Mwanjali’s tale plucked from the football gods

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
WHOEVER wrote Method Mwanjali’s script must have borrowed it from the football gods — his first game had to be for Hwange against CAPS United and his final match, it seems, for the Green Machine against the side from the Colliery.

In between, 19 years came and went.

Amazingly, at the age of 36, he could wave goodbye to it all with a league championship medal, although a team from another mining town that used to be his adopted home, is desperate to ensure that won’t be the case.

His story could also come to an end in the year, which marks the 10th anniversary, of the year he celebrates his finest hour, when he captained the Warriors to success in the COSAFA Cup, on home soil, in 2009.

Tomorrow will mark exactly 10 years when Mwanjali even scored for the Warriors, getting the third goal after Cuthbert Malajila had grabbed a brace, in the 3-0 win over Mauritius at Rufaro.

That was the Warriors’ first game, in that COSAFA Cup campaign, and on November 1, before 35 000 fans at Rufaro, Mwanjali lifted the cup following a 3-1 win over Zambia in the final with Malajila scoring once and Nyasha Mushekwi twice.

Along the way he represented his country along all formats of the game — the AFCON and World Cup qualifiers and a number of international friendlies.

There were stints in South Africa, at Mamelodi Sundowns, and in Tanzania, at giants Simba SC, and his leadership qualities always shone through as he captained both clubs.

There was also a short stay at Mpumalanga Black Aces in South Africa, in a stint which saw him feature in 68 appearances, at his two clubs, in the ABSA Premiership, five in the MTN8, one in the Telkom Knockout.

He scored three goals, not bad for an adventure spent largely as a defender in Supa Diski.

But, those who know him from his early days in his hometown of Hwange, which also provided the country with a gem called Marvelous Nakamba who is now playing in the English Premiership, are not surprised.

For, at the beginning, when he was thrown into his debut match for Hwange against CAPS United on May 28, 2000, coming in as a second half substitute, Mwanjali actually played as a winger.

The current Hwange coach, Nation Dube, was his teammate.

But, on Sunday, Dube watched from the other corner as Mwanjali played what some believed to have been his final match of his football career. While the Green Machine won that game 3-1, to consolidate their place at the top of the Castle Lager Premiership table, Mwanjali’s afternoon ended prematurely when he was injured in the first half.

He was ferried to hospital, where he underwent surgery yesterday on his knee and, with just a few matches before the end of the campaign, the CAPS United medical team announced his season was over.

How ironic that the team that provided him with his breakthrough match, 19 years ago, against CAPS United, should be the one where he also featured against, in the colours of the Green Machine, in his final match of a career that has gone the full distance.

Mwanjali has been the rock on which this CAPS United side have built their challenge for the league championship and, while others will say Phineas Bhamusi has done better, his experience has been the difference.

When Triangle took the lead from the penalty spot at the National Sports Stadium recently, Mwanjali summoned all his teammates to an impromptu meeting at the centre of the field, like Steven Gerrard that unforgettable day at Anfield, and challenged them to rise to the challenge.

By the end of the battle, Makepekepe had won 2-1.

“I am 36 now, probably nearing retirement, but I am glad I have soldiered on for this long,” Mwanjali told our sister newspaper, The Sunday Mail.

“We are working hard as a team, the clean sheets are not only attributed to us defenders or the goalkeeper, but you have to realise also the importance of midfielders and strikers in defending.’’

Mwanjali might not have scripted his ending to come in such a cruel manner.

But, maybe, the football gods have a plan after all because how does one explain that the team he faced, in his first game, would be the one he played for, in his last match.

Of course, against the very same team he featured for at the beginning.

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