Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
ZIMBABWE international footballer Oscar Machapa has turned into a celebrity in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country with arguably the best top-flight league in Africa today, just six months after joining Kinshasa giants AS Vita Club.
The former CAPS United and Dynamos utility man, who can play either as a defender or a midfielder, has been creating waves in the DRC and has become a huge sensation at his club which signed him from the Green Machine in August last year.
AS Vita Club are an iconic football brand who were crowned champions of Africa in 1973, during a golden era in Congolese football, with their superstar forward, Pierre Ndaye Mulamba, affectionately known as Volvo, starring for the Kinshasa side.
Mulamba also starred for the Congolese national team and his nine-goal haul powered the country to victory at the 1974 Nations Cup finals in Egypt with the superstar forward scoring nine goals, still a record for the finals, and being honoured as the best player at the tournament.
He also won the Golden Boot and, in the same year, was also part of the Congolese team that played at the 1974 World Cup finals.
Now, more than 40 years after Mulamba and his generation of stars were the darlings of AS Vita Club, the supporters of the Kinshasa giants have a new hero who is making a huge impression with his exploits on the field of play.
Such is the impact, which Machapa has been making, that AS Vita Club will next week unveil billboards in Kinshasa, featuring the Zimbabwe footballer, and hailing him as the “strong man from Harare” who has been making a difference at his new paymasters.
The billboards are set to be erected on the road leading to the team’s home ground, ahead of their CAF Champions league first round, first leg showdown against Mozambican side Ferroviario de Maputo, in Kinshasa.
The club have also produced some banners and posters, bearing Machapa’s image and thanking him for coming to join them, which are set to be distributed in AS Vita Club supporting neighbourhoods in Kinshasa, and at the stadium, when they face the Mozambican side.
That Machapa is getting such special attention, with his football talents being celebrated in a country whose top-flight league is today considered the most competitive on the continent, speaks volumes about the level of football that he is playing at the moment.
The DRC top-flight league features a team, TP Mazembe, which has won the African Champions League three times in the last six tournaments, with the Lubumbashi giants conquering the continent in 2009, 2010 and 2015.
TP Mazembe, who have won their domestic championship 14 times, were also runners/up in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2010, scaling heights that have never been touched by any African team before, and after, in their historic battles against the finest football clubs on the globe.
The Lubumbashi giants have won Africa’s premier inter-club tournament five times after also emerging triumphant in 1967 and 1968.
Machapa’s club, AS Vita Club, were losing finalists in the African Champions League in 2014 in a campaign where, on their way to the final, they eliminated Harare giants Dynamos and South African heavyweights Kaizer Chiefs.
They were African club champions in 1973, and were runners-up in 1981 and 2014, while they have won the domestic Congolese championship 13 times and captured the Cup of Congo nine times.
AS Vita Club also provided the bulk of the players who made the Congolese national team that won the 2016 African Nations Championship in style, in neighbouring Rwanda, where the Warriors crashed out in the first round.
Machapa believes AS Vita Club are the best supported club in the DRC although that will be contested by the fans of their Kinshasa rivals, Daring Motemba Pembe, who have won the domestic championship 12 times and also captured the Cup of Congo 13 times.
Daring Motemba Pembe won the African Cup of Cup Winners tournament in 1994, in the team’s finest hour on the continent. FC Lupopo, the other Lubumbashi giants, have won the domestic championship in Congo six times.
A number of Zimbabwean footballers have played in the Congolese top-flight league in recent years with TP Mazembe signing the Monomotapa crew of Darryl Nyandoro, Chris Samakwere and Daniel Zokoto and the Lubumbashi giants have another Zimbabwean, Ali Sadiki, on their books.
FC Lupopo also signed Philip Marufu and Carrington Gomba.
But, it appears, of the Zimbabwean contingent who have had a flirtation with Congolese football, it’s Machapa who has made the biggest impact in a league that has been parading some of the best players from the continent, including highly-rated Zambian international forward, Rainford Kalaba.
The Congolese top-flight league now features players from Mali, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Niger and the success of its clubs in the CAF inter-club competitions, in recent years, has distinguished it as the best league on the continent.