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From World Cup captain to outcast . . . . . Is this the biggest meltdown in domestic football history?

By Robson Sharuko

Denver Mukamba’s spectacular fall from grace – from captaining the Warriors in a World Cup qualifier as a 21-year-old highly-rated footballer to becoming an outcast at Dynamos in just five years – is probably the biggest individual meltdown in the history of domestic football.

Denver Mukamba
Denver Mukamba

The rangy forward finds himself dominating newspaper headlines in the latest chapter of an adventure that started with a lot of promise, when he burst onto the domestic football front, but is slowly fading into a nightmare.

It’s a measure of both his enduring appeal and tears that have been flowing among thousands who believe in his talent and are having to put up with the pain of watching him waste away at the young age of 27, that Denver still finds a way to gatecrash into the back pages of the mainstream newspapers at a time when his contribution, from the field, has become negligible.

There are some who believe in him, hoping against hope that somehow, against all the odds, their superman will rise like a phoenix emerging from the ashes and humble his critics with his skills, while quenching their appetite for his artistry with his magical shows as was the case when he first walked into their hearts.

That’s what happens when a spell has been cast on you and footballers, just like rock stars and Hollywood, Nollywood and Bollywood actors, have a way of doing it on those who believe in them and view them as some demi-gods who were planted on this planet to delight their senses.

There are some who have been praying for him, trying to exorcise the demons that have been weighing on those little shoulders that seem to be getting thinner by each passing week and a lanky frame now showing signs of frailty as Denver struggles to cope with his mounting challenges and hoping that tomorrow might bring something different. Or something better.

And there are some, like his coach Lloyd Mutasa – the man who introduced him to the big stage that unforgettable afternoon at Rufaro, when a seemingly different Denver from this one played the conductor to the Dynamos orchestra on a day when they overwhelmed Algerian giants MC Alger 4-1 in a Champions League match – who have lost hope of any chances of redemption for this man. But it was never supposed to be like this.

Not for this young man who was blessed with a gift to dance with the ball in a special way, which confused opposing defenders and melted their defensive barricades into vast avenues of opportunity for him to cut through and score some beautiful goals, providing him with a career to live a decent life while doing exactly what he enjoyed the most.

To enable him to leave Gogo Kawinga’s populated home in Highfield, where he was raised as part of a huge extended family, and provided him with enough resources not only to build her a bigger home, as a way of thanking her for being there for him during his days of innocence, but also to relocate himself to a place he called his own.

German expatriate coach Klaus Dieter-Pagels saw something different, if not special, in those rickety legs that he decided to make him captain of the Warriors at the age of 21 in a World Cup qualifier in Egypt, of all places, against the mighty Pharaohs in March 2013.

Exactly 20 years earlier, Pagels’ countryman, the late Reinhard Fabisch, had arrived in the same Land of the Pharaohs in charge of another Warriors World Cup adventure and, by the end of that fiery contest, his head was heavily bandaged after having been struck by a missile thrown from the stands, leading FIFA to nullify that result and order a replay in France.

Pagels must have heard or known about that story and for him to invest all his trust in the leadership of a mere 21-year-old in a World Cup qualifier against the same Egyptians on their soil, was a huge statement of the German coach’s confidence in Denver not only as a player, who could become a star one day, but as a leader of his nation.

A Warriors team made up of a number of young players held their own against the Pharaohs at the Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria that night and the game was tied 1-1, after Knowledge Musona had slammed home the equaliser, when the hosts were awarded an 88th minute penalty which Mohamed Aboutrika converted for the winner.

In that Egyptian side were Mohamed Salah, who would three years later complete a £36,9 million deal to join five-time European champions Liverpool, which could rise to £43,9 million and Mohamed Elneny who would soon make the move to Arsenal.

Maybe, if Denver still cares about his future, or even his present, then he should read these damning statistics:

  • Even though he was captain of that Zimbabwe team that night, of all FIVE forwards which Pagels started with in his first XI, he is the only one who is still roaming the domestic front where he is unwanted by the coach who gave him a platform to express his talent at this level.
  • Silas Songani is in Denmark, Abbas Amidu is in Egypt where he is slowly making a name for himself, Archford Gutu is back in Sweden, Knowledge Musona is in Belgium and Khama Billiat is in South
  • Africa weighing his options for a possible move to Europe.
  • It’s a measure of how his career has taken 10 steps backwards that he finds himself as the odd one out among those five forwards who started that match against the Egyptians when the German coach really thought he was the one who should provide them with leadership.
  • And he should not only look at our side, but also consider what happened to the Egyptian forwards who started that match with Mohamed Ibrahim going to Portugal where he featured for CS Maritimo, Mohamed Gedo going to Hull City in England, Salah eventually going to Liverpool via Roma and the grand old man of that attacking cast, Aboutrika, at 34, even earning a contract in the United Arab Emirates.
  • The indictment for Denver even reaches a new low when one considers that, of all the players which Pagels threw into battle in his first XI that day, only three of them still remained trapped in domestic football and one of them, of course, is Lincoln Zvasiya, fingered by Mutasa as Mukamba’s partner-in-crime in behaving as if they were a law unto themselves at DeMbare last year.
  • The other is Augustine Mbara while those who were introduced as substitutes, including Tafadzwa Rusike, have found a way to even move to foreign teams.
  • The bell tolls for Denver and, sadly, he appears not to be hearing the sounds and warnings coming his way as his career staggers in the darkness where it could be now or never for him.

Like George Best before him, who also saw his football gift destroyed by off-the-field distractions including women and booze, his career effectively over at 27. The Herald