Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
A DAY after masterminding probably the most decisive result in the championship run-in, Rodwell Dhlakama drove all the way, from his base in Mhondoro, to buy some vegetables at Mbare Musika.
He knew the anger, which was simmering in some parts of the capital, after CAPS United’s sensational collapse, in a five-goal thriller at Baobab on Wednesday, derailed the Green Machine’s march towards the Premiership title.
As a veteran coach, he has taken in a lot of insults and abuse, in his career, but he never imagined someone would label him a dissident.
“I don’t know whether he knew I was the man they were talking about but there were some people discussing the game on Wednesday and how we had made life difficult for CAPS United,’’ he told The Herald.
“Then, I overhead someone asking, ‘Who the hell is this Dhlakama who brought us all this pain?’
“The answer, from the other man, is what caught my attention because he simply said: ‘Aahhhhh, nderimwe zi ‘mutsanga’ rekuMozambique (ahhhh, he is just another dissident from Mozambique.”
“I just kept my cool and continued looking for the vegetables.
“It was quite an encounter but that’s what this game is all about. Emotions run high sometimes.
“The point remains that CAPS United wanted to win, we also wanted to win. We were playing for our interests and they were playing for the championship.
“We really want to finish among the top four because, when you look at where we were when I arrived, that will be a step in the right direction and that’s why we are also going flat out to try and win our last match on Saturday (tomorrow).’’
There is a reason why Dhlakama, whose success story at Ngezi Platinum, which has also included a silver medal in the Chibuku Super Cup, has earned him a year’s contract at the club, isn’t the most popular man among CAPS United fans right now.
In three battles against the Green Machine this season, Dhlakama has masterminded the Harare giants’ downfall on each occasion, taking nine out of nine points from them.
Had Makepekepe won just one of those games, they would be having one hand on the league championship trophy going into the final round of fixtures tomorrow.
He was in charge of Chapungu when they came to Harare and beat the Green Machine 2-1 at the National Sports Stadium on May 16 when the Harare giants were then still under the guidance of Lloyd Chitembwe.
Then, in Darlington Dodo’s first game in charge of CAPS United on August 24 in Round 20 of the fixtures, Dhlakama handed him a baptism of fire with a 4-2 win at Ascot.
And, on Wednesday, he completed a hat-trick of wins, this season, with a 3-2 victory over the Green Machine at Baobab.
Maybe, of all the coaches in the domestic Premiership, he can provide the best assessment of CAPS United’s chances of winning the league title by defeating FC Platinum on Super Stadium at the giant stadium tomorrow.
“They have a good team, that’s why they are in the championship race, and they are at home, which is different because they have their support there and they usually don’t lose there,’’ said Dhlakama.
“But, they have some issues with their defence with some key players injured and that makes a difference.
“FC Platinum have won the title in the past two seasons and they are coming with the confidence because they won during midweek while CAPS United lost.
“They have some players who know how to win the league championship and they are also likely to be backed by a huge number of their traveling fans.
“I think it will be a tough game for both teams but I’m more interested in how my team will play against Harare City than what will be happening at the National Sports Stadium.
“We have to win that game because we have to finish on a high since this also helps when you come back to start preparing for the new season.’’
Experts usually say defence is what wins league champions. And, if that is true, then CAPS United will be battling to prove that theory wrong as their defence has been the team’s Achilles heel all season.
If they become champions tomorrow, they will be the first team, in the 34-game league season, to be crowned league champions after conceding more than 15 goals with their total, so far in the campaign (41), about three times which FC Platinum let in two years ago.
Last year, the Zvishavane side conceded just 14 goals all season. Fifteen of the 18 teams in the league championship race have conceded fewer goals than CAPS United so far this season.
Last year, Yadah Stars, who finished 12th in the championship race, conceded fewer goals (40), than the Green Machine have let in this season. Bulawayo Chiefs (35 goals), who finished 13th, Chapungu (34), who finished 14th and Nichrut (40), who were relegated, conceded fewer goals last season than CAPS United have let in this campaign.
Even in 2017, the relegated sides — Harare City (29 goals) and Hwange (38 goals) — conceded fewer goals than the Green Machine have let in this season.
In sharp contrast, the last time CAPS United were champions in 2016, they conceded just 21 goals, although that was a 30-game league season. Back in the 1999/2000 season, Highlanders won the championship after conceding 35 goals, in a 38-game season, which is six goals less than the Green Machine have conceded in 33 games so far this season.
But, who cares about statistics, especially in a season where just a 1-0 win for CAPS United tomorrow is all they will need to be champions?
The good thing is that they don’t have to meet Dhlakama in that match. And, for the coach, he also bought enough vegetables yesterday he won’t be returning to Mbare Musika anytime soon.