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Big George is no 'Chicken'

George Lwandamina

Age: 53

George Lwandamina coach of Zesco during the CAF Champions League match between Zesco and Al Ahly. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu. Credit: Backpagepix

Place of Birth: Mufulira

Honours as Assistant: 1995 and 1996 Zambian Premier League

Honours as Coach: 2003 Under-20 Cosafa Cup, 2013 and 2014 Barclays Cup, 2015 Zambia Premier League and Zambian Charity Shield. 2014 and 2015 Zambia Coach of the Year.

Johannesburg - George Lwandamina doesn’t just sit on a chair, he takes it over with his huge frame. He transformed an ordinary chair by the pool at Kabelenga Lodge in Ndola into a throne with his regal presence when he sat there to discuss his rise yp to becoming of Zambia’s most successful coaches. He does the same thing on the Zesco United bench, where he has sat for two years, in a coaching career that he was forced into 21 years ago.

“I never thought that I would be a coach,” Lwandamina said. “But I’ve come to enjoy it more than anything in the world. When I stopped playing in 1995, people just said, We are retiring you. We are sending this one (the late Ashious Melu) to school (on a coaching course in Germany) and when he comes back, you will stop playing and be his assistant coach.’

“Luckily for me he (Melu) spent most of his time with the Zambian national team where he was the assistant. I was left struggling with very big responsibilities in a big team (Zambia’s most successful club, Mufulira Wanderers) that has a very rich history. But I tried to manage it. Eventually I started to expand by bringing in this and that, comparing notes and seeing how things are done. It became a part of me. I’ve enjoyed it like nobody’s business.”

The foundation of Lwandamina’s coaching career was laid during his days as a student at Ndeke Secondary School in Kitwe where he showed his leadership qualities by not only captaining their team but also being elected as prefect.

He liked imparting knowledge to his peers. One of those who listened to him is Zambia’s interim coach and former Kaizer Chiefs striker Wedson Nyirenda. Their relationship started there and grew over the years when they became professional footballers and eventually coaches.

Nyirenda welcomed Lwandamina when he moved to the Copperbelt to manage Zesco two years ago. It wasn’t so much Nyirenda’s words that motivated Lwandamina to succeed at Zesco, but what Nyirenda had done when he took the club to the last 16 of the CAF Champions League for the first time in their history. Al-Ahly denied them a place in the group stage.

“That was a good starting point,” Lwandamina said. “I had to work extra hard to beat his record. If I had gone there without his record, I was going to relax. Since I was afraid of failing where he succeeded, I had to work extra hard and take the team to another level.”

Lwandamina managed to eclipse Nyirenda’s record by taking a free-scoring Zesco side to the semifinals of the Champions League where they are 90 minutes away from reaching the final. Mamelodi Sundowns stand in their way. The two will resume their battle on Saturday night at Lucas Moripe Stadium in the second leg. Zesco won the first leg in Ndola 2-1.

Not many people tipped the Zambian side to reach this far when the draw for the group stage was conducted. They were grouped with Africa’s club of the century and eight-time African champions Al-Ahly, Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca and Asec Mimosas of Ivory Coast. Somehow the unfancied Zambians scored the most goals in the mini-league stage to finish second in Group A, ahead of Al-Ahly who took just a point from them. Martin Jol resigned from Al-Ahly after that.

“The bookmakers never gave us a chance,” Lwandamina said. “They failed us. But in life, what is important and which we achieved, is to have hope, faith, dedication and discipline. When you have that, then you can achieve the impossible. We didn’t look at Casablanca, Al-Ahly and Asec and said No!’ We said, Okay fine, we are non-entities. But we will work our own way up and try to surprise people.’ We did that.”

Lwandamina has surprised people throughout his coaching career. He swam, instead of sinking, when he was thrown into the deep end, managing nine-time Zambian champions Mufulira Wanderers. He was Melu’s assistant when they won the last two of those titles in 1995 and 1996. But his first love was managing young players instead of ready-made stars. That’s why he took over Nchanga Rangers’ development structures after leaving Wanderers in 2000.

He didn’t stay there a long time but that love didn’t disappear. He took it to the national team set-up where he won the Under-20 Cosafa Cup with Zambia in 2003 and then finished as runners up in 2004 and 2005.

His biggest achievement was when he guided Zambia’s Under-20 to the last 16 of the World Cup in Canada in 2007.

In his time with the Under-20s he worked with the likes of Stopilla Sunzu, Emmanuel Mayuka, Rainford Kalaba and Davies Nkausu.

The quartet graduated to become African champions with the senior national team in 2012. It was an emotional victory in Gabon, wiping away the tears of a nation which mourned the loss of their brightest Chipolopolo side that perished in Libreville in 1993 on their way to a World Cup qualifier against Senegal.

Lwandamina was denied a chance to try and take Chipolopolo to the World Cup for the first time when he was replaced as interim coach. Nyirenda took over from him while the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) awaits approval from the government to appoint a permanent coach that is likely to be Gordon Igesund. “Chicken”, as Lwandamina is affectionately known, has a chance to give Zambia its first Champions League title since Power Dynamos won the second tier African Cup Winners’ Cup in 1991.

“I was given the powers and the wisdom to wipe out tears, I work towards that,” Lwandamina said. “I want to wipe out the tears of Zambian people by bringing them success.”

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