What Can Ethiopian Clubs Learn from Wolaitta Dicha’s Heroics?

Wolaitta has done the impossible by knocking Zamalek out of the CAF Confederations Cup qualifiers. The Egyptian side is not only a big name in its country but a club that is revered all across the continent. The five-time African champions were left bemused by the ‘never-say-die’ attitude of the Ethiopian minnows.

No one gave Wolaitta a chance before the encounter, more so because they limped to a 2-1 aggregate win against lowly Zimamoto in the previous round. Despite their impressive form in the Ethiopian Premier League, Zenebe Fisshea’s troops were thought to not have enough firepower to tackle such a household name in Africa.

When ‘The Bees of Tona’ beat Zamalek 2-1 in Hawassa fans and journalists were left astounded. An incredible volley from Bezabeh Meleyo and a smart finish from Yared Dawit gave the South Ethiopian club a glimmer of hope. But it was thought to not be anything more than a slight advantage.

The Egyptians downplayed the loss as a factor of the poor pitch in Hawassa stadium and the large number of fans who were rallying on Wolaitta Dicha. But there were no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ when Wolaitta Dicha showed determination to roar back from a two-goal setback and eventually record a historic victory in Egypt.

Wolaitta Dicha became the first Ethiopian side to eliminate Zamalek from a CAF club competition. Mekelakeya, Ethiopia Bunna, and Kidus Giorgis all tried and failed in the past.

Ethiopia rejoiced in one voice! Everyone was once again reminded what a victory, an important victory, feels like. While Ethiopia’s football has been full of election chaos and hooliganism in recent times, the unprecedented victory on Sunday gave us a momentary respite from the near hopeless state of our football.

This victory might just be a one-off. But there are lessons every other club in the league can learn from. Wolaitta is a club that was established in 2009. They won multiple promotions to be a part of the first division in 2013. They won the Ethiopian Cup in 2017, also on penalties, to take part in a continental competition. Their meteoric rise has been sensational.

The start of the season was tough for Wolaitta Dicha. After a run of poor results, they had to part ways with manager Mesay Teferi. However, his replacement Zenebe didn’t take long before making an impact. Wolaitta didn’t set their eyes on a foreign manager nor did they try to get a veteran one, but put their trust in a younger manager. And that trust is paying off. In a league where managers move from one club to another despite not being good enough in their previous job, Wolaitta’s approach was a breath of fresh air.

In a league that is obsessed with signing foreign players no matter how good or mediocre they are, Wolaitta Dicha has put faith in local players. Striker Arafat Djako is the only foreigner who is a regular in the starting lineup. The hero of the shootouts Wondowssen Geremew got an opportunity to show his abilities unlike other Ethiopian keepers in the league who are forced to sit on the bench as a result of being displaced by a goalie from another country.

The victory against Zamalek can’t tell us much about our football. It doesn’t mean that we are a country to be feared all of a sudden. It is also not a ground for those in the Federation to twist the plot in their favor. But we can see that Wolaitta’s recent accomplishments are a result of dedicated work and long-sighted planning, something most of the clubs in our country sorely miss.

Managers come and go, Players only sign a year contract before looking for pastures new, such is the diminishing trend in Ethiopian football. And in this redundant cycle clubs continuously fall so far away from their goals. Very few harbor ambitions of doing something new in continental competitions. There are clubs with more financial power and more quality players than Wolaitta Dicha in the league. But very few have been able to do what ‘The Bees of Tona’ did.

While everyone rejoices in this great accomplishment, it is also time to sit back and look at what the other clubs can learn from this victory. It is time that they start asking questions about themselves. Why can’t we have more wins like this? Why can’t we trust our own players and managers to do the job? Why do we keep doing the same things over and over again and expect a different result?

Wondowossen Geremew said this to Soccer Ethiopia after the game:

“The win is a big message to Ethiopian players. It is an indication that our players are talented and can make history. I think the victory can be the start of something new for our football.”

Sunday’s win is a wake-up call for some sides and an inspiration for others. Will we see such heroics in the future? Only time will tell.

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