The sight of the fearless Shingi Kawondera in full flight, leaving defenders trailing in his wake, brought pride in the smile and gusto in the applause.
Lively and skillful, he covered the ball so marvelously and was difficult to unsettle once he started his run. He got past defenders so easily and scored at will. That was Shingi for you.
The Black Diamond was the star of the show at the 1999 Under-17 Africa Championship where he was named the Player of the Tournament by the influential London-based African Soccer magazine despite Zimbabwe’s early exit from the contest.
With his prodigious talents, the Chitungwiza-born player became a target of many of Europe’s most known clubs, but he chose to play in modest Poland instead of the glamour and glitz of France or Switzerland.
The tragedy, however, is that after a decade in Europe in a journey that also took him to Cyprus, Kawondera should have been living in luxury, but sadly, he is not. He is in fact wallowing in poverty.
It is saddening that for all his time in Europe, and later in South Africa, Shingi has been reduced to a destitute; his belongings were thrown out of a flat after failing to pay for the accommodation.
While Shingi is a stand out example, the truth is that the former Warriors striker is not alone in this predicament as quite a number of our former foreign players are now a pitiful sight.
Most of them do not have anything to show for all their time outside the country. With the once-in- a-lifetime opportunity gone, some are even trying to resurrect their careers back at home in an attempt to get one or two hundred dollars for their survival, yet at some point they had thousands in their pockets — which they misused.
Take for example Zvenyika Makonese, the former Warriors hard man who made a name for himself while turning out for South African glamour club, Orlando Pirates. He was not supposed to compete for jerseys with those from the younger generation when he returned home to join Shabanie. Rather, he should by now have been a proud owner of a top football team, or at least a top football coach.
Stories have also been told about how much Peter Ndlovu made while playing in England and how much he invested in Zimbabwe.
I am not sure of what Ndlovu owns, but one thing I know for sure is that Nwankwo Kanu, a retired Nigerian footballer, owns shopping malls in Lagos, while George Weah of Liberia is a successful businessman in his country. Mohammed Kallon is a proud owner of one of the biggest teams in his homeland of Sierra Leone.
The question is: What happens to our players when they move to play in foreign lands? Do the foreign city lights blind them so much that they forget they are there for the money to take back home?
What is even disturbing is the fact that generations after generations have gone and played outside the country, notably in Europe and South Africa, only to repeat the same mistakes.
As we look at the past and the present, it is also important to look to the future. A host of our emerging football stars are moving to Europe, the latest being Ronald Pfumbidzai, Wisdom Mutasa and Walter Musona.
There is need to tell the young lads the truth about how our past football stars failed to take advantage of such lifetime opportunities to build their life after football. Yes, they are going there for football, but they should also be told to make the best out of the money they make. The next generation will only be encouraged to take up football when they see their heroes live decent lives.
But today, the once foreign-based heroes have fallen to the extent that they look thrice their age owing to poverty.
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