A NEW phenomenon appears to have emerged in Zimbabwean football over the last two years, where local players are trekking to East Africa to join teams in the lucrative Tanzanian league.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
A few players have also attracted interest from North African teams, with the CAPS United duo of Abbas Amidu and Ronald Chitiyo reportedly on the verge of joining Smouha of Egypt and CF Sfax of Tunisia respectively.
South Africa, however, remains the most preferred destination for local footballers. There are almost 50 Zimbabwean players currently plying their trade in the Absa Premiership and the South African National First Division league, Sports World has established.
A survey conducted by Sports World revealed that South African football remains the biggest employer of Zimbabwean footballers, with its top two leagues currently home to over 40 local players.
In fact, it seems it has become fashionable for almost every South African top-flight football club to have a Zimbabwean or two on their books.
Last season for instance, only three clubs, namely Chippa United, Free State Stars and Platinum Stars, did not have a Zimbabwean player in their ranks while the rest had at least one.
And the trend is set to continue this season after three more Zimbabwean players, namely Talent Chawapihwa, Teenage Hadebe and Prince Dube were snapped up by Baroka FC, Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United respectively.
The number of new signings from Zimbabwe could rise before the start of the new season, with the duo of CAPS United’s Ronald Pfumbidzai and Ocean Mushure of Dynamos reportedly on the verge of being signed by Bloemfontein Celtic and Maritzburg respectively.
They would join other Zimbabweans in the South African Premiership, who include Cuthbert Malajila (Bidvest Wits), Khama Billiat (Mamelodi Sundowns), Willard Katsande, Hadebe, Michelle Katsvairo and Ernest Chirambadare (Kaizer Chiefs), Tatenda Mukuruva (Cape Town City), George Chigova and Walter Musona (Polokwane City), Evans Rusike and Blessing Moyo (Maritzburg Utd), Knox Mtizwa, Kuda Mahachi and Danny Phiri (Golden Arrows), Eric Chipeta and Thomas Chideu (Ajax Cape Town), Tendai Ndoro and Marshal Munetsi (Orlando Pirates).
The trio of Tapuwa Kapini, Augustine Mbara and Charlton Mashumba are at relegated Highlands Park, who will this season compete in the South African National First Division where Zimbabwean footballers have also made an impression, with no less than 17 players expected to line up for different teams this season.
They include Patrick Musaka (Black Leopards), Temptation Chiwunga, Bukhosi Sibanda and Obrey Chirwa (Ubuntu Cape Town FC), Ovidy Karuru, Energy Murambadoro and Butholezwe Ncube (Amazulu), Carlington Nyadombo (Real Eagles), Washington Arubi and Cleopas Dube (Stellenbosch FC), Obert Tafira, Takudzwa Ndoro, Peter and Patrick Mubayiwa (Witbank Spurs).
Local football intermediary Gibson Mahachi, who has facilitated a number of deals for Zimbabwean players to South Africa, believes the Super Diski remains one of the best run leagues not only on the continent but in the world.
“I believe the South African league is probably in the top 10 amongst the best run leagues in the world if you take into consideration the corporate sponsorship it attracts, the way its managed and marketed,” Mahachi said.
“Naturally, it makes it very lucrative to our players. An ordinary player playing for one of the smaller teams in South Africa earns a decent living. So mainly it’s the competitiveness of the league and the kind of corporate sponsorship it has attracted which makes it a lucrative market for players. It is where they can enhance their careers and benefit financially.”
Mahachi added: “If you look at the last 10 years it has been growing in leaps and bounds; every year there is some sort of improvement, they have done a good job and that’s why the league has become attractive.
“What attracts players and coaches from other countries is the way the league is run. That’s why some of the South African players playing in Europe right now wouldn’t mind coming back to South Africa at some point. It’s because the offers that they have in South Africa are better than what they will receive in European countries. It’s a league that has been well-marketed.”
Mahachi said the influx of Zimbabwean players in South African football was also largely due to the success of some of the country’s most talented players in that country.
“If you look at two seasons ago, Khama was the top player in South Africa, Willard Katsande was the top player at Kaizer Chiefs, Evans Rusike was the top player at Maritzburg while Tendai Ndoro was the leading player at Orlando Pirates,” Mahachi said.
“We’ve got good players who are also willing to work hard and that’s the culture they carry with them when they go to South Africa,” Mahachi said.
Billiat swept the board at the South African Football Awards gala in 2015 after he was voted the Player of the Season and Players’ Player of the Season after leading Mamelodi Sundowns to the South African Premiership title and their maiden CAF Champions League crown.
His stunning success reportedly sparked a gold rush by cash-rich South African clubs searching for the next Zimbabwean football gem, with more players from this country crossing the Limpopo River for a dance in the Super Diski.
Zimbabwean players have dominated the Super Diski in the last two decades, with three local players namely Gilbert Mushangazhike, Wilfred Mushangazhike and Knowledge Musona winning the Golden Boot Award in that country since the modern era of the South African Premiership.
Musona was the top scorer in the South African Premiership in the 2010/2011 season with 15 goals, joining Mushangazhike, who grabbed a top scoring award in the 2000/01 season after scoring 19 goals for Manning Rangers.
Wilfred Mugeyi also won the award in the 1996/97 season after scoring 22 goals for the then Umtata Bush Bucks.
The quartet of Mugeyi, Benjani Mwaruwari, Tinashe Nengomasha and Khama Billiat have also won the prestigious South African Player of the Year Award during the period under review, while Esrom Nyandoro is rated as one of the best foreign players ever to grace the South African league.
However, despite the success of Zimbabwean players in South Africa, the Super Diski has also been blamed for stalling the progress of a number of local players, whose careers took a turn for the worst after crossing the Limpopo hoping to use it as a stepping stone to European leagues.