SO, the Short Cat, the legend that is Japhet M’parutsa — a goalkeeper some fans believe is only second to Bruce Grobbelaar when it comes to ranking Zimbabwe’s greatest goal-minders — is finally out of the bag following his decision to write a book about his life.
A journey that started in Mbare and which, in the ‘80s, saw him turn into a Zimbabwean superstar footballer, a trailblazer who made history as the first goalkeeper to be crowned Soccer Star of the Year at a time when this accolade still had its prestige and was only reserved for genuine football stars.
He was only 19, an emerging superstar whose brilliance between the posts made a mockery of his tender age, let alone his diminutive frame, when he won the Soccer Star of the Year in 1982, rewarded for his starring role in helping Dynamos win a third straight league championship.
It was a historic achievement, for both player and club, given that this was not only the first time a goalkeeper had been crowned the best player in this country but Dynamos’ triumph, in the championship race that year, marked the first time that a club had won a hat-trick of championships in this country’s top-flight league.
The previous year, in 1981, Dynamos had matched the benchmark set by Bulawayo Sables who, until then, had been the only club to win back-to-back league titles in this country in 1968 and 1969.
For 13 years, from 1969 when the legendary George Shaya was crowned the inaugural Soccer Star of the Year, to 1981 when the immortal Stanley Ndunduma was honoured as the best player in the country, this gong had never been given to a goalkeeper and the majority of winners were those whose job was to beat the ‘keepers.
But, then, a teenage M’parutsa arrived on the stage and changed everything.
For good measure, they even nicknamed him the Short Cat, because of his agility between the posts, and that a greenhorn teenager, could play as the last line of defence in that powerful Dynamos team, behind the twin defensive towers of Sunday and Misheck Chidzambwa, and emerging as the best of the lot, not only for his super team, but throughout the country, spoke volumes about M’parutsa’s incredible talent.
Now M’parutsa, who also played football in South Africa before settling in England, has decided to tell his story in an autobiography that will be released soon — the fascinating tale of the boy from Mbare, powered by his athletic talent and dreams to become a football superstar, who not only made it but created history along the way.
Some critics say today’s footballers are a terrible lot, most of them are so poor and average they would not have even been allowed to train with the third-string sides of the Dynamos, CAPS United and Highlanders teams of the ‘80s or make the grade in the Division Two teams of that era.
And when I look back at how good Raphael “Nuva” Bakacheza, whose son Hillary is now one of our Premiership stars, Chris “Dhumbe” Phiri, Mutambarika “General” Chirwa, David “Gwejegweje” Phiri, Aidan Sweet, Chakumanda Phiri, Grey Nyamwela and Zedias Mudzimba were for my beloved Falcon Gold, then a Division Two team, I tend to think that these critics are probably right.
But we can’t just make a blanket declaration because we have some real gems and, as we reflect on the incredible talent of M’parutsa, I think it is only fair that we also acknowledge that Tatenda Mukuruva isn’t average or ordinary, that this boy is something special, and he could be on the path to greatness.
For a player so young, to be thrown into the deep end and be the last line of defence at a club like Dynamos, to make such an impressive show in his adventure with the senior national team, to produce a man-of-the-match performance at Kazumu Stadium in Blantyre in a Nations Cup game and to produce that super show in that CHAN group game against Uganda, should provide us with evidence, if we needed it, that he is not an ordinary bloke.
If I was still voting for the Soccer Stars of the Year, he would have been my pick for the best player last year because of the way he made a mockery of his youth to become the trusted last line of defence of the biggest football club in the country, where the pressure is relentless and the scrutiny is intense, to stand very tall as he commanded a defence that conceded the fewest number of goals in the championship race (20).
But we live in an era where all the limelight, when it comes to selection of the Soccer Star of the Year, goes to players who would have won the championship, where the selection if guided by blinkers that appear to suggest that don’t look any further than the team that would have been champions and while our peers honoured Ndunduma in 1981, because he was simply the best even though CAPS were not champions, the script has changed for good.
I’m not saying Mukuruva is set to be the next Japhet M’parutsa, he still has a long way before he starts to be compared to the legendary Short Cat, but there is enough evidence that he has given us, as his journey starts, that he could be the Real Deal and he is being tested in the deep end — as the ‘keeper of the country’s biggest football club and as the number one choice for the Warriors.
NOW THAT M’PARUTSA HAS STARTED IT, MAYBE OTHERS SHOULD JOIN THE BANDWAGON
Maybe, M’parutsa’s landmark decision to write an autobiography should also lead others like Peter Ndlovu, in my little book the greatest Warrior of all-time, to also consider writing a book about his life.
A journey that started in poverty in Bulawayo before his God-given football talents transformed him into a genuine football superstar, a rare breed that we had never seen emerge in our country before, and which might never emerge again, taking him to England where, at one stage, the British football writers even said he was the ‘90s version of Irish superstar George Best.
The man who showed us that, indeed, elephants can fly, whose talent shattered the artificial barriers that divide us into little kingdoms as he was embraced by the entire nation as a footballer it loved, and felt proud that he was born on this side of the Zambezi and Limpopo, a superstar whose brilliance brought down the tribal divide that sometimes divide us as he was accepted nationally as our football leader.
An artist who created one of the finest memories, to come out of our football fields with that slalom dance past the Bafana Bafana defence, which included the current Kaizer Chiefs’ coach, Steve Khompela, before scoring a gem of a goal at the National Sports Stadium, making us feel very proud that we are Zimbabweans and not South Africans, beating our chests that — even though we hadn’t qualified for the Nations Cup or World Cup finals yet — we were African football’s supermen.
A general who, when we needed one to finally end the nightmare of our fruitless battle for a place at the Nations Cup finals, which had gone on for more than two decades, inflicting considerable pain on our hearts and making people like Ben Kouffie, who once said that even if we hired a coach from the moon we would never make it, look like super prophets, he led from the front as we finally buried that ghost by making it to the 2004 AFCON finals.
And there he was in Tunisia, again leading from the front, scoring against Egypt in our first match at this level, scoring a double against Cameroon and driving us forward, and being rewarded with a victory in our last match against Algeria, something that his grand efforts — in the service of his nation — thoroughly deserved.
Imagine if the man we call King Peter at this newspaper, who happens to be back in Bulawayo this weekend in the colours of Mamelodi Sundowns for a Champions League date against Chicken Inn, back at Barbourfields — where he started making an impression as a 16-year-old schoolboy in an oversize Highlanders kit — was to write his journey so far in this game and in this life?
Peter turns 43 on February 25, the fact that we share the same birth month with my birthday coming nine days earlier, is something that I have always derived pride from and when my friend Obert Masvotore, who celebrated his birthday yesterday, sent me a text that there was something special about people born in this unique month, the only one whose number of days can change depending on the year, I felt flattered.
Obert is also immensely proud that he was born in the same month as President Mugabe.
And he derives a lot of pride, too, that he was born in the same month as Cristiano Ronaldo, who developed into his all-time favourite Manchester United hero, Neymar, who could one day become a Red Devil, Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls fame, Bob Marley, George Harrison, John Travolta, Kurt Cobain, Rihanna, Chris Rock, Shakira, James Dean, Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, you name them.
Maybe that is why we are a resilient lot Obbie, just imagine, we share the same birth month with wrestler Ric Flair.
Maybe, King Peter would tell us if it’s true that Coventry City rejected a then massive £4 million bid from Arsenal for his services, and then turned down another bigger offer from Liverpool, after he destroyed the Reds by becoming the first away player to score a hattrick at Anfield for 30 years and if it’s true that manager Bobby Gould’s resignation was in protest over a possible sale of Peter.
On February 25 last year, Coventry City posted on their official website that “Coventry City legend Peter Ndlovu is celebrating his 42nd birthday today and to honour him we have given you a chance to relieve some of his best Sky Blue goals, Ndlovu scored 43 times in 176 appearances for City between 1991 and 1997, often in crucial games and often spectacularly — (1) vs Liverpool (hattrick), March 14, 1995; (2) vs Aston Villa, September 28th, 1991; vs Arsenal, September 7th, 1991; vs West Brom, January 18th, 1995.”
Many people don’t know it but, at 22.10 pm on Wednesday, August 19, 1992, Peter Ndlovu became the first African player to play in the English Premiership.
And you can imagine how he will tell us about how the tragedy that has struck along the way, especially the loss of his brother Adam in that road crash when they were in the same car, and the loss of his best friend and teammate Benjamin Nkonjera, at a very young age, changed his life.
AND WHAT ABOUT CHUNGA’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY TITLED ‘THE GREATEST’?
Moses Chunga calls himself The Greatest Zimbabwean footballer of all-time and there are many people, especially those who saw him at the peak of his athletic powers, when he was that young man with an Afro hair, before injuries ruined his dance at the grand stage, who believe him.
Some even argue that he was better than Kalusha Bwalya, a man who was honoured with the African Footballer of the Year, and had Bambo played today, they say he would have been doing even better than the magical Riyad Mahrez, the Leicester City magician who — in my little book — has been the standout player in the English Premiership this season.
Of course, there is no need to wonder about what the title of the book would be — ‘The Greatest’ — because Bambo has always considered himself to have been Zimbabwe’s football version of Muhammad Ali, the gift that the football gods gave us to enjoy for a short period of time when his knees were still in good shape, and who is still worshipped today by the fans of Belgian side Eendracht Aalst.
He brought the entire town to a standstill when he went there four years ago, at the invitation of the club that he served well on the pitch when only the best African players made it to Europe, and which still remember him as the finest player to wear their jersey.
“He is the star of the team, and has been for the past five years, and it was Moses who helped us come back into Division One,” then E. Aalst manager, Patrick Orlans, said.
Chunga was so special that the Belgians made him sign the Golden Book of Aalst, the community’s highest civic honour, and imagine what he would tell us, in his own words, in his book, about his adventure from Faison to become the leading light at Dynamos, at a very young age, being honoured with the Soccer Star of the Year award and then venturing into Europe when very few African players were considered good enough to make that grade.
Or what happened when he went to Nottingham Forest, then a major European powerhouse that had won the European Cup, now known as the Champions League, back-to-back in 1979 and 1980 and reached the semi-finals of the old UEFA Cup in 1984, if it was true that the club’s legendary coach Brian Clough told him to pass, an instruction he ignored, before dribbling past the entire defence to score a beauty?
And, if it is true that, Clough felt disrespected by this African player he decided, there and then, that he would not sign him even though his talent was good enough for him to make the grade at the English club?
You can probably tell how the book will begin.
“In the beginning there was Moses, not the Moses who led the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt and across the Red Sea towards the Promised Land, the one who received the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai, but Moses Chunga, just another boy in Faison, born to a father who traced his roots to Malawi, in a family that also had my brother Kembo and my brother Dickson, and who — thanks to the blessings of the Lord — became the Greatest Footballer Zimbabwe had ever seen or might ever see.”
That’s Chunga for us.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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