Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor—
FOOTBALL-MAD prophet Walter Magaya’s cameo appearance for the Warriors Legends in their showdown against the Barcelona Legends has triggered a social media explosion with scores of people questioning the decision to let him feature in the game when he isn’t a former member of the team. A number of critics turned to social media to vent their fury while doctored images of Magaya, including one in which his face was plastered on one of the Zimbabwean cricketers in a team of the Chevrons Legends like Andy and Grant Flower, were produced and posted online as the reaction went into overdrive.
Others said it was a scandal for ZIFA to allow their benefactor, who housed both the Warriors Legends and the Barca Legends at his plush Harare hotel complex, to feature for the Warriors Legends when he had never played for the team before. Magaya was introduced as a late substitute to a rousing reception from the huge crowd at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday and then cheered the fans with some deft touches as he helped provide the colour that such occasions — where the entertainment value should always overshadow the result — are always crying out for.
ZIFA vice-president Omega Sibanda said Magaya played as their special guest and, as the governing body of football in the country, they had a right to choose who could value to the occasion. ‘’The prophet is not a Warriors Legend but he played for the Warriors Legends on the basis of an invitation he received from us as our special guest,’’ said Sibanda.
‘’The next time we have such a game, we could even invite someone like Oliver Mtukudzi to be a guest player for the team because this is all about having fun and football should use such occasions to cement its relationship with those who are legends in their fields in this country. ‘’We are all Zimbabweans and that is the bottom line and the people who were at the National Sports Stadium and who watched the game live on television really had a great time and we are happy that we brought smiles on the faces of many Zimbabweans.’’
But, in a country where negativity and doom are commodities that appear to appeal to many better than the positive stuff, the debate after the colourful events on Sunday, which attracted the biggest crowd to watch a local football game in recent months, was not about the enduring popularity of Madinda Ndlovu, the sheer class of Ronald Sibanda or Zenzo Moyo’s defiance of gravity to roll back the years and score a beauty of a goal.
Instead, the narrative was dominated by Magaya’s cameo show. However, amid the flurry of all the negative comments, and creations, which accompanied the prophet’s show in the colours of the Warriors Legends, there were some who dared to see the other side. Like former CAPS United’s defensive stalwart, Frank ‘’Dealer’’ Nyamukuta, who was one of the stars who helped the Green Machine win their first league championship after Independence in 1996, who felt the negative buzz was all uncalled for.
‘’I saw a lot of people on FB (Facebook) complaining or questioning why Prophet Walter Magaya participated in the Zim legends v Barca Legends match,’’ Nyamukuta, who is based in England, posted on his Facebook page. ‘’I didn’t see anything wrong with it. He is not a football legend yes but he was a guest player. I also think it added fun and entertainment to those who attended.
‘’Here in UK I have seen Usain Bolt, Olly Muirs, etc, taking part in games like this. The good thing is that he loves the game and can even play. A guest player can be anyone. Kufunga kwanguwo please don’t crucify me.”
Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt was supposed to play for the Manchester United Legends in their match against the Barcelona Legends at Old Trafford on September 2 but failed to recover from a nagging injury which had stalked him during his final appearance at the World Athletics Championships. Bolt is a lifelong Manchester United fan.
“Sadly I have tear of the proximal myotendinous junction of biceps femoris in my left hamstring with partial retraction. 3 months rehab,” he tweeted ahead of the match. The news made headlines around the world with the Manchester Evening News also joining in the feast. ‘’Olympic great Usain Bolt won’t be fit enough to play for Manchester United Legends against Barcelona, it has been confirmed,’’ the newspaper reported.
‘’The sprinting legend suffered a hamstring injury in his farewell race at the World Athletics Championships in London at the weekend and recent scans have revealed the damage will rule him out of action for three months. ‘’The injury means Bolt will be unable to feature for United Legends at Old Trafford on September 2 in the charity game for the Manchester United Foundation.’’
While the globe didn’t see anything wrong with Bolt featuring for the United Legends, and even mourned his absence because of injury, here in Zimbabwe, Magaya’s appearance for the Warriors Legends in an exhibition game has torched a storm. Yesterday, Magaya told The Herald he was at peace with himself and praised all those who celebrated his appearance for the team.
‘’I am a very, very happy man right now, just being there, playing with those legends, I can’t put my feelings into words and I thank those who gave me the chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Peter Ndlovu and Benjani Mwaruwari in the team,’’ he said. ‘’If there is a regret, I think I was introduced a bit late because I felt I could have done more if I had been introduced just after half-time.
‘’To me, this is all about nation-building, our people coming together to just enjoy the occasion and that is what is making me feel all this joy.’’ He even said the next phase should be about bringing the current Barcelona side, including the legendary Lionel Messi, or the Spanish national football team to Zimbabwe in the wake of the resounding success of the tour of the Barca Legends to this country.
‘’Let’s not stop here, let’s now bring in the real Barcelona team because we have started this relationship and these guys who were here will go back and say some lovely stuff about our country because they really enjoyed their stay,’’ he said.
‘’Then, let’s try and bring in the Spain national team here, and all its stars, so that they play our real Warriors and help them prepare for their matches in the AFCON qualifiers. Remember, Spain will be preparing for the World Cup next year and they need some opponents and we can have our full-strength team playing against them here and a full-house at the National Sports Stadium.’’
BECKHAM REPLACED BY HIS SON AT OLD TRAFFORD
In August 2015, David Beckham was replaced in the 76th minute by his 16-year-old son Brooklyn at Old Trafford in a Unicef Match for Children before 75 000 fans. Brooklyn played alongside a number of United Legends like Paul Scholes for the British and Irish Legends in that match against a World XI. ‘’One of my lasting memories of playing here was winning the Premiership and walking round with Brooklyn at 18 months,’’ Beckham told the media.
“Having him out here today was a big decision, but I was very proud. It is difficult for him to get on my shoulders. Thankfully the manager (Sir Alex Ferguson) thought it was something we should do.”
BRAZILIAN RONALDO DAZZLES IN MATCH FEATURING FORMULA ONE ACE
In March 2001, Brazilian legendary striker Ronaldo scored five goals in a charity match which also featured former Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher before 40 000 fans at the Maracana. Schumacher used the match to hone his fitness for the Brazilian Grand Prix and the German superstar was guilty of wasting a number of good chances in the game before scoring for the sport.
“It was great fun playing alongside Schumacher,” Ronaldo said. “He by no means looked out of place. We even worked on some neat one-twos together.” The match was organised by TV network Rede Globo and Unicef to help underprivileged children in Brazil as part of the Hope for Children programme.