‘He was special from day one’

By Makomborero Mutimukulu

Norman Mapeza is an opinionated man.

He does not suffer people who try to speak with authority on football matters when they haven’t “been there and done that”.

Over the years we have had our run-ins with Mapeza, but we are cool now.

When things were at an all-time low between, some eight years ago, the former Galatasaray man told me one of the most fascinating football stories I have ever heard.

It involves the great Peter Ndlovu.

In 2010, we shared the same lunch table with Mapeza at a Bulawayo hotel during the Cosafa Castle Cup.

We had three things in common: appreciation for a good meal, love of football, and Gibson Mahachi, the player agent we both consider a brother.

I sat with Mahachi for a couple of minutes before Mapeza joined us.

The guy is not a master at hiding it when he doesn’t like you. Mapeza sat there looking uninterested until the discussion between myself and Mahachi meandered towards identifying football talent.

I had opined that some players fail to make it because they are played out of position or are just not a favourite of the coach of the day.

Then Mapeza raised his hand to silence us before taking what looked like an eternity to open his mouth.

“Guys, guys,” he said before pausing again. “It does not take two minutes to spot a talented player. We all knew Peter Ndlovu was a star when he saw him with the ball for 30 seconds, yes 30 seconds.

“We had gathered in Zvishavane for an Under-17 camp with Papa (Ashton Nyazika) as coach. Papa had already settled on a team but Zifa said ‘no you must look at the players from Bulawayo, especially Peter Ndlovu’.

“Nyazika could not say no to his bosses so when the guys from Bulawayo came he looked for Peter Ndlovu and drafted him into a team full of Harare boys.

“Peter was starved of possession and resorted to dropping deep, into the centre circle, to collect the ball. From there he showed us what he was made of, controlling a goal kick with his chest, flicking it over his marker and hitting a shot which crashed against the cross bar from such a distance.

“We all clapped hands because it was sheer brilliance. Papa ran onto the pitch, hugged Peter and said ‘tora pen nebepa mupfana, gara apa titsvage vanhu vanogona bhora’ (get a pen and paper my boy, help me identify some good players).”

In his storied football career, Mapeza has come across some supremely talented players but the FC Platinum coach reckons we may never get another Peter Ndlovu.

“Talent like that comes once in a while. This whole business of saying any player that is young and exciting could be the next Peter Ndlovu is a joke if you ask me. It puts these players under too much pressure. Such talent is rare and one only needs five seconds to identify it,” said Mapeza.

The great Peter Ndlovu says he wants to see someone assume the mantle of Zimbabwe’s greatest, but maybe – just maybe – we are not meant to have his successor just like Brazil are apparently not meant to have another Pele.

Happy birthday King Peter! The Sunday Mail