What began as a mere bet translated into a fairytale football relationship that has claimed a special place in Zimbabwe’s football folklore.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
It was an opportunistic meeting in 1992 that tied former Warriors captain Peter Ndlovu and Winston Makamure, the man who was to become his manager for 16 years.
Then a 27-year-old university student in the UK, Makamure never dreamt that he would one day become one of Zimbabwe’s top football agents, taking care of arguably Zimbabwe’s best football talent.
Then at Coventry City Football Club, Ndlovu was a soundtrack in West Midlands as well as back home and for anyone to shake hands with him, it was a priceless honour, equal to that an ordinary fan, would feel after shaking hands with Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi today.
On one vacation back home, Makamure dared his friends that he was going to send them his photo taken with Ndlovu.
His friends placed a bet that he would get nowhere near the footballer.
It was a bet that opened way for his greatest football adventure.
One Monday back in England after vacation, Makamure embarked on a one hour 30 minutes journey from his Hertfordshire base to Coventry.
But to his disappointment, Coventry City did not train on Mondays and he had to wait for the following day.
Another problem emerged.
Being a student, he had no money for overnight accommodation and so he slept in the car he had hired from Hertfordshire.
“The following morning I went back to the training ground and I noticed Peter from a distance. He was a small guy among all players and running faster than everyone else,” said Makamure.
“I showed the Coventry guys my passport and told them I was Peter’s homeboy. For me to get access to him, I had to tell authorities there that I was close to the player and they allowed me to talk to him after training. I was a stranger to him but he was very warm, thanking me for the effort to visit him. Unfortunately I could not speak Ndebele and Peter could not speak Shona so we had to communicate in English.
“The Coventry guys questioned us why we were speaking in English when we were compatriots but we told them that it was for their benefit so that they could understand what we were talking about.”
“He bought me some sandwiches and I said Peter, ‘here is a bet I did with my friends back home, so can I please have a photo with you.’ he responded, ‘It is fine.’ He called the entire team and I had pictures with them.
“The team manager then asked who I was and Peter told him jokingly that I was his agent. That is how it started.”
He had won his bet.
“As I was about to leave, Peter gave me five match tickets, inviting me to watch his next game against Ipswich Town. He told me he wished more Zimbabweans could come to watch him play,” he said.
Another impediment arose; he did not have money to travel back to Coventry for that match.
But Ndlovu rescued him with a train ticket.
Back at university while narrating in jubilation to friends his meeting with the player, an idea just struck — that he could really be Ndlovu’s agent.
One of his lecturers and an Indian friend gave him insights on how to become a football agent and the interest grew in him.
Then the Ipswich matchday arrived.
“I went to the match wearing a pair of jeans, white t-shirt, a jacket and takkies. When I disembarked from the train in Coventry, there was a white chauffer holding a placard with my name,” said Makamure.
But there was yet another problem.
“The guy looked at me and said, ‘Winston, we have a problem here. You are not properly dressed. The tickets you have are for the director’s lounge where you would be seated with the owners of the team,’”he said.
Being a mere student, Makamure did not have money to buy a suit at that moment and it needed the club chairman’s signature for him to be allowed into the director’s lounge.
To complicate things, getting that signature rarely happened.
“I swapped tickets with the chauffer and I sat in the ordinary stand,” he said.
Things got worse because Ndlovu was named man-of-the-match.
The player’s guests were required to be in the director’s lounge for the presentation of the match award.
On that day, Ndlovu’s late brother Adam was also there.
“That dressing problem came back again. I could not get into the director’s lounge. But the chairman signed me the rare exemption to get in there. I had to borrow someone’s jacket though. This for me was now exciting,” he said.
“I discussed with Peter on representing him. He dropped me at the train station and asked if I was really able to assist him. We agreed that I become his agent with a handshake.”
Interestingly, no contract was signed between them in the 16 years they worked together.
Ndlovu consulted his brother Madinda who was well-versed with player representation.
The union had officially begun.
“I did not need any money from Peter. As a student, I just wanted five tickets for every Coventry home game so that I would be able to watch the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United. The five tickets were more of a handshake to say, ‘let us do it.’ What a pleasure it was for me then,” Makamure said.
The real job as Ndlovu’s handler began in the European summer of 1993.
The player’s contract with Coventry was nearing the end and needed to be renewed.
“Here came the biggest challenge. I had to travel home for vacation and Peter’s contract was expiring because he had been playing on short-term contracts. Peter went to the club chiefs for contract negotiations saying, ‘let’s talk immediately because my agent is going back to Zimbabwe’.
“They questioned him on why he now had a manager when he had arrived in England without representation. They would tell him ‘sign now or you will go back to Zimbabwe.’ They refused to talk to me as well as Peter and then I flew home,” said Makamure.
They were fears that with Ndlovu’s profile rising, negotiating alone would have seen him being offered a contract far much below his worth.
Coventry were desperate for Ndlovu who was refusing to ink a new deal in the absence of Makamure despite the latter urging him to just sign.
Makamure arrived in Harare on a Tuesday and immediately received a call from Coventry manager Bobby Gould.
“Out of the blue, Gould called and gave me a bollocking. He shouted at me. He then told me to go to Kubatana House to get British Airways ticket they had secured for me so that I would be in London by Thursday. Remember he is phoning me from England. I had never used British Airways because I could not afford it as a student. But here I was being handed a business class ticket,” he said.
A chauffer was waiting for him at Gatwick airport.
His brother advised that he first get a briefing from Ndlovu before proceeding to discuss with the club.
“I found Peter very happy to see me. He started laughing that I was not properly dressed for a meeting with millionaires. We went to Marks and Spencer and came out suited,” he said.
“We went to the training ground. Guess who was the most pleasant person who I met? It was Bobby Gould, the manager who had no kind words for me on the phone. He warmly welcomed me, expressing happiness to meet me.”
Negotiations lasted for four days before a new deal was finally struck.
In March 1995, Ndlovu broke a 38-year-old visiting striker record by netting a hat-trick at Anfield against Liverpool.
Suddenly, he became a target of the Merseyside club, presenting Makamure with another negotiation test.
But a cruciate ligament injury stalled the move that 1995 summer and Coventry were also hesitating to let Ndlovu go.
Makamure’s profile grew and also represented Kennedy Chihuri whom he took from Chapungu straight to the Czech Republic.
He also secured a European switch for Ian Gorowa and Kingstone Rinemhota who moved to Swedish side IKF Vasteras.
Former Malawi captain John Maduka was under his care as well and at one time, he had two international captains from his stable facing each other when Zimbabwe played their neigbours.
“Managing Peter Ndlovu was the most amazing experience of my life,” said Makamure.
“Of all the players I have represented, Peter was the best. I do not look at myself as a brilliant manager. But I look at Peter as an honest and loyal player who stuck to that handshake. I was also determined that from my side, I also stick to that handshake and play my part. I once stayed in Singapore and Botswana but still fluently managed him.
“He was a committed player, especially when it came to the national team where sometimes he had to play two taxing games within three days. I flew with him on one of the flights to Harare to make sure he was alright. He was faced with a pressure game and he slept throughout flight from London to Harare without food or water.”
Working with Ndlovu also came with the priviledge of dining with the ex-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and former Fulham owner Mohamed Al-Fayed.
Managing players requires taking care of their private lives as well and so Makamure became close to the Ndlovu family and also assisted in Ndlovu’s charity work.
However, working together was not all rosy as it also came with its fair share of problems.
“Peter is a celebrity and he was sometimes portrayed negatively in the media. He would always be scrutinised. The lowest points for me was when I had to defend issues that were not true. People twisted facts to make them negative news. It was energy sapping,” Makamure said.
An avid golfer and an IT consultant involved in major projects in Africa, Makamure is no longer involved in player representation.
He says he has been approached by a top Portuguese club to be their southern Africa chief scout and they are still discussing the project.
Makamure intends to set up a soccer academy in the near future and closely monitors local football and has been involved with rugby as well.
“I have to admit I have let people down in recent years. Football players, clubs, artistes have approached me for assistance but I face time constraints to help them,” he said.