Eleven years have passed since the then St Erick’s High School student Knowledge Musona rose from the bench, striking twice in “Fergie time” to seal a surprise victory over Mt Pleasant High School in a 2005 National Association for Secondary School Heads (Nash) M & H Under-17 tournament group stage game in Masvingo.
BY ALBERT MARUFU
However, to the then Mt Pleasant High School coach — Rodwell Dhlakama — it seems like yesterday that he first came face-to-face with the boy who was to become one of the poster boys of Zimbabwean football.
“I was the national Under-17 coach in 2005 and Knowledge’s elder brother, George, whom I was coaching at a lower division team Zimasco FC in Shurugwi, told me that his brother was a very good striker,” he said.
“Coincidentally, I was also coaching Mt Pleasant High School and we were pooled together with Knowledge’s St Erick’s of Norton in the Nash M&H Under-17 tournament played in Masvingo.”
Though Dhlakama had heard about Musona’s talent, what he saw from the teenager took him by surprise.
“He must have been the youngest member of his team and did not command a first team jersey. He scored two brilliantly executed goals against us and that was enough to convince me that he was a good player who should be nurtured in a proper academy,” said the 2007 Coach of the Year.
“I approached Aces Youth Academy manager Paul Maphosa to consider taking the boy. Together with the academy officials, we approached Musona’s parents to convince them to let him join the academy.
“The following year, he joined the academy and started studying at Lord Malvern High School in Waterfalls. I later picked him for the Nash select team and later national Under-17 side.”
Dhlakama, however, noted that Musona had a weakness which he thought might derail his progress.
“Unlike Khama Billiat, Musona was an introvert. I wanted him to communicate with others and to also inculcate leadership qualities in him. I made him my national Under-17 team captain,” he said.
“Today I know he is able to captain the Warriors, but the current captain has done well.”
Dhlakama, who guided Monomotapa to the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League, however, marvels at seeing the boys he first introduced to international football as Under-17 coach leading Zimbabwe to the Africa Cup of Nations finals.
“I am proud to have identified George Chigova from How Mine, Knowledge from Norton. I also handled players such as a Khama Billiat, Mathew Rusike, Erick Chipeta, Evans Rusike, Abbas Amidu, Archford Gutu, Qadr Amini, Ronald Pfumbidzai, US-based Ntokozo Tshuma, Denver Mukamba and Hardlife Zvirekwi at Under-17 and Nash Under-20 teams,” he said.
Today, Musona — nicknamed the “Smiling Assassin” — has become a Warriors mainstay, scoring three goals to lead Zimbabwe to their third Africa Cup of Nation’s appearance since independence, their first in a decade.
He finished the qualifiers as the country’s joint top goal scorer with Billiat. Musona will be leading Zimbabwe’s strike force in Gabon at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in which the country is caged in Group B together with Algeria, Senegal and Tunisia.
The KV Oostende striker will have to battle for wits with the likes of Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and the Algerian duo of reigning PFA Footballer of the Year Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani who ply their trade with English champions Leicester City.
Dhlakama also recalled how he became the butt of the people’s jokes when he called Mathew Rusike for the national Under-17 team.
“People laughed at me when I called Rusike for Under-17 national duty after identifying him playing for St George’s College. I told fellow coach Bheki Nyoni that the boy would go far and I later took him to Monomotapa in 2008 and 2009,” he said.
“He played cameo roles in the CAF Champions League. Denver Mukamba was brought to us by Zivanai Chiyangwa before he enrolled at DC Academy. He did not play much because of his weight. He also had to fight for a position with Archford Gutu.”
“As for Chigova, he was 15 when I pleaded with Maphosa and Marc Duvillard to enrol him at the Aces Youth Soccer Academy in 2007. I had gone with Zimasco to play How Mine and I saw their youth team playing.
“George impressed me so much that I immediately looked for his parents. I told them that I was the Under-17 coach and wanted the boy to be part of the team.
“I went with him to Shurugwi and then Harare where I pleaded with the Aces Academy officials to accept him. That is how he got the scholarship at Lord Malvern High School.”
Dhlakama was banished by the Zifa board on October 18 2012 following a report compiled by the association’s ad-hoc committee on a match-fixing scam that rocked the country.
The committee which handled the Asiagate scandal was headed by retired Supreme Court Judge Justice Ebrahim.
Dhlakama was banned together with 16 other high profile names that included Sunday Chidzambwa — the first coach to take Zimbabwe to the Africa Cup of Nations finals, Thomas Sweswe, Method Mwanjali and the association’s former CEO Henrietta Rushwaya.
Dhlakama, who returned to his teaching profession at the time of the ban said: “The ban was like a death sentence. The whole issue was so confusing and pathetic, which jeopardised my career and impeded my development as a coach. My colleagues went on to do CAF A licence while I was frozen.
“I managed to soldier on and was later called for a hearing which exonerated me. I am still traumatised about the whole episode.”
He added that the Warriors’ qualification demonstrated there is no shortcut to success. He, however, lamented the fact that the Under-17s are not participating in international tournaments.
“Some of these boys won me gold at the 2006 Zone VI Under-17 Games. I also won gold at the 2007 Anoca Zone Six Games in Lesotho. The team was made up of Chipeta, Nico Francis, Musona, Billiat, Morris Kadzola, Amini, Kuda Mahachi, Gutu, Yasser Chapfika, Charlton Mashumba and Mathew.
“Costa Nhamoinesu was part of my Nash team, so was Onismor Bhasera, Washington Arubi, Elvis Meleka, Obadiah Tarumbwa and Johnson Zimbabe, to mention a few. Bhasera was my captain in that Nash Under-20 side.
“With the Under-17 team that included Khama, Musona, Evans and Mathew Rusike, Abbas Amidu, Mukamba and Qadr Amini, I never lost a match. I am very grateful to see this crop succeed with Kalisto Pasuwa,” said the 42-year-old coach.
“Abandoning junior policy is like climbing a tree from the top. It is imperative that we appreciate the fact that the current senior team was a team from the Under-17 level, Under-20 level and 23.
“In this regard, it’s now fulfillment of a job done over a couple of years ago,” he said.