Mutasa finds his Malajila

Mutasa finds his Malajila

BACK PAGERobson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
EXACTLY six years ago, Lloyd Mutasa’s initial search for glory as the Dynamos coach, which had started brightly on a bright autumn afternoon with a crushing defeat of MC Alger in a Champions League at Rufaro, ended under the cloud of an embarrassing dismissal from his job just five months down the line.

His team’s swashbuckling display in destroying the Algerian side 4-1 at Rufaro in March 2011 had earned Mutasa a lot of praise from many quarters, with some even going to the extent of hailing him as the domestic game’s version of legendary Spanish coach Pep Guardiola, whose passing football revolution had swept Barcelona to the top of the world.

On an unforgettable afternoon for the DeMbare fans, in the Champions League, goals by Guthrie Zhokinyi, Rodreck Mutuma, Denver Mukamba and Farai Vimisayi powered the Glamour Boys to a sensational victory over the Algerians with their beautiful football suffocating their visitors.

But football has a cruel way of providing a reminder that, for all its beauty, it remains such an unpredictably tough game and conquering it is not that easy and a lot of hard work is needed for success stories to be completed.

For, before the celebrations across the country had died down, DeMbare were brought crashing back on earth by the Algerians, with Mutasa’s limitations to deal with this game in the tough terrain of foreign venues — where there is as much foul as fair play — being crudely exposed.

By the end of the Glamour Boys’ nightmare in Algiers, in which Zhokinyi was also sent off and a late penalty given to the hosts to help them complete the mission, DeMbare were out of the Champions League after a 0-3 defeat gave the Algerians victory, on away goals, and a place in the next round.

Still, because of the way they were treated in Algeria, the fans chose to forgive Mutasa, but his redemption could only come from winning the league championship and taking DeMbare into the Champions League adventure the following year again.

However, after 19 league matches — with DeMbare trailing leaders FC Platinum by a dozen points and a 1-1 draw against Black Mambas completing a run of three matches in which his team had failed to win, including defeat at the hands of Blue Rangers and elimination from the BancABC Sup8r Cup — something had to give.

Amid rebellion in the stands, Mutasa was sacked, a day after that draw against Mambas, with Callisto Pasuwa being installed into the job. It was just what the doctor had ordered as Pasuwa turned things around, in spectacular fashion, with Dynamos winning nine, drawing one and losing just one of their last 11 league matches to be erase that 12-point deficit and become unlikely champions at the end of the season.

For good measure, the Glamour Boys even added the Mbada Diamonds Cup to complete a League and Cup Double.

Those who sympathised with Mutasa argued that DeMbare’s revival owed as much to the tactical brilliance of Pasuwa, who would go on to win four straight league titles and also take the Warriors to the Nations Cup finals, as it did to the return of striker Cuthbert Malajila.

The striker, having escaped the chaos in Libya, had returned to DeMbare, but somehow, his registration wasn’t formalised for Mutasa to use him, amid whispers that this was part of a script to sabotage the coach and that Malajila became available, the moment the coach was dismissed, appeared to convince those who believed in this conspiracy theory.

The hard-running striker’s arrival provided the spark that had been lacking in the young Dynamos strikeforce, who needed a veteran to help them when the going got tough, and that Malajila scored in his first match, a 4-1 mauling of Shooting Stars, was key.

It wasn’t his goals that were making the difference, but clearly, his leadership qualities and where Mutasa had struggled to find someone to provide that wise hand to his group of young forwards, Pasuwa now had Malajila firing on all cylinders.

A good professional, who always put the team ahead of himself, Malajila was just what was needed in a squad where there were a lot of egos and his calming influence helped bring the best out of Mukamba and Mutuma.

A DeMbare side that had scored 19 goals in 19 league games, before Malajila’s return, scored 23 goals in their last 11 and, after getting the all-important winner against FC Platinum in a Mbada Diamonds Cup semi-final at Barbourfields, the veteran forward showed his value to the side by not claiming the glory.

“I want to give credit to the whole team’s effort,” said Malajila. “We played as a team and deserved to win even though it was a tough contest. “The guys in the team and the coaches showed confidence in me and asked me to lead the troops. “This game is now water under the bridge and we now have to focus on the final.’’

Fast forward to 2017 and Mutasa is back in the trenches as the Dynamos coach and, where he didn’t get Malajila to turn to for a helping hand on the pitch when the going got tough, he now has Cameroonian hitman Christian Joel Epoupa Ntouba.

There are certain similarities between the two — their commitment to industry, their ability to roam the penalty area, their ability to score goals and also how they made it difficult for defenders to screen the ball away from them once in possession.

And, crucially, they both put the interests of the team ahead of personal glory. After scoring a double in his first Harare Derby on Sunday, his indomitable character helping him to refuse to be crushed by the weight of the occasion, Ntouba took over as the leader in the race for the Golden Boot.

But instead of preaching about how special he was, he talked about the team. “It feels alright to get two goals in a special match against CAPS United, but it is about Dynamos today not Christian,’’ he said.

“It is very good that I have now scored 11 goals, but this only means I have to work even harder for the team. “I want to win the league with Dynamos and then if I am to move away from the club I would be very happy.

“It is better Dynamos finish number one and I finish number five or six on the scorers list. I have no pressure with the Golden Boot, I just want my team to finish number one.’’

That’s professionalism, whichever way one looks at it, and — six years after his initial adventure ended in the mist of dismissal without a trusted old-fashioned striker to help him — Mutasa has found his man.

Whether their partnership will take them to the Promised Land remains to be seen, but for Dynamos fans, just enjoy this combination while it lasts.

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