Zambia coach Micho: 'We have to work, not sit crying' over Covid-19

By Mark GleesonFootball Writer, South Africa
Serbian coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic
Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic was coach of Egypt's Zamalek for less than six months

New Zambia coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevich has insisted that the coronavirus pandemic is a time to "be proactive instead of sitting and crying".

He had only been in his job for a month before the crisis cancelled world sport, including his debut games in March.

The 50-year old Serbian, appointed at the start of February has been holed up in Lusaka since the beginning of the pandemic.

"Under the circumstances, we asked ourselves, what should we do? We had to be proactive instead of sitting and crying about the situation," he told BBC Sport Africa.

Chipolopolo were due to try and revive their Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign with two games against Botswana in March, but they were postponed.

Also falling by the wayside was the African Nations Championship, the tournament for locally-based players, due to be played in Cameroon.

With no competitive football to prepare for, Sredojevich set up individual training programs for 55 home-based players who he has identified as potentials for the national team.

He is hoping this will ensure they are in better physical condition than their opponents when Zambia next play, likely in October when the Nations Cup qualifiers are scheduled to resume.

Also important was motivation and so he has spent much time keeping contact with players over the mobile phone and/or the laptop.

"We wanted our players to make sure they were not infected with the COVID-19 virus and then to also alleviate any mental trauma they may be suffering because of the lockdown," he explained.

"We were in regular contact with them to emphasise that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

"The players have worked progressively to maintain their fitness levels which will help them when they returned to their respective clubs, practically re-integrating without having lost much fitness."

Zambia celebrate a shock win over Ivory Coast
Zambia beat Ivory Coast on penalties to win the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations

The Zambian Premier League is due to return to action next month.

Sredojevich says he is excited about the prospects of his team despite Zambia's poor start to the Nations Cup qualifiers.

In November they lost to Algeria 5-0 away and then were beaten 2-1 at home by neighbours Zimbabwe in their opening Group H assignments.

"When you are outside and looking at the Zambia post, you get a positive picture," he enthused.

"But, sincerely speaking, when you take the job it is even 10 times more positive. The magnitude of the job is huge.

"This is a country of unbelievable football potential and an enormous amount of talent plus a football culture that really lives and loves the game whole heartedly.

"You must believe it when I tell you that every day I wake up and feel I have to do something for the game here.

I cannot go to sleep unless I feel I have done something. It is true that the job is enormous, and I have no words to express the feeling of carrying the hopes of 18-million Zambians on my shoulders."

As well as aiming for the Nations Cup in Cameroon, now postponed to 2022, Zambia are also in the race for a place at the next World Cup in Qatar and will begin their Group B qualifying campaign in November.

They share in the same group with Equatorial Guinea, Mauritania and Tunisia.

"Zambia has an enormous name in the world of football, but has done so poorly lately," the former Uganda boss said.

"The positive picture of Zambia in football is evaporating, so there is a sense of pride that needs to be restored.

"We want to use this to generate a positive energy to reclaim the pride of Zambian football."

Sredojevich feels there is an exciting generation progressing through the ranks and aims to build his side with the players that won the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations on home soil in 2017.

"They are led by Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu. I believe the country now has a generation to return Zambian football to where it is supposed to be … among the top five footballing countries on the continent." he insisted.

"I am also preparing a crop of players from here that are still unknown but let me tell you, our power will come from feeding those fishes when they are still young and turning them into sharks!"