By Eddie Chikamhi
CAPS United defender Hardlife Zvirekwi last night joined an elite club of Zimbabwe’s finest footballers by winning the 2016 Soccer Star of the Year award, but dark clouds are gathering on the horizon for the country’s top-flght league.
Zvirekwi was crowned at a glittering ceremony at a Harare hotel to bring down the curtain on the 2016 football season.
The night belonged to the Green Machine as Zvirekwi’s teammate Leonard Tsipa, who was also a favourite for the top gong, landed the first runner-up award, while FC Platinum goalkeeper Petros Mhari walked away with the bronze medal.
Zvirekwi was rewarded with $6 000 for his success, while Tsipa pocketed $4 000 for coming second and another $4 000 for the winning this year’s Golden Boot with 11 goals.
Mhari walked away $3 000 richer.
However, amid the pomp and fanfare, there was a reminder that the future could be gloomy for the league after their main sponsors Delta Beverages broke their silence and made it clear they were not happy with squabbles that were tainting the league.
The PSL management have been engaged in a boardroom battle with ZIFA over the relegation and promotion puzzle, which led to the suspension of the league’s chairman Peter Dube, who is also the Highlanders’ boss.
The marriage between Delta Beverages and PSL comes to and end this month and the sponsors made it clear last night they were unhappy with the boardroom squabbles and would not re-engage the league for an extension of the deal because there was a leadership vacuum in the top-flight league.
Delta Beverages marketing director Maxen Karombo said his organisation was incapacitated to start contract negotiations with the PSL for an extension of their marriage when the league didn’t have a substantive chairman running their affairs.
Karombo said confusion over the relegation and promotion puzzle had damaged their brand as sponsors and it was up to the football community to put its house in order if it wanted to continue having them as partners.
It’s the first time that Delta Beverages, who also sponsor the only major knock-out tournament in the PSL, have spoken out on the crisis.
Their concerns come on the eve of a meeting by the PSL emergency committee in Harare today to try and resolve the issue.
CAPS United team manager Shakespeare Chinogwenya was over the moon after the champions did only produce the winner of the prestigious individual football accolade in the country but also the runner-up, Coach of the Year and Golden Boot winner in a clean sweep.
CAPS United coach Lloyd Chitembwe was named Coach of the Year, while Tsipa graced the podium twice after landing the Golden Boot award.
They also had another player Ronald Pfumbidzai among the finalists.
Chinogwenya said in the case of Zvirekwi, God had proved his faithfulness.
“I think this guy has been the unlucky one in past selections but when God says your time has come, no one can stop that. This definitely is his time.
“He has done so well in the past but it appears nobody cared to notice. I don’t know how you guys in the selection always overlooked him when you selected your finalists. But when it is written by a Divine hand, you cannot erase it. Zvirekwi has been a pillar to our success this season. That is why national team coach Callisto Pasuwa considers him to be a key member in his squad,” said Chinogwenya.
Other players who made the 11 finalists include Liberty Chakoroma (Ngezi Platinum Stars), Clemence Matawu (Chicken Inn), Gift Mbweti (Hwange), Peter Muduhwa (Highlanders), Godknows Murwira (Dynamos) and Walter Musona (FC Platinum).
In a season in which the players struggled for consistency, Zvirekwi was one of the few shining lights in a successful year for Makepekepe.
He is the latest CAPS United star to walk this road since legend Shacky Tauro opened the way for Makepekepe players in 1979. Stanley Ndunduma (1981), George Nechironga (1990), Stewart Murisa (1996), Energy Murambadoro (2003), Cephas Chimedza (2004) have put Makepekepe on the podium with Joesph Kamwendo the last one to win it in 2005.
Zvirekwi was among the finalists in 2013 when Tawanda Muparati won the big prize. But he had probably the most consistent run of form this year in the green-and-white strip.
The 29-year-old defender featured regularly in the championship-winning side and missed only two league games the whole season due to suspension and injury.
Chinogwenya said it’s time Zvirekwi gets some offers from abroad as some foreign clubs have shown interests.
“I can only wish him well in his career. I strongly feel it’s time to be considered to cross the borders and join a host of other Zimbabweans playing abroad. He has the qualities, he has everything and it’s good some foreign coaches are showing interests,” said Chinogwenya.
Zvirekwi also becomes the ninth defender to lift the Soccer Star accolade since 1969, when the awards were unveiled.
Veteran striker Tsipa, who won the Golden Boot in 2004, has returned to rule the roost again.
With 11 goals in the bag, Tsipa scored two more than closest rivals Mbweti of Hwange and FC Platinum’s Musona, who also made it on the calendar.
Somehow, he managed to transform himself from a player who had been condemned after his career took a huge tumble when he was fired by the Green Machine in 2010.
The 34-year old forward turned the hands of time back to 2004 when he lifted the Top Goal Scorer Award after netting 18 goals to lead Makepekepe to championship success under Charles Mhlauri.
Again, with Tsipa a key man, Makepekepe have just completed a successful season by winning their fifth league title.
Their coach Chitembwe has been credited with transforming the under-achieving Green Machine outfit into champions and last night walked away $4 000 richer.
The former Zimbabwe international midfielder became the first CAPS United player to win the title both as player and coach.
FC Platinum’s ‘keeper Mhari, who was voted the third best player of the season, also had a night to remember after winning the Goalkeeper of the Year award.
Highlanders’ striker Prince Dube, who exploded on the scene this season with a bang, won the Rookie of the Year award after his impressive show for Bosso.
The Most Disciplined Team award was awarded to How Mine..
2016 Soccer Star of the Year – Hardlife Zvirekwi (CAPS United)
First Runner-up – Leonard Tsipa (CAPS United)
Second Runner-up – Petros Mhari (FC Platinum)
Goalkeeper of the Year – Petros Mhari (FC Platinum)
Coach of the Year – Lloyd Chitembwe (CAPS Utd)
Referee of the Year – Ruzive Ruzive
First Runner-up – Thomas Kusosa
Second Runner-up – Salani Ncube
Rookie Player of the Year – Prince Dube
Castle Lager Premiership 2016
Soccer Star of the Year 8 finalists:
Liberty Chakoroma (Ngezi Platinum Stars), Clemence Matawu (Chicken Inn), Gift Mbweti (Hwange), Winston Mhango (FC Platinum), Peter Muduhwa (Highlanders), Godknows Murwira (Dynamos), Walter Musona (FC Platinum), Ronald Pfumbidzai (CAPS United). The Herald