Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
FOR Knowledge Musona, this has been virgin and hostile territory — the fierce vilification on social media, the headlines in mainstream media pregnant with negativity and toxicity, the painful soul-searching exercise, the rejection by an ungrateful constituency, the confusion brought by the dark cloud that has stalked him here.
Like David Beckham, who woke up to a shocking tabloid headline describing him as ‘’ONE STUPID BOY,’’ at the ’98 Soccer World Cup, while praising his teammates as “TEN BRAVE LIONS,’’ poor Musona has been like the golden boy fated to make the fatal mistake which has transformed him into a figure of hate, an effigy of animosity, a symbol of antagonism.
Beckham’s fault was that he had been sent-off for reacting to a foul against Diego Simeone and became the fall guy for the English media for the Three Lions’ elimination from that World Cup which sparked a toxic wave of hatred, across England, towards him.
Like Romelu Lukaku, who complained bitterly that he is referred to as a Belgian, by his country’s journalists and fans, when he scores for Belgium, and then as a footballer of Congolese descent when he fails to do so, in a graphic illustration of the thin line that divides love and hate, reasonability and madness and sanity and absurdity.
The big striker, tired of being feted like a Belgian King every time he did well for his country, including becoming its all-time leading goal-scorer, and lampooned as some misfiring Congolese warlord every time he went on a bad spell, chose the eve of last year’s World Cup to tell his story.
‘’I don’t know why some people in my own country want to see me fail. I really don’t. When I went to Chelsea and I wasn’t playing, I heard them laughing at me. When I got loaned out to West Brom, I heard them laughing at me,’’ Lukaku said.
‘’When things were going well, I was reading newspaper articles and they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker. When things weren’t going well, they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker of Congolese descent.
“If you don’t like the way I play, that’s fine. But I was born here. I grew up in Antwerp, and Liège and Brussels. I dreamed of playing for Anderlecht. I dreamed of being Vincent Kompany.
“I’ll start a sentence in French and finish it in Dutch, and I’ll throw in some Spanish or Portuguese or Lingala, depending on what neighbourhood we’re in.’’
For Musona, that neighbourhood for the painful introspection has been the Heliopolis area of Cairo, one of the most affluent suburbs of this mega city where the Warriors’ hotel is located and, which, ironically, is the area where most Egyptian footballers have their homes.
To say that it has, so far, been a horror AFCON adventure for the Warriors skipper will be an understatement — his fatal mistake led to the only goal which the Pharaohs scored to win the opening game and his horror miss, from about three metres with a yawning goal on Wednesday night against Uganda, still defies logic.
And, the backlash has been vicious, especially from a section of the fans who now hold him responsible for the fact the Warriors have a point, instead of three or four, including some who say he is now finished and even point to his visit to Nigerian prophet TB Joshua for his troubles in front of goal.
One social media respondent even had the audacity of calling him a “rubbish player, rubbish captain, who should pack his bags and come back home,’’ while others have been feasting so much on his miserable it has been really a bad time to be Knowledge Musona.
Admittedly, being Knowledge Musona comes with expectations and responsibility — the expectation to lead the Warriors with distinction and the responsibility to deliver the goals, as he has done throughout his career, when the nation demands someone to lift his hand to find a way to give it a breakthrough.
That he has, until now, done that with both consistency and style has led many to believe he can’t get it wrong, he can’t let them down, he can’t fail, he always delivers, he always makes the difference, he always gets it right and, when it matters most, he will be there for his country.
Like becoming the first Warriors skipper to score an AFCON hat-trick in that 3-0 mauling of Liberia, the first to score the winning goal for the team in Kinshasa, his five goals in the qualifiers for this tournament only beaten by Odion Ighalo’s seven goals and Fiston Abdul Razak’s six.
How could we forget?
That, for 10 years, between July 2004, when the Warriors beat Rwanda 2-0 in Kigali in an AFCON/World Cup qualifier, and May 2014, when they were eliminated from the 2015 AFCON finals by Tanzania in a preliminary battle, the team played 17 away games in these two huge tournaments, lost 13, drew four, and only Musona scored in those games away from home.
That the Warriors failed to score in 10 of those matches, while they also scored more than one goal in just two games against Algeria and Namibia, and between 2010 and May 2014, Musona was the only player for them to score in away matches in World Cup/AFCON qualifiers with four goals in nine matches.
That, since making his Warriors debut at the age of 18 years, eight months and 10 days, Musona has made 18 appearances for this country in AFCON qualifiers, scored 14 goals, provided three assists, while Sadio Mane, the Senegalese superstar, who made his international debut on May 25, 2012, at 20 years, one month and 15 days has made 18 appearances in AFCON qualifiers, exactly the same number as Musona, scored just five goals, nine less than the Smiling Assassin, for the Teranga Lions.
That Mohamed Salah, since making his international debut on September 3, 2011, at 19 years, two months and 19 days, has featured in 19 AFCON qualifiers, scored 14 goals and provided six assists and while he has scored the same number of goals as Musona, the Liverpool star has played one more match than the Warriors skipper.
That’s a serious level of consistency, not seen since King Peter Ndlovu for anyone in the Warriors colours, and to turn a blind eye to all that, especially to the frightening reality the Warriors would probably not have been here without Musona’s goals in the qualifiers, will be the biggest insult to the legacy of this great Warrior.
In an era where Salah’s “Don’t Give Up’’ T-shirt has assumed greater meaning in football, and in the country where the Liverpool superstar is a god, Musona should try to borrow a leaf from the little magician.