It’s amazing how over the past couple of years we have seen the gradual fall of the golden age of superstars on the Zimbabwean football scene.
BY PETER PHIRI
Football superstars endowed with great talent and craftsmanship have literally disappeared from our stadiums. So what happened to the golden conveyor belt of football talent in Zimbabwe?
Here I am referring to the football heroes, the masters of the game who used to bring the thrills and spills, drama and suspense as well as joy and pain to the beautiful game of football.
Acrobatic goalkeepers, robust and hard nut to crack defenders, midfield magicians and maestros, skilful and dribbling wizards, the merciless goal poachers and not forgetting the super-subs rising from the bench amid drum beating, whistling and ululation.
There were also renowned dead ball specialists who used to pick their spot with great precision from acute angles or from a distance, ball juggling wizards dribbling past a couple of defenders before hitting the back of the nets.
Who can forget those overlapping defenders joining the line of attack to score some beautiful goals.
The golden age of football in Zimbabwe had truly great players who kept the fans on the edge of their seats.
Now the young generation of football fans marvel and watch in awe the football exploits of Christiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and the Barcelona duo of Lionel Messi and Neymar. But there is nothing new these world class football mega stars are doing.
Ask any old generation of local football fans and they will tell you that they have seen it all before. Yes, they have seen it all. Not in Europe or South America. But right here in Zimbabwe. Such artistry used to be a common occurrence in Zimbabwe and Africa in particular.
Recently, eternal arch-rivals Dynamos and Highlanders battled in the Independence Soccer Trophy final.
By the previous standards of the battles pitting these two teams, I am afraid to say the game was a big yawn. The game was not action-packed and lacked the fireworks normally associated with the DeMbare-Bosso matches.
Former Zimbabwean international Alois Bunjira bemoaned the lack of star players plying their trade on the local scene during a daily sports programme on one of the local radio stations.
Bunjira was right and he knows it better. He went on to say that players from opposing teams play the same type of football with nothing separating them.
We have entered the age of mediocre players, average players who play like programmed robots with no imagination, skill and natural flair.
Gone are the days of that special player, the player who used to delve deep in his undeniable knowledge, experience and skill before rescuing his team from the jaws of defeat.
We need to go back in time and recall the great exploits of truly great football players who dazzled fans with displays that were a joy to watch. The legendary Peter Ndlovu, who crossed the English Channel as a teenager and mesmerised the British fans with wizardry which had the British press comparing him to George Best quickly comes to mind.
It was no mean achievement for a boy who rose from the dusty streets of Makokoba in Bulawayo before donning the famous black and white of Highlanders.
How Peter used to eliminate defenders with lightning speed still baffles the mind. It’s hardly surprising that he was named among the 100 greatest players of all-time on the African continent. “King Peter” achieved a legendary status which is yet to be matched.
And like Harley’s comet, players of Peter’s calibre come after a lifetime. So it will take decades before another football gem like him is unearthed.
I might stir a hornet’s nest or touch some raw nerves, but however, Peter is without doubt the best thing that ever happened to Zimbabwean football since Independence.
Ndlovu comes from a footballing family which includes great names such as Madinda and the late Adam.
The Glamour Boys, Dynamos, over the years have produced some of the finest players in Zimbabwe, making them arguably the greatest football team to come out of Zimbabwe.
Dynamos were surrounded by an aura of invincibility and dominated the local football scene with ruthless efficiency. Buoyed by their “seven million” supporters “The Boys in Blue” crushed everything that stood in their way.
I am not quite sure about their support base now, but what I am certain about is that the Glamour Boys have been stripped of their aura of invincibility.
But it may be suicidal to write an epitaph for them or even attempt a tombstone because like a phoenix, they always rise from the ashes.
Dynamos are still the yardstick of Zimbabwean football and there is no doubt about that.
One of Dynamos’ most famous sons, the enigmatic Moses “Razorman” Chunga is regarded as one of the greatest players this country has ever produced. Chunga used to do unbelievable things on the football pitch. To the Dynamos faithful, he was a football god who achieved cult status.
Chunga was blessed to have played for a great Dynamos team which had talented players such as Edward “Twinkle Toes” Katsvere, David “Yogi” Mandigora, brothers Sunday and Misheck “Scania” Chidzambwa, Lucky Dube, Gift “Ghetto” Mpariwa, Kenneth “Computer” Jere, Oliver “Flying Saucer” Kateya and one of the best goalkeepers ever, Japhet “Short Cat” Mparutsa. This was before Black Rhinos poached some of the Dynamos star players.
Chunga could swerve, weave and create pure miracles on the field, ghosting his way through the best-drilled and most determined defences. He had great vision and created numerous scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Some Dynamos fans still yearn for a player of Chunga’s calibre. But such players come once in a blue moon. Chunga was honoured by his former club in Belgium long after he had walked into the sunset.
Madinda Ndlovu of Highlanders was the original speed winger who used to set Barbourfields Stadium alight with fireworks. Nicknamed “Khathazile” due to his troublesome and tormenting nature to the opposition, Madinda was a natural winger blessed with an incredible blast of acceleration and great stamina.
“Khathazile” could accelerate with blistering speed, breaking through tight defences in ruthless style before leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. And while in full flight, he would launch a rocket into the roof of the net with the goalkeeper a mere spectator.
Madinda featured for a great Highlanders team with equally great players such as Willard Mashinkila Khumalo, Titus “Yellowman” Majola, dribbling wizard Tanny Banda, Netsai “Super” Moyo, Fanuel “Launcher” Ncube, Douglas “British” Mloyi, Alexander “Cool Ruler” Maseko, Mercedes “Rambo” Sibanda, and goalkeeper Peter “Captain Oxo” Nkomo.
This great Highlanders team together with the original cup kings, CAPS United, used to engage in some great, brutal but entertaining games with Dynamos, which were the talking point long after they had been played.
Then there was the talented and great CAPS United team which comprised great players such as Stanley “Sinyo” Ndunduma, Stanford “Stix” Mtizwa, Joel “Jubilee” Shambo, Shacky “Mr Goals” Tauro, Friday “Breakdown” Phiri and Charles “Raw Meat” Sibanda.
Ndunduma, Mtizwa, Shambo and Tauro are among the greatest players to come out of Zimbabwe. They formed the core of the CAPS United team of the early 80s before Black Rhinos poached some of their best players. This is the very team that dynamited the name “Cup Kings” into existence.
Sinyo was a touchline dribbling wizard blessed with rare football brains. A two time Soccer Star of the Year, Ndunduma was once touted as a world class player by former England football manager Bobby Robson when he visited the country for a soccer coaching clinic.
Robson was charmed by the amazing football talent he witnessed in Ndunduma and company. At the time, Robson singled out former Tottenham Hotspur star Glenn Hoddle as the only English player whom he admired for his natural flair.
Boy “The Menace” Ndlovu of Eagles FC was one of the best dribblers on the local scene. With a small frame, Ndlovu was not afraid to take on defenders almost twice his size. Quick and slippery, “The Menace” tormented defenders with pleasure and was virtually unstoppable when he started accelerating.
It is said that “The Menace” prematurely ended the career of former Dynamos and Zimbabwe defence stalwart Sunday Chidzambwa. Legend has it that the diminutive winger danced around Chidzambwa doing some twisting and turning. And in a vain attempt to stop the slippery winger, Chidzambwa is said to have twisted his back and that was the end of his illustrious football career.
The midfield combination of Shambo and Mtizwa is still regarded as the greatest ever to grace football stadia in this country. These two midfielders were magicians blessed with great skill, vision and dribbling wizardry that can make Lionel Messi green with envy.
Mtizwa was well-known for his trademark chest control which became an urban myth. A master dribbler, Mtizwa deceived opponents with superb body swerves and reducing even water-tight defences to pieces of carnage. Then he would unleash a thunderbolt, rattling the nets with the goalkeeper sprawling on the ground.
The stylish and swashbuckling Shambo played with swagger and creativity. He was a ball juggling wizard going past defenders as if they were not there. And with the defence still anxiously lying in agony, Shambo would be already celebrating yet another goal.
Classy with a bag full of tricks, it was like watching poetry in motion when Shambo started manoeuvring and eliminating the opposition from the equation.
Shambo delighted crowds with deftly football touches. And as if by radar, he would pick out his teammates with incisive passes cutting through the opposition like a surgeon’s knife.
Also known as the “Headmaster”, Shambo played with so much authority. And like a true school head-teacher, the calculative midfielder directed all the operations of the Green Machine. Not only that, but he also brought a certain poetic grace to the position of a midfielder.
Former Hwange FC midfield general Chabuka Mwale spoke glowingly about Shambo. “I was a great admirer of Joel Shambo and I tried to fashion my style of play alongside his. He was the greatest and most skillful midfielder in Zimbabwe.
“I played a couple of games against him and he gave me a lot of anxious moments because you could not guess what his next move would be like,” said Mwale.
Archieford Chimutanda, Hamid Dhana, and Mashinkila Khumalo also belong to the same league as Shambo and Mtizwa.
Despite having a huge frame, Mashinkila produced some breathtaking fancy footwork, twisting and turning through the opposition like a spider weaving its web before cheekily lobbing the ball over the goalkeeper. As the creative hub, Mashinkila was the vital cog in the Highlanders engine department and had the ability to read the game as a natural leader.
Unfortunately, Zimbabwe is unable to produce the midfield maestros of Shambo, Mtizwa, Dhana, Chimutanda and Khumalo’s calibre anymore. They belong to a different era of greatness and football artistry.
Tauro was a natural goal poacher who was a nightmare to goalkeepers. Like a German Shepherd, the predatory Tauro sniffed out goal opportunities from a distance and converted half chances into goals.
Blessed with goal-scoring instincts, “Mr Goals” used to burst from nowhere and pounce with chilling accuracy.
Then there were the big, bullying and bulldozing strikers like Maronga “The Bomber” Nyangela of Black Rhinos. Like a platoon leader armed with weapons of mass destruction, The Bomber raided the goal area with devastating effects and reduced defences to wreckages. His partner in crime Jerry “Dzungu Man” Chidawa was always lurking somewhere in the goal area and ready to pounce on any loose balls.
During an interview with this writer, former “Dream Team” hitman Agent “Ajira” Sawu bemoaned the lack of good quality strikers playing today. Sawu said coaches should demand goals from strikers and there was no point in fielding misfiring gunmen week in and week out.