A decade of Service, a decade of Sniping, a decade of Smiling, thank you Mr Captain

The Herald

. . . Knowledge needs a hug, but it’s a pity our game’s leaders would rather embrace a thug

Sharuko On Saturday

IT’S June 2010 and there is a carnival atmosphere in Harare — the Brazilian rock-star footballers, Kaka, Robinho, Dani Alves and Thiago Silva are in town.

The five-time World Champions!

The Boys from Brazil.

Their golden shirts have become an identity of choice, in world football, a reminder of greatness, a beautiful parade of genius, a colour exhibition of both excellence and brilliance.

From their base on the northern tip of Southern America, where their vast country occupies about half of that continent, the Brazilians provide global leadership in two things — football and Catholicism.

About 123 million of the country’s citizens, representing about 65 percent of its population, provide the world with its biggest Catholic community.

Then, of course, there is football.

A game which was introduced to this vast country by a Scottish expatriate, Thomas Donohoe, with the first recorded match being played in April 1894.

The first football rule book was brought by Charles William Miller, the son of another British rail worker, in 1892, a year after his namesake, William Ernest Fairbridge, launched this newspaper on June 27, 1891.

Both have become an important part of their national identities.

The Brazilians are the only country to have won five World Cups, the only country to have taken part in every World Cup, one of just two countries, the other being Germany, to have succeeded in qualifying for all the World Cup finals for which they entered the qualifiers.

Over the years, the Samba Boys have provided a generation of football teams, with a benchmark of excellence, leading many of these teams to simply want to look like them.

Play like them, dance with the ball like them, dazzle opponents like them, win like them, attack like them and, in short, be everything that the purity of their football, and identity, have always represented.

Mamelodi Sundowns, just across the Limpopo, even decided to provide a classic South African imitation — from their kits to their nickname — transforming themselves into a Mzansi clone of these Brazilians.

There are some who argue the Warriors, with their golden shirts, can also be said to have been influenced, in a way, by the fashion sense of these Brazilians.

And, a yearning, for the kind of football which these Samba Boys play.

They call it ‘Joga Bonito,’ a way to play the game in a beautiful way, and Pep Guardiola, is one of the top coaches whose philosophy was influenced, at a very young age, by these Brazilians.

Pep was just 11 when coach Tele Santana, and his free-spirited Brazilians, led by Zico, captured the imagination of the globe, with their irresistible display, at the ’82 World Cup finals.

Ten years later Pep, and his influential Dutch coach, Johan Cruyff, ran into Santana, when Barcelona took on Sao Paulo in the 1992 Intercontinental Cup final in Tokyo.

The Brazilian side won 2-1 and Cruyff was so blown away, by the beautiful way they played their football, he celebrated his team’s loss.

 “It was one of the few times that I had no problems with a defeat,’’ the legendary Dutchman later wrote. “I’ve always admired the Brazilian coach Tele Santana for his vision, because it always displayed a genuine love of football.”

We have always admired the Samba Boys.

And, on that day, June 2, 2010, even in the depth of winter, the sun was shining brightly, as if to provide the perfect setting for that special occasion in this town, which calls itself the Sunshine City.

From very early in the morning, it became clear this wasn’t an ordinary day, with the Brazilian and Zimbabwean flags decorating the streets and flying from their posts in cars and kombis.

People, who normally would not have any interest in football, were suddenly consumed by this blockbuster motion picture attraction, which the beautiful game was offering that day — a date with the Samba Boys.

And, about 50 000 fans converged at the National Sports Stadium, a huge chunk of them just there to catch a glimpse of these South American superstars, to tell their kids they were there when Kaka came to town.

Predictably, the Brazilians beat the Warriors, the closest thing to the word ‘obvious’ which this game can present, with goals from Michel Bastos, Robinho and Elano powering them to a victory achieved without having to slip into second gear.

TEENAGE DREAMS, THE START OF AN ADVENTURE, THE SMILE OF AN ASSASSIN

Thiago Silva, who helped Chelsea thrash French side Rennes 3-0 in a UEFA Champions League match on Wednesday, was part of that team, finding a place in its starting XI.

A stylish ball-playing central defender, who played the game with the majesty which we used to see in our own Mr Cool, Alexander Maseko, maybe not on a similar level but, certainly, with a similar style, Thiago was then on the books of AC Milan.

He was just three months, short of his 24th birthday, when he played here.

And, in the next decade, his career would go the full distance, his leadership qualities would shine brightly and he would become the skipper for both club and country.

The youngest player, among the 22 men who started that match, was still a teenager, just a few days short of his 20th birthday.

His name was Knowledge Musona.

In a country, with a bias towards those who have played for Dynamos, CAPS United and Highlanders, this fresh-faced, free-spirited forward, with striking boyish innocence, knew the odds were stacked against him.

Judgment would be swift, and at times very brutal, because he didn’t carry the tag of familiarity, which can buy one both sympathy, and the benefit of doubt, from the fans when things are going wrong.

And, he was coming into a Warriors side, battling to find a way to play without the guidance of their leader, and talisman, Peter Ndlovu, whose retirement, four years earlier, had coincided with the team losing their potency.

The 2008 AFCON qualifiers had been a disaster, the 2010 Nations Cup and World Cup qualifiers had been terrible, a Brazilian coach, Valinhos, had come and gone, with little to show for his expensive recruitment, and a rich pension to take home.

This was a team at the crossroads, short on confidence, and new recruits found themselves having to deal with the toxicity inside its dressing room.

For many of the team’s fans, still struggling to adjust to the reality King Peter had retired, for good, the arrival of a teenage forward, with boyish features, and a smile that never seemed to fade from his charming face, didn’t exactly provide the rainbow of hope they were hoping for.

For some, he looked too lightweight, for others, he looked too fragile, too conservative, too polite to earn their trust.

He was the only Warriors forward, who played the entire 90 minutes, that afternoon.

Of course, he had played for the Warriors before, three months earlier, in a friendly international against Malawi but this was his real initiation ceremony.

The thousands of fans, inside the giant stadium, the sheer quality of the opposition and the demands placed on his shoulders to do something special.

This was home, where battles would have to be fought, and won, with so much depending on his form, and fitness, in a decade in which his infectious smile, and his deadly instincts of an assassin, would cast a huge spell over all his Warriors teammates.

We didn’t know it then but, in the shadow of those Samba Boys, spending the afternoon battling the likes of Thiago Silva, Maicon, Lucio, Bastos and Gilbert Silva, a decade-long romance was born.

The greatest Warrior, since King Peter, had just arrived on the scene.

Poor us, the doubting Thomases, the last to believe, the last to embrace their heroes because, while we were still wondering whether he could make the grade, the guys at FIFA had already seen enough to declare him the heir to the Warriors throne.

 “When Zimbabwe talisman Benjamin Mwaruwaru, otherwise known as Benjani, quit international football, some wondered who would be the successor,’’ FIFA announced on their official website on December 7, 2010.

“However, those in the know had already predicted the new king in the form of a fast youngster named Knowledge Musona.

“Such enlarged predictions, although they carry romance and promise, can be dangerous to a youngster’s career but Musona is aware of the work that still has to be done (for a striker) with a boyish innocence in his smile that belies a ruthlessness in front of goal for both his club, Kaizer Chiefs, and country, the Warriors of Zimbabwe.

“Musona might not have the star power of Benjani, in his native land, nor the prolific scoring record of another Zimbabwe attacking legend, Peter Ndlovu, but he has a rare streak of confidence that comes with a striker hungry to make his mark, a natural, a diamond whose shine has yet to be fully found in the rough.’’

 A DECADE OF NATIONAL SERVICE, PROBABLY ONE OF THE GREATEST AFRICAN FOOTBALL STORIES NEVER TOLD

Just nine months after FIFA announced the arrival of Musona, on the big stage, he plunged into his first AFCON assignment as a mere 21-year-old forward, leading the line for his country.

And, just half-an-hour into battle, he powered his Warriors into the lead in Monrovia on September 5, 2010, in a 2012 AFCON qualifier.

When the qualifiers ended, he had scored four times for his country, and was just two goals short of Tunisia’s Issam Jemma who topped the scoring charts, across the continent, with six goals.

The legendary Samuel Etoó also had four goals, during that campaign and, in just his first Nations Cup adventure with his country, our Smiling Assassin had scored as many goals as the Cameroonian superstar.

Didier Drogba, who six months later would score the equaliser, and winning penalty in the UEFA Champions League for Chelsea against Bayern Munich, also scored four goals during that campaign.

The same Musona who, just seven years earlier, had been a mere Form One schoolboy in Norton, while Drogba was being signed by Chelsea for a then club record £24 million fee, had scored as many goals as the Ivorian, during those qualifiers, was the stuff dreams are made of.

The same Drogba who, a year later, would be named Chelsea’s greatest ever player in a poll of 20 000 fans conducted by Chelsea Magazine.

At the age of just 21, Musona ended his first AFCON qualifying campaign with the same number of goals, as an elite group of footballers who, together, had been traded for more than US$200 million in their careers.

One of them, Etoó, was even earning €20 million (after tax), per season, in Russia.

Our boy even scored more goals, in that campaign, than Gervinho, Wilfried Boigny, Asamoah Gyan, Andre Ayew, Demba Ba and Obafemi Martins.

For me, this was probably one of the greatest African football stories, never told.

And, he didn’t stop there.

For FOUR years, between 2010 and May 2014, Musona was the only player to score in an away World Cup/Nations Cup qualifier, for his Warriors, with four goals, in the nine matches, during that period.

Then, he top-scored for us, as we qualified for the 2017 AFCON qualifiers in Gabon, scoring three goals, the same number as Sadio Mane, and just one goal short of Mo Salah’s tally.

And, again, he top-scored for us, as we qualified for the 2019 AFCON finals in Egypt, with five goals, just two short of leading scorer Odion Ighalo, and scoring one goal more than Salah and two goals more than Trezeguet and Hakim Ziyeck.

In just nine days’ time, Musona is set to play his final AFCON qualifier, this year, for his beloved Warriors, when they host the Desert Foxes of Algeria at the National Sports Stadium.

Given, this is his 10th year, in the service of his motherland, given that this match, at some point, was even meant to be played either in South Africa or Zambia, doesn’t its setting at the National Sports Stadium provide ZIFA with the perfect platform to honour this great Warrior?

We didn’t honour King Peter, when he was still playing for the Warriors, and shouldn’t we learn, from our mistake, to ensure we don’t repeat that same mistake with this Smiling Assassin?

Doesn’t this provide us with the perfect opportunity to invite his mother, who bore the brunt of raising him when they lost the father who was the pillar of the family, to come and grace the occasion and celebrate the grand achievements of her son?

This is a man who has found a way to defy injuries, someone who has always put his country first, even at the expense of his club career and, in a decade of service, he has eclipsed everyone to become the heir apparent of King Peter.

Given all the challenges he has faced, heaven knows Knowledge badly needs a hug, when he comes home for that showdown against Algeria, as a token of respect for his decade of service.

Sadly, that might not happen because, in our game, the good men don’t always get the recognition they deserve and, rather than giving him a hug, they would rather embrace a thug.

Whatever happens, what can’t be denied is that this has been one of the greatest African football stories never told.

 To God Be The Glory!

Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton and all the Chakariboys in the struggle.

Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Khamaldinhoooooooooooooooooooo!

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You can also interact with me on Twitter — @Chakariboy, Facebook, Instagram — sharukor and every Wednesday night, at 9.45pm, when I join the legendary Charles “CNN’’ Mabika and producer Craig “Master Craig’’ Katsande on the ZBC television magazine programme, “Game Plan”

The Herald