short-term contract and replaces the Egyptian Ayman El Yamany. With Mozambique eliminated in late 2003 from the qualifiers for the next FIFA World Cup finals and African Nations Cup finals, there has been little to keep the national side busy.
Mozambique played just six internationals last year and competed in their first game in six months last weekend on 15 April when they were beaten 3-0 by neighbours Zimbabwe in the Cosafa Castle Cup.
The final score line was a little harsh on Semedo's formative team which he put together with just four training sessions. Half of the players came from his own club Ferroviario Maputo, who had started the season earlier than the rest of the clubs in the country because of their participation in the African Confederation Cup two months ago. The others clubs in Mozambique's top league have just returned to action with the start of the new season this month (April).
"There is big talent in the country but we can never be sure if all of the best players really came up to the surface because of what the war did to the country. We are paying the price for the war. The players are not as physically strong as before, not as athletic," says Semedo, reflecting on the contrast between the past greats and the current crop of footballers.
Semedo spent 18 years in Portugal, playing also at Maritimo and Academica, before returning home in 1998 to begin a coaching career that has seen him work at all Maputo's top clubs except the one he started his career with.
He was a ex-player of Costa dol Sol and has coached Matchedje, Maxaquene, Desportivo Maputo and Ferroviario Maputo, the famous railway club where Coluna was a long standing coach and president.
"I came back to see if I could help improve Mozambican soccer although it has admittedly not been easy," says Semedo adding that Mozambique, who have not qualified for the Nations Cup finals since the 1998 tournament in Burkina Faso, need to play more regular international matches to build a side for the future.
"We have no competitive internationals left this year but we must keep playing. I'd like to start building a winning side, but we can only do this with regular get-togethers and matches. I need time with the players and they need more international matches to improve. This is something that I hope the Mozambican federation can help with."
Semedo says he is convinced Mozambique has the potential and playing resources to become regular qualifiers for the tournament like the Nations Cup finals. "There are also a lot of good players we can call up from Europe like Paito (Sporting Lisboa), Dario (Academica Coimbra) and Armando Sa (now at Villarreal in Spain). We have to start thinking a little bigger," he concedes.
Semedo says he was fortunate to work under coaches like Lajos Baroti of Hungary and Englishman John Moritimer but rates his time under the tutelage of Sven Goran Eriksson as the most stimulating. "He did a lot to change things in football," says Semedo, who now turns to fellow Portuguese-speaker Jose Mourinho for inspiration.
"You have to have a modern mentality and play a model of the game that involves a lot of pressure on the opposition and the ball and a lot of solidarity between the players. This I am trying to teach my players."