By Robson Sharuko
DERBY MANKINKA was the ultimate shooting star of the domestic Premiership, providing light in the blanket of fog which covered a football scene that was desperately crying out for a hero amid the turmoil of the top-flight league’s battle for independence from ZIFA at the turn of the ’90s. The talented Zambian midfielder played just eight games for Darryn T, but he made such a huge impression he forced his way onto the Soccer Stars of the Year calendar, but just as his legend grew and his appeal spread around the country, he was gone with his skills — clearly designed for a bigger stage — taking him to Europe.
Mankinka first arrived at seven-time Polish champions Lech Poznan in 1992 during a golden spell for the iconic club — which would give the world a hot-shot forward called Robert Lewandowski in the new millennium — with the Zambian star helping them win the league title in his first season in Poland.
But his nomadic instincts saw him move again, this time to two-time Saudi champions Al Ettifaq, before fate destroyed his dreams in the cruellest manner possible when on April 27, 1993 at just 27 years and at the peak of his athletic powers he was killed while on national duty when the plane carrying the Zambian national football team crashed off the coast of Gabon.
Having blazed a trail, as part of a pioneering crew of three African players to make the first break into the Soviet top-flight league in 1989 when, alongside Pearson Mwanza and Wisdom Chansa they joined Pomir Dushanbe, Mankinka — who was named Zambian Player of the Year that season — had been one of his country’s stars at the Seoul Olympics in ’88.
Mankinka arrived in Zimbabwe on the eve of a new era for domestic football when the top-flight league’s leaders were planning their divorce from ZIFA’s grasp, in a revolution that would culminate in the formation of the domestic Premiership, with the founding fathers of the new league, the late Morrison Sifelani and Chris Sibanda, preaching the gospel that clubs would reap huge benefits from this new dispensation.
While the pursuit of the comfort of those riches remains a pipe dream for the top-flight clubs, with many teams including a number of champions and iconic clubs folding along the way, the Premiership continues to rumble on and this year it is celebrating its Silver Jubilee in terms of the seasons that have come and gone.
Mankinka was not the first foreign player to ply his trade in this country, but there are some who will say he was the best and that he was able to force his way onto the Soccer Stars of the Year calendar after playing just eight games was testimony of his quality.
But, given he played just before the old Super League gave birth to the Premiership, the Zambian midfield maestro cannot be considered for selection as part of this newspaper’s celebrations of the Silver Jubilee of our top-flight league among the best XI foreigners who have illuminated the league.
Of course, like any poll, there will always be a touch of controversy, with some disputing our choices for a good reason too, but that is what makes this game very beautiful.
After all, this afternoon, the Castle Lager Premiership will see its first club owned by a charismatic football-mad prophet whose love for the game is matched by his confidence that his debutants, whose away kit has the blue-and-white colours of Leicester City, can also be the unlikely champions of this country — staging its first home league game.
NUMBER ONE — JOSEPH KAMWENDO (MALAWI AND CAPS UNITED)
|Nicknamed Shakira, this creative midfielder arrived at CAPS United as a teenager oozing with confidence, having been crowned Malawi’s best player the previous season and he made a big impression with his skills to woo even the neutrals and in 2005 he made history as the first foreigner to be crowned Soccer Star of the Year.
He helped CAPS to the league title, but it was clear his talent was destined for a bigger stage and he left to join Danish club FC Nordsjaelland before being wooed by South African giants Orlando Pirates, moving to Mozambique where he played at Liga Muculmana and was then signed by five-time African champions TP Mazembe.
Last year he captained his country in the 2017 Nations Cup qualifiers.
NUMBER TWO — WEBSTER CHIKABALA (ZAMBIA, DARRYN T AND MANGURA)
He was as talented as he was controversial and was described in his country as “one of the brightest midfield talents of his generation, which included the likes of Zambian legend Kalusha Bwalya.”
Such was his talent that he became the first Zambian to play in Portugal with Maritimo.
“Webster Chikabala brought along a bag of skills, and a load of controversy, but his talent shined through the fog created by his controversial escapades and he will always be remembered here as a good player and a fine coach,” one reporter noted.
He died in 1998.
NUMBER THREE — IAN BAKALA (ZAMBIA AND CAPS UNITED)
He wasn’t a showman, but Charles Mhlauri will tell you that he was simply exceptional and helped CAPS United become champions before his talent attracted the Moneybags of Angola.
Some say Bakala played in a very good CAPS team, which is true, but the fact that his talent shone brightly in that side showed his exceptional qualities.
NUMBER FOUR — LAUGHTER CHILEMBE (ZAMBIA AND CAPS UNITED)
He arrived here with a funny first name, but there was nothing funny about his defensive qualities in that dominant CAPS United team and, when needed, he was also there to provide leadership in attack, especially in dead ball situations, scoring one of the goals for the Green Machine in that famous seven-goal thriller against Highlanders at the National Sports Stadium which the Harare giants lost 3-4, their only defeat during the 2004 league campaign.
NUMBER FIVE — ROBERT NG’AMBI (MALAWI AND MONOMOTAPA)
That he played for a modest Harare outfit probably meant that very few people noticed how good this midfielder was, but those who know talented footballers would have seen he was brilliant.
He was soon lured by South African sides where he continues to shine with his Platinum Stars coach Calvin Johnson saying he “is a unique case for Platinum Stars and there have been a lot of people after him for long time now.”
NUMBER SIX — DABWITSO NKHOMA (ZAMBIA, HIGHLANDERS AND MOTOR ACTION)
A very good striker, whose diminutive frame hid his killer instinct, Dabwitso made a big impression at both Bosso and the Mighty Bulls during an extended stay here when he made Zimbabwe his adopted home.
He had pace and a unique way of beating defenders and was a big success story after the turn of the millennium.
NUMBER SEVEN — FERDINAND MWACHINDALO (ZAMBIA, AMAZULU AND MASVINGO UTD)
He will never get the credit that he deserved, but he was a monumental presence in the Usuthu side of the turn of the millennium before moving to Masvingo United. He always put everything in his shift and was the man whose importance you would feel when he wasn’t in the team.
NUMBER EIGHT — CLIVE MWALE (ZAMBIA, DYNAMOS, SHOOTING STARS, CAPS UNITED)
The diminutive forward had a way of scoring goals and leading the line with aplomb, and despite his small frame he was a tiger in the box, especially the way he used to position himself in the danger area and he scored lots of goals for Dynamos, including one in that game against Masvingo United that denied Yuna Yuna the league title in 2005, and the Wild Boys of Shooting Stars.
NUMBER NINE — CHARLES CHILUFYA (ZAMBIA AND HIGHLANDERS)
A class act, known as the Chief, he was very, very talented and became a leader at Bosso, usually taking the responsibility of taking penalties, even in a big game against Dynamos at Rufaro, where his nerves never failed him.
NUMBER TEN — KELVIN KAINDU (ZAMBIA AND HIGHLANDERS)
Another class act from Zambia, he was coolness personified and he became a crowd favourite at Bosso before returning to coach the Bulawayo giants. He was a good reader of the game and it wasn’t a surprise he emerged as a coach.
NUMBER ELEVEN — FRANCIS KASANDA (ZAMBIA AND DYNAMOS)
The temptation was to give this slot to Sandras “Chopper” Kumwenda because he stayed around longer, but this bustling forward called Francis Kasanda was just something else and wins this final slot. They say he would have been an even better player if he had not let his drinking habits affect his career, but when he was on the field, he was a bully and made it count.