SOME call him the midfield maestro, others say he is the master of ball control, distribution and juggling, but many agree he is one of the best midfielders to ever emerge from local football.
A plethora of superlatives have been used to describe Johannes Ngodzo at the peak of his career in the early 2000s.
Each time he was in possesion of the ball, Barbourfields Stadium would reverberate, with fans whistling and shouting all sorts of names including — Tshisa, General, Yoh, and Signature.
There are fans who will tell you that they would go to the stadium just to watch Ngodzo perform his trademark signature skill, dribbling past his marker, making a quick turn then climbing on top of the ball, jumping off the ball and using his left leg and the ball to write his signature on the pitch, J Ngodzo — much to the delight of Highlanders fans.
For his coaches, it was worrisome. The team would be on a counter attack, in search of goals, and there was Ngodzo, choosing to slow the tempo by climbing on the ball, giving their opponents room to recover.
At times fans would go home unhappy, even when Bosso won, just because Ngodzo would not have performed his signature skill. “Lamuhla uNgozo akasinikanga icheque” (Today Ngodzo did not give us the cheque), they would say.
Many used to doubt him, but his performance in the Warriors colours against Mali in 2002 at home where Lazarus Muhoni scored the only goal of the match, made him win over all his doubters.
Ngodzo was the one who created the goal with his fancy footwork, subtracting three Mali players before releasing then Warriors skipper Peter Ndlovu whose pin point cross was met by Muhoni in a goalmouth melee for the famous win. Of the few free kick specialists that have ever emerged from this country, Ngodzo could be the best of them all.
At one point, he scored two free kicks in the same match from almost similar positions in 2001. He did the same the following week in a league match and the week that followed in a CAF Champions League match at his favourite home of football — Barbourfields — making all the doubting Thomases believe in him.
However, the injury he sustained playing for the Warriors against Eritrea in 2002 stopped him from pursuing what looked like a bright football career beyond our borders. Then a young lad from the streets of Mzilikazi, Ngodzo was a defenders’ nightmare and a thorn in every opposition coach’s flesh.
It would seem Ngodzo knew from an early age that he was destined to become one of the greatest football players to ever emerge from Bulawayo.
During the late 90s, Highlanders were known for producing stars as they had already churned out the likes of the late Tymon Mabaleka, Mercedes Sibanda, Willard “Mashinkila” Khumalo, Rahman Gumbo, Madinda, Adam (late) and Peter Ndlovu, Thabani Masawi, Mkhokheli Dube and Zenzo Moyo.
It was not surprising when young Ngodzo was named Player of the Year in the junior ranks at the age of 15 at the turn of the millennium when his team finished at the top of the log with no loss.
“Everything just fell into place from there,” said Ngodzo whom we spoke to during a Bantu Rovers training session at a local school in Bulawayo recently.
One could tell that the flashes of those defty touches were still there as he took time to demonstrate to the eager-to-learn junior players that he is coaching now. “From my tender age when I used to watch my father play for Ceramics, a Division Two side, I knew I wanted to be a football player. I never thought of being anything else and I worked hard to achieve this goal,” Ngodzo said.
Ngodzo says at the age of 15 after rising through the Highlanders junior ranks at the turn of the millennium, he was selected into the national select side and it was at that age that the awards started coming.
He was awarded Player of the Year at the age of 15 with the Highlanders juniors that had played the whole season without testing defeat in the 1995 season. They were coached by veteran Ali Baba Dube who has been credited for identifying the best talent in Bulawayo. “At the age of 17 in 1997, I was selected to play in the Cosafa tournament in South Africa. I played in two of those tournaments because I was still very young. We won bronze in both the tournaments,” Ngodzo said.
Ngodzo’s team-mates included Noel Kaseke, David Maketo Sengu, Tinashe Nengomasha, Gilbert Mushangazhike and Mubariki “Mamba” Chisoni.
Ngodzo said along the way he picked up different nicknames and it was Zenzo Moyo who gave him the nickname Tshisa.
Some later called him General, with others saying he should be named Signature while other supporters simply shortened his name to Yoh.
“I was inspired by Benjamin Konjera, Rambo (Mercedes Sibanda), Willard Khumalo — the guys we watched playing for Highlanders when we were growing up,” he said.
Ngodzo’s world came crushing down on July 5 2003 when the Warriors played in an Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against Eritrea at the National sports Stadium.
“I do not know how it happened but I must have misjudged the Eritrean player’s tackle. I only remember that when I tried to stand, I couldn’t. That goes down as the worst day of my life. I remember before the injury when I played a match I would feel 100% fit but after the injury it was always 50/50,” he said.
Ngodzo said he never regained full fitness after the injury and despite returning after a long layoff in 2004, he was never the same.
“Even though people described me as one of the best midfielders in the country, there was always debate about me and Gidiza [Ronald Sibanda formerly with now defeated AmaZulu],” he said.
Ngodzo has won many accolades during his career, including second runner up in the 2002 Soccer Star of the Year, Highlanders Player of the Year, Grizzlers Sizzlers Player of the Month and four Castle Lager Premier Soccer League championships in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2006.
Ngodzo is working with former Chicken Inn coach Mandla Mpofu, former Highlanders goalkeeper Wonder Mpofu and former Highlanders utility player Chipo “Jack Roller” Tsodzo at Bantu Rovers. The man who still looks athletic, now holds a Zifa Level Four coaching certificate and has been in the Bantu Rovers set up for more than five years. He is determined to attain a CAF C licence this season. He was given the opportunity to coach the juniors but doubles as a senior team coach along with Methembe Ndlovu, Reuben Tsengwa and Gift Lunga Senior.
Ngodzo said he joined coaching after Methembe convinced him that he could do it. He said he was given the responsibility to coach the juniors and has been working well with the rest of the technical team. Ngodzo has three siblings who are also football players. Petros was with Chapungu, Zephaniah is currently at Bantu Rovers and Joel is with CAPS United and was part of the Warriors team that was recently in Rwanda and played 90 minutes in the last match which they drew 1-1 with Uganda.