By Langton Nyakwenda
Jomo Sono questioned the authenticity of Marshall Munetsi’s age when the South African legend first met the Zimbabwean footballer some five years ago.
Munetsi was still 18 and had been accompanied for trials at Jomo Cosmos by Friendly Academy director Partridge Muskwe in September 2014.
“His frame shocked Jomo Sono, who kept asking me about his age. The legend kept on probing, ‘Is it his real age, or it’s the African age?’
“You know Sono is hard to impress, so we returned home empty handed,” revealed Muskwe, one of the main actors in Munetsi’s rise to stardom.
Now 23 and weighing 83kgs at a height of 1.88m, the same height as Cote d’Ivoire’s former Barcelona and Manchester City star Yaya Toure, Munetsi’s frame has always been a major talking point from the days when he was playing Under-12 football at Ali Sundowns in Mabvuku. No wonder why some international media refer to him as the Zimbabwean Yaya Toure.
Munetsi, who signed for French Ligue 1 side Reims on June 12, has been making headlines after igniting the much-talked about Warriors’ late show against Somalia in a World Cup preliminary round, second leg qualifier at the National Sports last Tuesday.
With the scores seemingly standing still at 0-0 after 77 minutes and Zimbabwe needing two clear goals to progress to the next round, having lost 0-1 in the reverse fixture, Munetsi’s overhead kick triggered a late blitzkrieg that culminated in a 3-1 win for the Warriors.
Although Khama Billiat naturally grabbed the headlines because of that stunning 92nd minute winner, the real star of the show was arguably Munetsi, whose forays into enemy zone and diagonal passes were a clear testimony of his rising talent.
“It was more about ourselves as players. lt was about our future because it was going to be a life-time embarrassment to be a group of Warriors that would be remembered for being knocked out of the World Cup by Somalia,” Munetsi told The Sunday Mail Sport.
“The World Cup is a big platform, it is very important for our clubs and for the nation. Zimbabwe has never qualified for the World Cup but it’s something that can be done.
According to Muskwe, Munetsi’s story is a combination of determination and skill.
Muskwe says Munetsi’s consistency caught the eye of Cape Town FC owner Erroll Dicks, when he visited Friendly Academy in 2014.
“That was after we had failed to impress Sono. Dicks then came to our academy and was impressed by Munetsi, Walter Sande, who is now at Dynamos and Tino Muskwe, who is now in the United States of America.
“Dicks took the trio for trials in South Africa and that’s how Munetsi’s journey started,’’ Muskwe said. Munetsi played for Cape Town FC, now Ubuntu Cape Town, before establishing himself at South African giants Orlando Pirates. They provided him with a launch pad into the French Ligue 1.
“Marshal was a disciplined young boy, he had good guidance from his parents, which I am afraid is lacking in most of the players today.
“He was Under-12 when we started to notice his unique talent, he was a defender back then. Two team at the age of 16. “He also played a little bit for former Premiership side Blue Rangers before Friendly Academy facilitated his move to South Africa,” Ali said.
Former Harare Province Junior League coach Zivanai “Zifa” Chiyangwa, who also played a crucial role in Munetsi’s development, says the player’s talent was easy to notice.
“Since l had already produced the likes of Tapuwa Kapini, Kelvin Mushangazhike, David Sengu and Tendai Mwarura, it was very easy to notice the potential in Munetsi when I first watched him play for Ali Sundowns juniors.
“That Ali Sundwons Under-12 team had mediocre players but Munetsi was outstanding. He was very comfortable as a centre back and as a defensive linkman, that’s how we drafted him into the Harare Province Under-12 side. “He played in that same Harare Province squad with the likes of Tinotenda Kadewere, who coincidentally is also now in France.
“Back then, we had a database of all the junior players who had potential from across the country. We worked with Marshy (Munetsi), up until he graduated into the national Under-17 squad that was coached by Lloyd Chigowe in 2012,” said Chiyangwa.
That Under-17 squad also had players such as Bret Amidu, now at Chicken Inn, Vialli Tadzoka (Dynamos), Kelvin Bingala (Herentals), Carlos Mavhurume (Herentals) and James Ngulube (Ngezi Platinum Stars).
Ali thinks Zifa needs to invest more in training junior football coaches.
“I think that primary school teachers, if trained properly, can make good junior coaches since they already know how to deal with children.
“We must have proper junior structures. We want junior tournaments at provincial and national level.
“It should also be made a policy that all PSL teams should have junior structures. They must also partner academies, who are the conveyors of talent into mainstream football.”
Munetsi, who made his Ligue 1 debut on September 1, coming on as an 85th minute substitute, is back in France and is expected to add more minutes when Reims play Nantes away at 3pm Zimbabwean time today.
“When I arrived at the club, I had an injury that kept me out for about three weeks. I am fully fit now and ready to fight for the starting jersey,” said Munetsi.
“French Ligue 1 is a top division. I used to watch a lot of French football when I was still young. I used to admire the likes of Patrick Viera and Claude Makelele.
“Making it into this league is a great achievement. I thank God and all the people that have supported me through and through,” Munetsi said. The Sunday Mail