By Eddie Chikamhi
Zimbamwe legend Peter Ndlovu has been honoured with being the guest at this year’s Castle Soccer Stars awards ceremony, with the invitation to the former Warriors captain coming just as sponsors Delta Beverages yesterday expressed genuine concerns over the impotence of the Premiership strikers.
The celebrated former Coventry City, Birmingham and Sheffield United forward, now a team manager at South African giants Mamelodi Sundowns, was a prolific scorer for both club and country during his playing days and his presence should serve as an inspiration to the cast of top players who will be at the Soccer Stars gala on Friday night.
Ndlovu and those of his generation seemed to score with much ease, with the former Highlanders man twice winning the Castle Soccer Star award.
But unlike during Ndovu’s time and later for the better part of the 25-year history of the Premiership when strikers used to be the dominant force on the awards night, the forwards have been missing on the Soccer Stars podium for the last six years.
And even the awards’ sponsors, Delta Beverages, have stopped to take note of the worrying impotence of the current crop of strikers in a game where goals decide matches and remain the major talking points that also lure fans to the stadiums.
As the anxiety continues to build on who will be crowned the 2017 Castle Soccer Star, the Premiership strikers were yesterday urged to step up their game.
The ceremony, which officially marks the end of the 2017 Premiership season, is going to be a special edition as the league celebrates 25 years of ups and downs and yet still going strong. Quite fittingly, one of Zimbabwe’s illustrious football sons, Ndlovu, has been invited as the guest of honour.
After lighting up the then Super League, Ndlovu left for Europe in the early 1990s, where he became the first ever player from Africa to sign for and feature for a team in England’s top-flight with Coventry City.
Ndlovu was scouted by John Skillet while playing for Bulawayo giants Highlanders and Terry Butcher facilitated his signature for the trailblazing move to the Blues.
History was to be made on Wednesday August 19, 1992, when Ndlovu, at the age of 21, officially became the first African footballer to feature in the English Premier League in a match against Tottenham, although he played for only 20 minutes.
The Flying Elephant, as he was affectionately known, later played alongside legendary striker Micky Quinn, who joined Coventry City in November 1992 and their partnership was formidable.
Ndlovu played a key role throughout the season in Bobby Gould’s fast-paced front line, which had the likes of John Williams and Kevin Gallacher, who later departed for Blackburn.
In his debut season, the slippery forward made 32 appearances and scored seven goals at a rate of a goal every four games or so for his whole career average at Coventry, which spanned six years.
He scored over 90 goals during his 12 seasons, garnering about 338 appearances in the English leagues. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers to emerge from Zimbabwe, earning 100 caps for his country and scoring 38 international goals.
But Ndlovu’s recognition as guest of honour comes at a time when the Premiership is crying for talents such as that of the Flying Elephant’s at the peak of his powers.
Delta Beverages spokesperson Patricia Murambinda said Ndlovu remains an inspiration to many Zimbabwean footballers. Murambinda said it was disappointing that the league has not crowned a striker as Soccer Star for the past six years as the accolade has been rotating between the midfielders, defenders and goalkeepers.
Charles Sibanda was the last forward to win the Soccer Star of the Year award in 2010, following a superb season when he led modest Motor Action to their one and only championship title.
Since then, goalkeeper Washington Arubi, midfielders Denver Mukamba and Tawanda Muparati, defender Dennis Dauda, Danny Phiri and outgoing star Hardlife Zvirekwi have been crowned the kings of the domestic game.
The selection panel last week shortlisted Cameroonian Christian Joel Epoupa Ntouba, Ocean Mushure (Dynamos), Devon Chafa, Dominic Chungwa (CAPS United), Kelvin Moyo, Rodwell Chinyengetere (FC Platinum), Moses Jackson, Clemence Matawu (Chicken Inn), Qadr Amini, Terrence Dzvukamanja and Tichaona Mabvura (Ngezi Platinum).
Murambinda said all was set for the awards night.
“In terms of preparation, everything is set for the event to award the outstanding players for the year 2017. We sincerely hope that on Friday we are going to award the best and we would want to wish them the best in their future endeavours, whether they continue to play locally or they decide to go and play outside our borders.
CAPS United’s Dominic Chungwa is automatic for the Golden Boot award after finishing the season with 17 goals. This was an improvement from last year’s 11 that his former teammate Leonard Tsipa scored.
The league though has expanded from 16 to 18 teams. But still the players missed out on the carrot that was dangled by Delta Beverages, who had promised extra incentives for any player that surpassed 25 goals.
Murambinda said this was a way to motivate players to score more goals and make the games exciting. The last local player to breach the 20-goal mark was Norman Maroto, who scored 22 goals for Gunners in 2010.
“It becomes a cause for concern to see that our strikers are not really pushing for it. I think last year we had agreed to reward any striker who scored 25 goals this season.
“Remember we spoke about it at the last Soccer Stars banquet and we thought we would see the hunger throughout the season. But now, no one can claim the incentive because we don’t have the 25 goals.
Probably football has changed and strikers can no longer have the freedom to score as frequently as they did in the past, or is it that goalkeepers and defenders have improved? I don’t know. But we still challenge our players, especially the strikers, to sharpen up because more goals make it very interesting and exciting. It could draw many people to the stadiums because fans want to be entertained,” said Murambinda. The Herald