HER majestic leaps are testimony to her aerial prowess in spite of the fact that she is not the tallest player in the Mighty Warriors squad.
BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
Rock solid in defence and constantly making those mazy forays every time in possession, the Zimbabwe women football team leftback Sheila Makoto has been a revelation in the wake of recent success by the women’s national team.
So impressive has been Mokoto’s performance in national team colours in the past 12 months that football fans have started drawing parallels with Czech Republic’s Sparta Praha Zimbabwean international Coast Nhamoinesu.
Makoto was all smiles as she spoke to Standardsport during a welcome banquet arranged by the Sports and Recreation Commission at the Harare International Conference Centre last week.
“I had no idea fans refer to me as Nhamoinesu,” she says with a chuckle.
“Kana ndikaita mari ndoda kutengera mafans kasomething kana maT-shirts akanzi Sheila Makoto [If I get money, I want to but my fans something even
T-Shirts with my name on it], every one of them because their support is amazing,” a visibly jovial Makoto continues.
Who can begrudge a woman who grew up in Mbare’s Matapi Block 5 flats and has seen football snatch her from abject poverty to a place where she could dine in the company of great men and women, just as on the particular night?
This was after the team’s triumphant return from Zambia, where they had sealed a place at the 2016 Africa Women Cup of Nations (Afwcon) set for Cameroon in December following a 4-2 aggregate win.
Only last year, the Mighty Warriors persevered against all odds to book a place for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil, the first time a local sport team has qualified for the global showpiece since 1980.
“Football has changed my life in so many ways. I had absolutely nothing. My sister was looking after me back then and Aces Academy paid for my school fees from Form 1 to 4 when I started playing football. I also went to Switzerland with Aces Academy as a junior,” she says.
“We won the Cosafa [Council of Southern Africa Football Associations] in 2011 and we were given money by the president. I managed to buy a stand in Waterfalls where I stay. And now, I’m about to get another stand, so football gave me everything that I have now.”
Born on January 14 1990 in a family of seven — four boys and three girls — Makoto began playing football as a young girl at Gwinyai Primary School in Mbare before she joined Aces Youth Soccer Academy and then Blue Swallows Queens, where she currently plays.
She made her Zimbabwe debut as a 17-year-old and has been with the Mighty Warriors for the past nine years.
While she has matured with age like wine, the 26-year-old player is already relishing competing against top sides at the Olympics as well as at the Afwcon later this year.
The Mighty Warriors were on Friday placed in a tough Group F, alongside women’s football powerhouses Canada, Germany and Australia.
The Olympic Games tournament starts on August 3.
“I am really happy to be part of this team. I pray to God that I will also be able to make it to Brazil and Cameroon and now, I have to work hard so I can also be seen by scouts and probably play abroad as a professional footballer,” she says.
Makoto also speaks of her recent eye-catching performance in Zimbabwe colours.
“I think it’s just where I started at Aces Academy before I went to Swallows, where I was taught football basics and I just love to do the basics right. But I also train on my own and the extra work I am putting in is paying off now.
“And interestingly, my role model is ‘Diva’, David Kutyauripo, the former Dynamos rightback. I really loved the way he played in that position when he was a rightback and I’m always trying to play the way he did,” Makoto explains, a wide grin flashing across her face.
One of her qualities is the ability to transform defence into attack in no time, with those inimitable surges in the wings.
It’s light work for her since at Blue Swallows Queens, she plays in the left attacking position, while Shadreck Mlauzi, the Mighty Warriors national team gaffer, prefers to play her as a wing back.
“I have always played on the left side, but then at my club, I play as a left wing attack and then in the national team, as a wing back. It’s really easy for me to get excited and go forward. Sometimes I even forget that I am a defender and abandon my position for a while,” she explains.
Makoto is married to Davison Aaron and the couple is blessed with a three-year-old son, Jaden.
She pays tribute to two people she feels have really helped her establish her footballing profession.
“First of all, my parents did not want to hear that I play football and it was my older brother, Robert, who convinced my father to let me play the sport. I also wanted to quit football when I got married; I felt that as a married woman, I should stop this physical sport and concentrate on being a house wife, but my husband literally forced me to come back into football. I really want to thank him for that because some prohibit their wives from pursuing sport when they get married,” she said as she gives an insight into her private life.
Thus she has to do a balancing act, from doing her household chores in the morning, training in the afternoon and rushing back home to prepare supper for the family.
The Mighty Warriors star shares her thoughts on why this team has an astonishing propensity to deliver success on the backdrop of ad hoc preparations, reports of unpaid bonuses and allowances, as well as tough camping conditions.
“I think it’s team spirit. We also have unity of purpose and there is no jealousy among us. We are always encouraging each other, even if one of us has been dropped. Sometimes, we go for prayers and fast on our own without the knowledge of the coaches and ask God to help us overlook our current circumstances and it always works,” she adds.
“Playing football is a gift which is in us. So it’s not wise not to use it, given the platform, especially to represent our country. We don’t want to look back and regret that we had an opportunity to play, but we didn’t because we wanted money. And right now, we are going to the Olympics and Africa Women Cup of Nations because we decided to showcase our talents despite the fact that things were difficult.”