Zimbabwe coach Norman Mapeza accepts the timing is right for striker Knowledge Musona to retire from international football, even though it will weaken the Warriors further.
Musona announced his retirement on Twitter last week “with a heavy heart”, a few days before Zimbabwe were removed from the upcoming 2023 African Cup of Nations qualifiers.
The 31-year-old scored 24 goals in 51 caps and his decision comes just months after another of Zimbabwe’s key players, midfielder Khama Billiat, also quit the national side.
Mapeza worked with Musona during several stints as national team coach, including at the 2021 Nations Cup finals earlier this year where he played his final games for the Warriors.
“I think it was the right time for him to call it a day, when he was still loved by the fans, but we’ll miss him,” Mapeza told BBC Sport Africa.
“His contribution to Zimbabwean football was immense. I gave Knowledge his first cap in 2010 and he was one of those guys that you could tell was committed to his job. He was very disciplined, a fantastic player.
“From his generation he’s one of the best players I worked with, and his professionalism was second to none.”
Musona has decided to focus on his club career with Al-Tai in Saudi Arabia, but his retirement from international duty has been seen by some as a vote of no-confidence in the state of Zimbabwean football – as was the case with Billiat.
Billiat stood down a day before the Zimbabwe Football Association executive was suspended by the government-appointed Sports and Recreation Commission, a move which ultimately led to the country’s ban from global football.
That ban, imposed by world governing body Fifa in February, has ultimately led to Zimbabwe being barred from qualifying for next year’s Nations Cup in Ivory Coast.
‘Smiling Assassin’ will be hard to replace
Musona and Billiat are both products of the Aces Youth Soccer Academy in Harare and were the driving force in what is, statistically, Zimbabwe’s most successful era – with the Warriors making three consecutive Nations Cup finals appearances at the 2017, 2019 and 2021 editions.
As captain at the past two tournaments, Musona had to contend with greatly troubled campaigns.
In Egypt in 2019 persistent disputes over finances saw the Warriors finish with one point from three games.
Then earlier this year at the delayed 2021 finals in Cameroon it was difficult for the team to focus on playing as a Fifa suspension could have been served at any time – although in the end it was to come after the tournament.
“My hope, as is for many, is that those charged with the management of our beautiful game and its continuous development across all spheres work together for the greater good of our beautiful game,” said Musona in his retirement statement.
Musona hopes for Zimbabwean development
But with Zimbabwe suspended from international football, the situation is precarious.
At present there are only two Zimbabweans at high-profile European clubs – Marvelous Nakamba at Aston Villa and Tino Kadewere at Lyon – but with no national team action it will be difficult for others to attract the attention of top sides.
Musona has been an inspiration to many young players, making his Warriors debut aged 19 years in 2010, and impressing in a friendly against Brazil in Harare the same year.
He moved to Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa without having played in Zimbabwe’s top flight, and then went to Germany and Belgium.
His international career included two goals at the Nations Cup finals and a hat-trick against Liberia in an Nations Cup qualifier in 2017.
Nicknamed the ‘Smiling Assassin’ because of his gentle nature and effectiveness as a forward, Musona has done much to help carry the Warriors through troubled times.
Yet his departure looks set to only worsen the plight of the team.
Thank you ALL 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/N6O0vRnpsw
— KMusona Official (@KMusonaofficial) May 19, 2022