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Football veterans defy age

Ever Since Ronald “Gidiza” Sibanda retired, Zimbabwe has struggled to find a fluent passer of the ball.

BY MICHAEL MADYIRA

A modern day playmaker, Gidiza was well-known for his surgically precise passing, blessed with vision and drawing staunch admiration from Peter Ndlovu and Benjani Mwaruwari.

But the search for such a playmaker has not been genuine, with a blind eye being turned on one man who at a ripe age of 32 still has the potential to match or surpass Gidiza.

Shabanie Mine midfielder Rowen Nenzou still shows that potential seen in him a decade ago.

While he is at an era where he can be easily be ruled out as a spent force, Nenzou has defied his age to ooze class and has stood up to be counted in Shabanie’s fight to survive relegation.

Switching back to Shabanie Mine from Chiredzi FC for a third stint in July, he is one of the few Premier Soccer League (PSL) players who are in their 30s, but seem to be improving with age.

The league’s veteran players like Murape Murape, Innocent Mapuranga, Lawson Nkomo, Norman Togara, Hebert Dick and Menard Mupera are offering little in terms of experience.

But Nenzou is undoubtedly Zimbabwe’s own Adrea Pirlo, proving his billing recently when Shabanie Mine visited Dynamos at Rufaro with a flawless display that saw him spray no blind pass before he was unfortunately substituted due to injury.

“I guess Gidiza passed on the batton to me though I grew up in Glenview 3 where Tapfumanei Dhodho and Brian Abrahams were my mentors,” he said.

“They taught me a high work ethic from a young age and that has always been in my blood. We would wake up at 6am everyday for a 10km road run and it just became a norm in my career. We played football for the better part of the day. Also joining the Zimbabwe National Army made me a fighter on the pitch.”

His career was however punctured by gross indiscipline as he usually skipped training, shutting doors for him to move to foreign leagues.

Drawing lessons from past experiences, Nenzou feels by the time current local players reach the age of 30, they will no longer be sound.

“It is not a secret that I had disciplinary issues when I was in my early and mid-20s. I did not go far because of that although I have always been a hard worker. Had I been level-headed, I would have been somewhere else,” he said.

“I try to teach my younger teammates not to be trapped in the same mistakes that I made, but some of them do not take me seriously. When I run a lot at training, you hear a 20-year-old telling you that ibhora rakare iro rekumhanya mdara [that is old school football]. It is shocking.

“While I was at Chiredzi FC earlier this year, I discovered Bronco [Broncleer cough syrup] in a teenage player’s kit bag. Can you imagine a 19-year-old abusing drugs but telling himself that one day he would be a star player.

Turning 33 in December, Nenzou says he still has five more years to play competitive football.

“I have an eight-month-old son so I want him to see me playing when he is five-years-old.”
His Shabanie Mine teammate Zvenyika Makonese is another player who has defied his sell-by-date by emerging as one of the league’s top defenders this season.

Makonese is equally known for indiscipline but at 37, has steadied the Shabanie Mine defence, scoring three goals this term.

A member of the Warriors squad at the 2006 Afcon in Egypt, he was once on the radar of English Premiership side Stoke City and Championship outfit Wigan Athletic as well as Franch League 1 club Rennes.

The experience gained from playing at Afcon as well as for South African teams Santos and Orlando Pirates seems to be at work.

“I have been lucky to be injury-free for the better part of my career. Training hard has kept me going. I still feel the energy to play and I want to retire at 40,” said Makonese.

“I played with and against greats. Talk of players like John Mbidzo, Edries Burton and Musa Otieno at Santos. Burton and Otieno reached retirement age while I was at Santos and they made me work extra hard to cover up for them. That instilled some high level of workmanship in me.”

Makonese views today’s younger players as lazy and impatient.
“Youngsters of today have no patience. If someone is left out of the team, they easily get frustrated and stop working hard at training. They even sometimes miss training. Recently I have never seen a young player working on his own. That is laziness,” he said.

At Harare City centre back David Kutyauripo has shone bright as if his career has just set off.

The hard-running and tough-tackling City captain has a history of indiscipline, just like Nenzou and Makonese, but has been one of the PSL best performers this season.

“I am 35 years old but most people do not believe that,” he said.
“I know no other profession than football so I do not drink or smoke and when I am at training, I mean business. My clubbing habits are at the gym, unlike others who drink the night away in night clubs. These days there are many things that can sway a player off the rails but one just has to be serious about their football.

“Football is about patience and attitude as a player. Young players of today do not set targets for themselves and that is why some of them retire in their mid-20s.”

Kutyauripo once had a brief stint in Cyprus and was a prominent member of former Warriors’ Brazilian coach Valinhos in 2007 and 2008 playing at the right back position.

“Valinhos recently surprised me with a text message asking me what I am doing and I told him I am still based in Zimbabwe but he was shocked to learn that I am still playing. He is my best coach ever.”

Kutyauripo was not specific about when he would retire but he feels he still has a few more years to play.

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