Sharuko on Saturday
FOR a fleeting moment, he somehow out-sprinted Lloyd Mutasa, which was itself as huge a personal achievement as the one that had sent his emotions exploding and igniting this fiery fire inside him to run in that fading winter sunshine.

The old Warrior, like a raging alpha male lion back to retake its stolen kingdom, a graphic limp from the scars of those old fierce battles which left him with a left leg marginally shorter, still clearly visible, as he made his best imitation of the closest he can try to be football’s version of Usain Bolt.

His pride excited to see him back, exploding in animated celebrations, a grand party well and truly underway.

Then, nature, as it always does, quickly sorted itself out.

The younger, fitter and leaner Mutasa soon caught up with him, but chose not to overtake him — some moments are best enjoyed in great company, never in isolation, never far away from those who helped make it possible.

And this was one of them.

Mutasa simply plunged into the loving arms of his old mentor in a golden embrace filled with both joy and relief that whatever their remarkable tag team had been planning for more than two weeks, every day spent together in those trenches, had finally borne fruit.

It was like a journey back into the past, a nostalgic adventure back into those days almost 20 years ago, when the same duo had fallen into each other’s arms in a celebration not very much different from the one now playing out on the football field of this majestic stadium in the heart of the Bafokeng kingdom.

Back then, just like now, it had happened away from home, in a Nigerian city after Mutasa had scored a priceless goal against Eagle Cement that had powered Dynamos to a stunning victory in their ‘98 Champions League adventure.

For the older man, the head coach then as now, that victory on Nigerian soil had helped exorcise the demons of his previous visit to Africa’s most populous country, on another Champions League adventure two years earlier, when he had suffered the ultimate humiliation in a coaching career that represents greatness — a 1-5 thrashing at the hands of Shooting Stars in 1996.

But while their victory over Eagle Cement in Nigeria in ’98 was part of a series of impressive results that took them to the final of that year’s Champions League final, they eventually fell short in their quest for silverware after falling at the final hurdle in Abidjan, amid a storm of controversy.

On Sunday, in sharp contrast, they had reaped something big.

The dynamic duo from the house of the Glamour Boys, in animated celebrations after combining their coaching wisdom, with a helping hand from the vastly-underrated, but hugely resourceful and technically-and-tactically brilliant Bongani Mafu of course, to win a major trophy for their fatherland.

That this was his third COSAFA Cup crown, that he remains unbeaten in the 16 matches he has taken charge of his Warriors in this tournament and that the last time he was part of this football festival it had ended in a similar 3-1 victory in the final over Zambia, didn’t appear to dilute the thrill of the moment for the old man.

Watching him explode with boundless joy on Sunday appeared to suggest this was his finest hour, which should be surprising given what he has achieved before — winning seven league championships as coach of his beloved Glamour Boys, taking them to the final of the Champions League and ending his country’s 23-year wait for a place at the Nations Cup finals.


Having covered Sunday, for all of the quarter-of-a-century that I have been working for this grand newspaper, I have to say I had never seen him release half the emotions, when it comes to celebrations, he displayed the moment his men sealed their COSAFA Castle Cup triumph on Sunday.

Given he is 65 now, it means I have covered his adventure since he was just 40, when he was still a young man who would ordinarily be expected to be very animated.

But, even in his best moments back then — like sealing his Glamour Boys’ Champions League final appearance or ending his country’s Nations Cup qualification nightmare — he never displayed such an outpouring of happiness like he did on Sunday.

This was Mhofu — like Bob Marley introducing probably his finest piece of music, which also happened to be his last song on his final album with the Wailers, to that crowd at Dortmund’s Westfalenhallen Stadium in Germany on June 13, 1980 — singing his own special Sunday cover version of Redemption Song.

That super song which Marley fittingly had to give us, a world he charmed with his voice and lyrics as a farewell present while he was being consumed by a battle against a cancer that would soon take his life, a song which his countryman and legendary poet, Mutabaruka, chose as the most influential recording in Jamaican music history.

A super song which meant so much for U2’s legendary front-man Bono, he revealed “I carried Bob Marley’s Redemption Song to every meeting I had with a politician, Prime Minister, or President, it was for me a prophetic utterance.’’

A super song which, somehow, Mhofu was singing to us, not in words, but in action, as he wheeled away in celebrations on Sunday.

Nineteen goals in just six matches crammed in a punishing programme where his men played half-a-dozen games in two weeks, appeared like Sunday’s silent, but explosive protest against us for having dared to doubt him, to label him as an old-fashioned coach whom time had long left stranded behind trapped in Stone Age.

Seven goals in the semi-final, and final, at an average of three goals per match which a number of experts said was virtually impossible for a group of players they expected to be drained by the huge volume of matches they had played, and a coach they said was the ultimate Defensive Advocate, was Sunday’s way of reminding us why we were possibly wrong to dismiss him as past his sell-by-date.

A bold message to us for daring to label him an ultra-defensive disciple, the one who remains allergic to the beauty of free-flowing attacking football, complete with its promise and harvest of goals, the last dinosaur standing, somehow resisting the extinction that had consumed his kind, an old-fashioned coach in a brand new football world.

An ISIS militant trying to find refugee in the company of FBI agents.

For us daring to label him a man whose commitment to a three-man defence, five midfielders and two forwards had long left him stranded in his own world by the sheer pace and evolution of a changing game now dominated by sports scientists and an army of Twitter and Facebook critics who suddenly find themselves with the power to upload a volley of criticism at the touch of their mobile phone.

For us daring to accuse him of being a traitor, a latter-day Judas Iscariot who could be seduced by thirty pieces of silver to auction his soul to the highest bidder, a latter-day version of those West Indies cricketers who were lured by the apartheid regime, 35 years ago, to break a sporting isolation of South Africa meant to break the spine of the oppressive white rulers and help the cause of their fellow disadvantaged majority blacks.

Maybe, Marley didn’t know he was about to die when he somehow chose the perfect song for us as his farewell present, but one gets a feeling there is a way that the very fate that distinguishes these legends — like Bob and Mhofu — from us mere mortals, provides them with a special way to communicate with us.

Marley found it in his classic “Redemption Song”, and renowned music blogger, Jim Beviglia, provided probably the best words to put all this in an article under the headline, ‘BEHIND THE SONG: BOB MARLEY, REDEMPTION SONG.’

“What if you had the chance to leave a final message before dying? What would you say? It would have to be something that summed up everything that you stood for in life,’’ Beviglia wrote in his piece published on February 6, 2014.

“While there’s no indication that Marley knew for sure that the song would be his last recorded document, the contemplative mood of ‘Uprising’ and the fact that he had been battling the cancer for years seems to suggest that he knew the end was near.

“Redemption Song begins with a story of how the narrator has been persecuted for years only to overcome it all with heavenly aid, leading to the aforementioned triumph. It was as if Marley was letting his millions of fans know that he was going to be all right in his next journey, just as the line implies his own Rastafarian faith was giving him strength in what must have been a time of great pain and fear.”

And, as I watched Sunday explode into that fireball of emotions on Sunday, I felt this was him singing his “Redemption Song”, and, as is always the case with such immortals, saying it best while saying nothing at all.


Three defenders at the back, mobile wing backs who looked more like supplementary wingers than defenders, intense criticism of a system some said had long been overtaken by time, a stubborn streak to refuse be forced into changing what they believed in, new jobs, gruelling scrutiny and carrying a heavy burden of accusations of alleged impropriety.

These are just some of the common denominators that have featured prominently in the lives and times of Sunday Chidzambwa and Antonio Conte in a defining period for them in the past few months where a very thin line separated things from either going very, very well for them and, in the process, providing them with their redemption songs.

Or going very, very badly very bad for them and in the process, possibly providing them with a swansong, a painful final chapter, to their coaching careers.

Both knew that accepting the challenge for a flirtation with their national football teams again, as the head coaches, came with a lot of huge risks at a time when, in the eyes of some, they were still outcasts who shouldn’t be given the ultimate responsibility of superintending the one team that is the sporting face of its nation and whose appeal cuts across all tribal, racial and religious differences.

The odds were heavily stacked against them, should they dare take a chance and accept these huge jobs that came with increased public scrutiny, which included the good, the bad and the very, very ugly, at a time when, in the eyes of some, they didn’t have the level of purity of both innocence and morality for such a responsibility.

And where the possibility of failure in this adventure could be used by these same people as ammunition to savage them, and those who appointed them, with a tsunami of vicious criticism for their actions.

Conte had been accused, charged and punished with a 10-month suspension, in a match-fixing case, by the very Italian football authorities who turned to him, in their hour of need, to guide their national team, the Azzurri, which had badly lost its way since conquering the globe at the 2006 World Cup.

His appointment came long before his sanctions, which he had served, were eventually scrapped by an Italian judge.

Mhofu had been accused, charged and punished with a life ban, in a match-fixing case, by a previous band of Zimbabwean football leaders before a new group turned to him, in their hour of need, to guide the Warriors, who had badly lost their way in the COSAFA Cup since conquering the same tourney in 2009, under his guidance.

Conte eventually needed a judge of the court of Cremona to accept his pleas of innocence, and provide him with the freedom he had vigorously pursued for more than four years, which all came after he had served the Italian football authorities’ sanctions.

Mhofu got his reprieve from FIFA’s refusal to endorse the sanctions imposed on him, on the basis he hadn’t been given a fair trial and, crucially, a change of leadership that saw the new national football leaders scrapping his punishment and giving him the freedom to ply his trade on the domestic front again.

And Conte thrived as his national football coach during the qualifiers for Euro 2016 as the Azzurri won their group while, at the finals in France, the Italians topped their group, too, beating the then world number one-ranked side Belgium 2-0 in their first match while their 1-0 win over Sweden marked the first time they had won a second group game in a major international tournament in 16 years.

For a side that had suffered the humiliation of a first round exit at the 2014 World Cup finals, this was magical and, suddenly, the mood in Italy suddenly changed and the media and the fans, who had been very critical of Conte, started to support him with that backing exploding into the stratosphere when his team beat Spain 2-0 in the Round of 16.

And, like Mhofu’s public display of emotion in South Africa, Conte provided the enduring sights and sounds of Euro 2016 with his touchline theatrics, including suffering a bloody nose as he celebrated Emmanuel Giaccherini’s goal against Belgium, and jumping onto the roof of the dug-out after beating Spain.

“So far, Conte has been the stand-out boss in France,’’ journalist Steve Bates wrote in British tabloid, Daily Mirror.

“Pure box-office, stalking the touchline with demonic zeal, rowing with his own staff, taking on journalists before jumping on the dugout roof after beating Vicente del Bosque’s men.”

For Conte, just like Mhofu, those emotional explosions we have been seeing in these two coaches’ hour of triumph have been the deafening lyrics of their redemption songs and they have been singing them best by saying nothing at all.

To God Be The Glory

Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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