By Charles Mabika
I have undertaken a number of tough assignments as a football commentator and television pundit, but few as difficult as providing the XI best players to have illuminated the domestic Premiership in the past 25 years as part of celebrations to mark the top-flight league’s Silver Jubilee.
It’s never easy, because there are many good players to choose from and some, like goalkeepers in the mould of Gift Muzadzi, Muzondiwa Mugadza, Energy Murambadoro and Washington Arubi were brilliant, but failed to make the final list.
The king himself, Peter Ndlovu and his elder brothers — Madinda and Adam — Moses Chunga, Max Makanza and Japhet Mparutsa — had already left for greener pastures outside the country when the Premiership started in ’93 and stalwarts like Stanford “Stix” Mtizwa, Joel “Jubilee” Shambo, Brenna Msiska and Rahman Gumbo were getting to the end of their illustrious careers.
But a choice has to be made and, after a painful soul-searching exercise, I came up with the following cast of flamboyant actors whom I think were the finest performers in the era of the Premiership.
NUMBER ONE — RONALD SIBANDA
An entertainer-par-excellence whose ball distribution accuracy was perhaps only bettered by the legendary George “Mastermind” Shaya, Chunga and the late Archieford “Chehuchi” Chimutanda.
Gidiza almost single-handedly drove his former club Zimbabwe Saints to lofty heights and did the same when he joined Dynamos in the late ’90s.
It’s a fact that since he hung up his boots, there have only been mere pretenders to his crown.
NUMBER TWO — LLOYD CHITEMBWE
A hard-tackling and tireless midfielder who always gave 110 percent effort for his club CAPS United. No wonder why nowadays, as head coach at the Premiership champions, he demands the same from his players and always tells them never to give up even when the chips are down.
The most decorated player at the Green Machine, he had stints in Poland and South Africa before returning to continue with his impressive show.
NUMBER THREE — LLOYD MUTASA
The Dynamos head coach was gifted with impeccable vision in the middle of the park during his days at Tanganda and DeMbare.
He is another surprise exclusion among those who went to play outside the country.
Whenever he had possession, Dynamos fans would expect something special as he prepared to “text messages from Samaita Cellular”, in search of an opening to thread through a sublime pass.
NUMBER FOUR — BENJAMIN NKONJERA
Players like Makanaky come once in a lifetime for this guy was out of the ordinary. There has never been a better ball winner and industrious midfielder like him and . . . oh yes . . . he had a cameo role as a defender in Highlanders colours back in 1995 when playing against Wankie at the Colliery, after Bosso had used all their substitutes and Rambo was stretchered off after an injury and Nkonjera was thrust into his place where he delivered a mercurial performance.
NUMBER FIVE — CLEMENCE MATAWU
This midfield dynamo burst onto the big stage straight from Bindura’s Hermann Gmeiner High School after being spotted and signed by the late Motor Action founder Eric Rosen.
The Naughty Flea has defied age and is still one of the stand-out performers almost two decades later as he controls the operations tower at Chicken Inn.
Even after a short sojourn to Poland, Matawu returned home to overshadow younger players.
Still blessed with vision and an amazing turn of direction, Matawu is likely to dominate the local scene for a couple of years to come.
NUMBER SIX — STEWART MURISA
Shutto is one of only four players to feature for the Big Three — Dynamos, Highlanders and CAPS United — and he represented these different paymasters with distinction and was a deserved winner of the Soccer Star of the Year Award back in 1996 when he and Alois Bunjira, and a little artist called Joe Mugabe, led Makepekepe to the league title.
He possessed an amazing turn of pace and was never shy to take his marker head-on. He continued with his exploits after joining the trek Down South before returning home to try his hand at coaching.
NUMBER SEVEN — ALOIS BUNJIRA
A speed merchant, penalty box predator, he delighted Blackpool and CAPS United supporters as he kept ghosting in from nowhere to power or head home with aplomb.
Gone are the days when our strikers would finish the season on 20-plus goals but Bunjira’s generation would achieve that with no sweat at all.
In 1996, Bunjira came second on the goal-scoring charts with 24 goals, behind former Dynamos’ hitman, Makwinji Soma-Phiri, who had bagged two more goals but the CAPS ace had played fewer games after suffering an injury.
NUMBER EIGHT — MEMORY MUCHERAHOWA
Only second to the late Shaw Handriade at Dynamos in terms of work rate and all-round capabilities in the middle of the park. Toiled for the Glamour Boys throughout his career and was rewarded with the Soccer Star of the Year crown in 1994.
Many Dynamos fans are adamant that had he not been assaulted by the ASEC Mimosa players during warm-up, their club would have been crowned the ’98 African champions.
NUMBER NINE — TAPUWA KAPINI
Not many people know that Kapini started his career as a centre striker during his days at Highfield High and only got to play between the sticks after the team’s ‘keeper had gone AWOL before a match.
From his days at Black Aces to Highlanders, the eccentric ‘keeper was a master of reflexes and continues to excel in South Africa.
He also starred for the Warriors and remains the only ‘keeper to have featured in a victorious match for the Warriors at two AFCON tournaments in 2004 and 2006.
NUMBER 10 — MERCEDES SIBANDA
What a genius this late right wingback was. How he failed to attract the interests of foreign-based clubs will forever remain a mystery.
An enterprising workaholic for his beloved Bosso and the Dream Team, Rambo used to pack a thunderous shot and hated losing.
Formed a formidable combination with the Ndlovu brothers — Peter and Adam — where they established Barbourfields as an impregnable fortress.
NUMBER 11 — TAUYA MUREWA
This was the Flying Doctor who perfected the body swerve and turned it into an amazing spectacle.
A lanky, gliding forward, he lit our football fields with his flair and won the Soccer Star of the Year Award in 1995.
Many Dynamos fans jokingly claimed that he had perfected the body swerve because as he was a medical doctor and had inside and expert knowledge of the structural anatomy of the human body and knew the best way to beat his markers. The Herald