The modest Užice City Stadium, home of Serbian second tier outfit FK Sloboda Užice might seem a world apart from the £200 million Etihad Campus — the finest training facility in the world — but for Zimbabwean footballer Tinotenda Chibharo, it’s another opportunity to relaunch his professional football career.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Only six years ago, Chibharo called the mega-rich Manchester club his second home as he was captain of Manchester City’s Under-21 side.
A successful professional football career beckoned for the then highly-touted teenage sensation whose dream was always to break into the Citizens first team, then under the guidance of Italian manager Roberto Mancini.
However, everything did not go the way the 25-year-old attacking midfielder had hoped for as he initially dropped to non-league football.
Chibharo joined Harrogate Railway Athletic FC during the 2013-2014 season before moving to another non-league outfit Liversedge FC, where he scored 13 goals in 30 appearances during the 2014-2015 season.
His performances in non-league football caught the eye of Scottish club Kilmarnock, who signed him up as an apprentice but he struggled to get regular game time before his decision to move to Serbian Second Division outfit FK Sloboda Uzice last year.
While the plunge from the verge of Premier League football to one of European football’s peripheral leagues would have been too difficult to take for many a young player, it’s not the case for Chibharo.
The Warriors hopeful is determined to make the most of the opportunity after the move to Serbian football, which was facilitated by UK-based former Warriors midfielder Kennedy Chihuri and his colleague Trevor Mazhande.
Chibharo, who has settled well at his new club in Serbia after suffering an injury before his debut, said his stint at Manchester City would always be valuable in his professional career.
“Playing at Manchester City was a great experience which developed me as a player and as an individual. It also allowed me to share the stage with some phenomenal players. They taught me many lessons which made me the player I am today,” Chibharo told Standardsport from his Serbian base on Friday.
The former Lord Malvern and Prince Edward School pupil said Manchester City would always remain close to his heart and he was glad to see the team doing well under the mercurial Spanish manager Pep Guardiola.
“If you were once part of the Citizens, you will always be a Citizen! It’s great to see how the players are playing and doing so well as a team. Even though the other part of me wishes I was still part of it, but I’m sure more will come my way. I will never stop pushing myself to reach greener pastures,” he said.
Chibharo said he has been impressed by the standards of football in Serbia and is eager to establish himself as one of the key players at his club.
“I have managed to settle in pretty well in Serbia. I must admit it was a little difficult the first few months; unfortunately I got injured before playing my first game. With the help of the physio and medical team, my leg has recovered. The move to this country was orchestrated by [Kennedy] Chihuri and his friend,” he said.
“The football standards are nice, the game play is really physical but just been doing my best to adapt to their type of play. Luckily, having played for many teams, it didn’t take me long.
“My targets, especially this last half of the season, is to play more games. Secondly I want to continue working really hard and hoping for the best to come my way because I believe if you work hard, good things will follow you. Also want to learn more of the language so I can communicate easier.”
Born in Harare, the youngest of a family of 11, Chibharo said he started playing football at the age of seven after his father had bought him a soccer ball.
“From the day my father bought me a ball, I knew it would be my future,” he said, before paying tribute to his family for their support.
“I’m really grateful for the support I get from my mom, brothers and sister. I wish my late dad, grandmom, sister and brother were here to see it, but I know they’re looking down on me.”
After first establishing himself at the Waterfalls-based Lord Malvern School as a utility player, Chibharo was snapped up by Prince Edward School, where his talent blossomed, winning back-to-back Matafi Schools Championship titles in 2006 and 2007. Their victory in 2007 was perhaps more memorable as they beat a star-studded Lord Malvern side spearheaded by Belgium-based Warriors captain Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat (now with South African side Mamelodi Sundowns).
Chibharo was also part of the Aces Youth Academy but his springboard to international stardom came through Maningi FC, then competing in the High Glen Junior Football League.
His performances caught the eye of American scouts who facilitated his move to study and play football at Winthrop University in the United States.
Chibharo, however, had to stop midway through his Business Management degree when Manchester City came calling after their scouts had been impressed by his performances for the South Carolina-based university.
As he continues to make strides in his young career, Chibharo expressed his wish to represent Zimbabwe and remained optimistic that he would secure a call-up to the Warriors in the near future
“I love Zimbabwean football so much, to the extent that even though I’ve travelled to different countries around the world, Zimbabwe will always be close to my heart. It goes without saying that playing for Warriors would be an honour which I plan to fulfil in the near future,” he said.