Sharuko on Saturday
FOR Nicholas Munyonga, a long-term Warriors doctor who, is also a sports medicine expert and the regional leader of the World Anti-Doping Agency, the warning signs flashed four years ago in Egypt during a World Cup tour of duty with the senior national team.
They were not triggered by anyone’s extreme behaviour, but by the choice of the Warriors’ coach back then, Dieter Klaus Pagels, to thrust the massive responsibility that comes with captaining the team on the lean shoulders of a rookie 20-year-old still struggling to shed off his milk teeth at this level of the game.
Munyonga, as good a sports medicine expert as they will ever come on the continent, if not in the world, was the special guest on ZTV’s authoritative and immensely popular Monday night weekly live football magazine show, Game Plan, this week. And, as others followed the events at the Emirates in North London, where Arsenal were undertaking a routine beating of West Bromwich Albion that same night, Munyonga preached about athletes, fame, fortune and the dangers that lie in their crazy world.
He did it with the authority of a seasoned expert, dissected the subject with both simplicity — for the benefit of the laymen to get a clear understanding of what he was talking about — and the depth of knowledge that painted a very good picture of what he was saying. He tried as much as possible to avoid using the complicated language that dominates his field like cardiovascular, neurologic, musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary, you name them, to break all this into simple terms that the ordinary folks could understand.
I have been part of the show’s panel of pundits for years now and, along the way, we have had some fine guests in the host seat — including former Warrior Tinashe Nengomasha — who blew us away with his in-depth knowledge of the game and his passion for his country. But I have to grudgingly admit that, in terms of expert presentation of a subject, Munyonga was just a class apart.
Even our cameramen were blown away by his simplicity and depth of knowledge, despite the complexity of the subject he was dealing with, and there was an unprecedented flood of feedback on my Twitter account from those watching at home as they feasted into the discussion. Munyonga provided the primary and frontline specialist support for Taitamba Chafa, also known as Devon in domestic football circles, when he was banned by FIFA for six months for having used a prohibited substance found in a prescription drug which his family doctor had prescribed for him to cure an illness.
Like a good doctor, Munyonga refused to be dragged into saying whether or not Denver Mukamba is being battered by clinical depression, arguing he hadn’t seen the footballer to provide a diagnosis of the challenges he was facing and didn’t want to be the authoritative voice that would be used as reference to social and mainstream media discussions about the DeMbare midfielder.
Until he could provide a diagnosis on the athlete, Munyonga said, he couldn’t make a pronouncement on national television on the condition of Mukamba and he couldn’t be guided by what he was reading either on the unregulated social forums — where anything can be said by anyone — or the mainstream media sites which have given acres of space to this subject.
But, crucially, Munyonga revealed he raised a red flag about Denver four years ago, not because the footballer had behaved in a way that raised alarm, but because the then Warriors coach Pagels had made the surprise decision to heap the responsibility of the national team’s captaincy on the footballer who was then just a rookie in the brutal trenches of international football.
The good doctor said he even took it upon himself to confront Pagels, in the secrecy of the coach’s hotel room, to not only voice his objection — given the possible consequences he feared as the medical expert in the group on the then youngster — but also to try and understand the rationale behind the coach’s surprise decision to invest all his trust, and correspondingly a nation’s trust, on the shoulders of such a rookie.
Munyonga said while it remained the coach’s responsibility to select his captain, all he could do was provide expert knowledge of the merits and demerits of such a decision, and in this case, his concern was largely centred on the huge load that this rookie, then a baby-faced footballer just a year out of his teenage innocence, who — 15 months earlier — was a virtual nobody at modest Premiership side Kiglon Bird.
MAYBE, FOR THE REST OF US, THE SIGNS SHOULD HAVE APPEARED IN HIS HOUR OF GREATNESS
Maybe, for the rest of us, the warning signs should have flicked in Denver’s hour of brilliance on March 19, 2011, at Rufaro when the then teenage footballer, in his first dance with Champions League football, made a mockery of the game at this level with a show that was a moment of golden theatre.
Something which, half-a-dozen years later, has remained a part of the collective memory of those who were there as privileged witnesses as Denver’s raw talent — before its pollution by a toxic combination of fame, alcohol and the virus called Super Diski — screamed out and overwhelmed seasoned Algerian campaigners MC Alger.
Nine months short of his 19th birthday, in his first real football match, Denver shone like a beacon that afternoon, playing at a level that was a mockery to the combination of his inexperience and youthfulness, running the Dynamos machine as if he was a veteran of these continental football trenches and, crucially, destroying the Algerian opposition with both style and substance.
There are some neutrals, whose opinion I value a lot, who said this was — in terms of individual brilliance — a throwback to that iconic performance by the King himself, Peter Ndlovu, in the colours of his beloved Warriors in that four-goal destruction of Bafana Bafana, at the turn of the ‘90s, which he capped with a goal of such purity it remains a benchmark for artistry in those gold jerseys we call our national kit.
Or, before he was King and was the Prince, the Flying Elephant’s 5-2 destruction of Tunisia in the second leg of the third round qualifier of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics at Barbourfields where the sheer magic of a teenage Peter dragged the Young Warriors to a crushing victory that wiped out the 1-3 first leg deficit and turn it into a 6-5 aggregate victory.
Or, some say, Vitalis Takawira’s manhandling of the Indomitable Lions in a Nations Cup qualifier in which the Digital, then at the very peak of his athletic powers, scored three of the four goals that afternoon when Cameroon crashed to a humiliating defeat at the National Sports Stadium.
Denver produced a man-of-the-match show on that March afternoon in 2011, and fittingly, scored the peak of his team’s four goals, dribbling past two defenders, turning a third marker and then, with both precision and ruthlessness, curling home beautiful effort that nestled into the far post as Rufaro — having been taken to heaven and back by the vintage show of those Glamour Boys — rose in unison to salute this magician. But, in that festival of celebrations, we chose to ignore his shocking tendency to self-destruct, a frustrating failure to value responsibility and a fatal habit of doing the wrong things at the wrong time.
As Denvermania spread that day, in a country still looking for someone to fill the big shoes which King Peter left behind, we all chose to overlook the first signs of Denver’s sickening habit of spoiling all the good work he would have done with one foolish act, a penchant to live on the edge and a deeply flawed character who needed a lot of hand-holding to help him live to all this hype.
No one questioned why Denver, of all people, somehow trooped back to find himself in his own penalty area, in the dying moments of that game when his team was enjoying a healthy four-goal lead, where he then made a clumsy challenge on Nassim Bouchama to provide the Algerians with the penalty, converted by Reda Babouche, which opened a window of hope for them in that carnage of despair.
The demons, which we are seeing today — the lack of discipline to understand the consequences of his childish late tackle that day, the foolishness to even attempt it, inside the penalty area, when he knows his defensive shortcomings are as clear as the difference between Two Keys and Glenfiddich Single Malt 18-year-old Whisky, the temptation to experiment on the big stage — combined for that fateful and ill-advised decision that day.
Yes, in today’s football, attackers are the first line of defence and the attacking players should always come back to reinforce the defence, but they are not told to lunge into rushed challenges, especially when their team is leading 4-0 in the final minute, and poor Denver’s clumsy challenge that afternoon — devoid of any responsibility in such a massive match — gave the Algerians a window of hope.
Which, as it turned out, using both fair and foul means in Algiers, they used to their full advantage, riding on that one away goal — and a helping hand from a referee described by my colleague Makomborero Mutimukulu, who covered that match in Algiers as a clone from hell — to win 3-0 and qualify on the away goals rule.
AND, IN OUR COMBINED
FAILURE TO READ THE SIGNS,
WE LET HIM DOWN
In our combined failure to pick out the early signs of Denver’s glaring character weaknesses, and instead toast him as that faultless hero whom our football had been waiting for, we ushered him onto this train of doom and being crowned Soccer Star of the Year — something which his performance merited — inflated an ego at a time he needed to keep his feet on the ground.
With the benefit of hindsight, that award — which gave him imaginary wings in which, like R. Kelly before him, he believed he could suddenly fly — was a horrible addition to the instruments of the praise singing band, whose music was making him believe he had suddenly turned into a demi-god of football.
Pagels’ ill-advised decision to hand him the Warriors’ armband that night in Egypt, in March 2013, to lead a team that featured experienced hands like Washington Arubi, Lincoln Zvasiya, Hardlife Zvirekwi, Ovidy Karuru and the talisman Knowledge Musona, who inevitably scored our goal in a 1-2 defeat, provided the fuel to that fire of arrogance, self-importance, assumed superiority and egotism that was already burning inside his lanky frame.
The rising star in Egyptian football back then was Mohamed Salah, an individual born six months earlier than Denver, who had flown from his base in Switzerland where he played for Basel, to play in that World Cup qualifier against a Warriors side captained by Mukamba.
Even when the Pharaohs were given an 88th minute penalty, from which they found their winner that night, the responsibility to take it wasn’t given to Salah, but to Mohamed Aboutrika, who was regarded as the more senior player, with the right temperament to take such a major national responsibility, as taking a last-gasp World Cup qualifying penalty to decide a match.
Salah was down the pecking order, but given he is the same age as Denver and plays in the same position as our footballer who chose to remain trapped in the bliss of teenage-hood, when both his life and his career were crying out for him to become a man, it’s a measure of how much the other has developed, and the other has lost his way, the Egyptian is now the most expensive footballer Liverpool have ever signed.
Pagels, to his credit, quickly picked out the error of his ways and three months after that match in Alexandria, Denver had already fallen from being captain of the Warriors to a place on the bench, in the reverse match against the Egyptians in Harare, in June that year.
We didn’t pick it back then, but the brutality of that rejection, and embarrassment, for a player who three months earlier was now believing in his fantasy that he had touched the heavens, to be not only stripped of that armband, but also lose his place in a starting XI that now featured the likes of Tafadzwa Rusike, was too much to bear for this prima donna, who had grown up being tendered by a loving grandmother who treated him with all the love there is in this world.
Worse was to follow and when it came it was so brutal, and damaging, it has left him resembling a shell, struggling in a hazy world of denial, a man who is at war with himself, refusing to embrace the fact that those who said he failed in South Africa were right, and those who are saying he is no longer the Denver they used to know at Dynamos are also right.
To find an escape from reality, imaginary comfort from the real world, he has retreated into his own world — others say he now finds occasional relief in funny intoxicating liquids like musombodhia, bronco and histalix that only take him away into the fantasy of the reality world for just a fleeting moment before they evaporate from his system leaving him to face the very ugly world he was trying to run away from.
Others say he has found the occasional relief in some funny substances and the more that he has become the subject of jokes on the unrelenting social media sites, the more he has chosen to try and find sanctuary in a world that doesn’t exist and the more he had drifted away from reality and the chance for a redemption exercise.
Denver simply needs a fresh start and that begins with going back into the arms of Gogo Kawinga to ask for forgiveness for letting her down, including not sending her some money during his days in South Africa, going back into the arms of his agent Gibson Mahachi, quite a good fellow who cares for him very much, and going back into the arms of Lloyd Mutasa, a coach whose patience with him has been remarkable. And, crucially, trusting what they tell him.
Finding a pastor, and there are many of them out there, to pray for him, if he doesn’t want the ones who like to publish his visits on television he can go and see a good guy called Doug Mamvura, who repeatedly tells me his love for Dynamos knowns no bounds, who can help him with prayers. His club Dynamos, who also made some money when he went to South Africa, should also help him in his redemption journey, the counselling he needs, and the fact that — unlike Partson Jaure he showed his loyalty to them on his return home than join a rival — should work in his favour.
The Footballers Union of Zimbabwe, Desmond Maringwa and Thomas Sweswe, also need to come in and play their part. ZIFA, too, should play their part because, for goodness sake, this guy once captained the Warriors in a World Cup match and the PSL also need to play their part because, when he was drawing all those crowds to the DeMbare matches a few years ago, he was contributing to the league’s bank account.
Robert Marawa played a leading role in the rehabilitation of David Mkandawire in South Africa and we need to help Denver, make him see someone like Nicholas Munyonga or Edward Chagonda, two leading sports medicine experts who can help him find the right people to help him.
This guy is 24 years, will be 25 on December 21, and turning our back on him right now will be a great betrayal, but he should take responsibility and time is not standing still.
To God Be The Glory
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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