Zambia looking to build upon strong platform under Nyirenda
Zambia coach Wedson Nyirenda appointed after stunning domestic success
The nation impressed with a last-eight appearance at 2017 U-20 World Cup
Nyirenda says he has a long-term focus on “building a team”
When Zambian football officials decided to relieve George Lwandamina of his duties as national team coach to allow him to concentrate on club duties with Zesco United, they decided to keep the task of Chipolopolo boss in-house.
They turned to former national team striker Wedson Nyirenda, who at the time was coaching in Mozambique. “It is an honour to coach your country,” the 50-year old told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “If your country calls, you do not say no.”
At the time, Nyirenda was coaching Ferroviario in Mozambique, leading the Beira-based club to their first-ever Mocambola title. It was not the first title that he has won at club level, having secured an impressive five back-to-back titles in Zambia.
Spells with Zesco (again) and Mozambique team GD HCB Songo and Zambia's Green Buffaloes followed, before moving back to Ferroviario. That was when the call from Zambian officials came.
Short-term challenges, long-term goals Nyirenda’s first game in charge was a tough African qualifier for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ against Nigeria, after the southern African country had been drawn into the so-called 'Group of Death' along with Cameroon, Algeria and the Super Eagles.
The Chipolopolo lost the game against Nigeria 2-1, but followed it up with a solid 1-1 draw in Cameroon, leaving them third in the group.
Surprisingly, the coach sees some positives about being paired with such opposition. “It is an excellent group, we have big names and looking at our team, our main objective is to rebuild the team. Playing in this group will expose players to the highest level, playing the biggest teams.
“We have a very big job to do, that is to build the team, but at the same time, we have to qualify for tournaments. Having been drawn into such a great group, we can just hope for the best as we do need to keep our fans happy.
“It is important that everybody understands the concept of building the team. It is like building a house. When you build a house, you do not move in before you reach window level. You have to wait until you have everything in place.
"People should understand that in football, you can build a team and it will take you no less than three years. I believe we can have a beautiful and strong team.”
Some of the players that Nyirenda will be calling on to help him achieve that goal are from the squad that reached the quarter-finals at the FIFA U-20 World Cup earlier this year.
“This is so important," Nyirenda said. "We have the U-20s and they have shown their character. Nobody can sit back and take their place for granted as we have a group of young players, who can come into the senior team at any time. They can deliver.
“I want to build three strong national teams. One with only local players, one with local and regional players and one, which is the main team, using players from Europe and all over.”
In the blood Nyirenda comes from a footballing family. “I started playing at a young age in Ndola, in northern Zambia. My elder brother Stone Nyirenda is one of the big names in Zambian football. He was a great goalscorer. He still lives in Belgium, after going there for football.
“My late brother Nelson also played football before passing on in 1994. So you can say football is in our blood, it is like our family disease.”
Nyirenda’s first taste of professional football came with Nchanga Rangers when he was still at school. He was called into the national team in 1991, shortly before joining Power Dynamos, with whom he won the CAF African Cup Winners’ Cup.
From there he moved to South African glamour club Kaizer Chiefs and later Hellenic, before returning to Zambia and re-joining Nchanga Rangers, where he gained his first experience as a player-coach before moving to City of Lusaka as head coach.
It was there that the knowledge and skills were formed that eventually prompted Zambian officials to entrust Nyirenda with the task of lifting the national team to greater glory.