There is a Tanzanian proverb… ‘Haraka, haraka iliwamaliza watt wa Bwilo’. This counsels patience in the pursuit of one’s goals. The owners of Tanzania’s newest, powerhouse, football team, Azam FC, are anything but patient.
The club, from Dar es Salaam, were formed just four years ago by the Bakhresa Group, a food, beverages, logistics, real estate and telecommunications’ conglomerate. Despite their recent birth they have already established themselves as one of the leading teams in Tanzanian football. Their meteoric rise to the Tanzanian Mainland Premier League (TPL) has been nothing short of a revelation; after promotion in 2008/09 they finished a respectable eighth in their first season in the TPL and the following season, after further investment in players, they surprised everyone by finishing third behind the countries oldest and most successful sides Simba SC and Young Africans FC (‘Yanga’).
In December 2010, the club appointed the ex-Birmingham City Academy Director, Stewart Hall, as their new manager.
Stewart’s African adventure had begun six months earlier, when he signed a five-year deal with the Zanzibar National Team. Prior to this and after his time with Birmingham City, Hall was in charge of the St Vincent and Grendines national team and Indian I-League side Pune.
The move to Zanzibar materialised after a joint partnership was agreed between American sporting company, Global Scouting Bureau (GSB) and a Tanzanian company, Future Century Limited (FCL). The partnership included a link up with the Sports Ministry of the Zanzibar Government, involving sponsorship deals to develop football in Zanzibar. But, after just fifteen days, GSB terminated the contract with FCL and Hall left the Spice Island*.
Five months later, Hall was back on the African football scene, after beating off reported interest from the new Nigeria national team coach, Stephen Keshi, to land a one and a half year contract with Azam FC. Stewart was joined by Indian coach, Vivek Nagul, who served as his assistant during his time at Pune FC in India.
Hall replaced the successful Brazilian coach, Itamar Amorin, midway through the 2010/11 season and was handed two key objectives by his new bosses; 1) Break the dominance of the traditional powerhouses Yanga and Simba by mounting a serious title challenge in the 2011/12 season; and 2) Lead the club into a continental club competition; CAF Champions’ League or CAF Confederations’ Cup.
The 2011/12 TPL season kicked off in late August and last week’s Round 13 games marked the halfway point of the season. So how has Hall’s side been fairing?
Azam currently lie third in the table, four points behind Yanga and five points behind Simba. The team’s headline results were a 0-0 home draw with in-form Simba, followed by an impressive 1-0 home win over reigning TPL and CECAFA Club Cup Champions, Yanga. Tactically Hall has made Azam one of the most defensively formidable sides in the league, having conceded the joint fewest goals – just five in thirteen games.
Yet, despite this, the coach has major problems to resolve if Azam are to mount a serious challenge to Yanga and Simba in the second half of the season. His side lack creativity in midfield and a goalscoring presence up-front. They have only scored more than one goal in three games this season and average a paltry 0.9 goals per game. In comparison, second placed Yanga average 1.5 and table-topping Simba boast an average of 1.6 goals per game.
Azam’s lack of creativity and inability to control games has caused them real problem when facing sides below them in the table. Such teams tend to sit their defensive and midfield lines deeper and rely on quick, direct, counter attacks as a means to scoring. When Hall’s side are required to control games, pressing higher up the pitch and imposing themselves creatively, they have not looked convincing.
The TPL transfer window opened on the 3rd November and Hall is expect to make attacking additions to his squad.
The limited ‘lifespan’ of most football managers in Europe is well documented. African domestic football is no different. ‘Haraka, haraka iliwamaliza watt wa Bwilo’. Patience is something Azam FC’s owners clearly lack. Let’s hope for Hall’s sake his team deliver better performances in the second half of the season, otherwise he could be off on Safari again.
*Stewart Hall has subsequently patched up his differences with FCL and the Zanzibar Sports Ministry and will now lead the Zanzibar National Team into the 2011 CECAFA Cup which kicks off on the 24th November in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.