By Langton Nyakwenda
FIFTEEN minutes before midnight on Friday, the nation and even the Diaspora community were waiting for the announcement of the new king of domestic Premiership football.
However, his identity was not exactly a huge surprise when the Masters of Ceremony finally let out the well-kept secret.
Joel “Josta” Ngodzo’s star had finally shone.
The magnificent CAPS United midfielder who nearly quit football four years ago before his wife persuaded him to play on was crowned the 48th Castle Lager Soccer Star of the Year winner at a colourful awards dinner in Harare.
It was a perfect birthday present for Ngodzo, who turned 30 on December 1.
“I am obviously excited, this is my first time to be named Soccer Star of the Year. I want to thank CAPS United for giving me a chance when all looked gloomy in my career.
“I owe this award to Makepekepe,” Ngodzo told The Sunday Mail Sport soon after his crowning moment.
Triangle skipper Ralph Kawondera was the first runner-up while resurgent Highlanders striker Prince Dube took the second runner-up trophy back to Bulawayo.
Ngodzo succeeds FC Platinum’s Rodwell Chinyengetere and becomes the second CAPS United player to win the top gong in three years.
Defender Hardlife Zvirekwi was crowned in 2016, after leading CAPS United to their fifth league title.
While Zvirekwi was crowned well after Makepekepe had already bagged the league title, Ngodzo’s personal celebrations will have to be put on ice for at least another week as the midfield magician has to immediately focus on CAPS’ quest to win a sixth championship.
With two rounds of action left, Makepekepe lead the log standings with 58 points, two ahead of FC Platinum.
They will effectively secure the title if they get at least four points from those two fixtures.
They start their bid with a tough away date at Ngezi Platinum Stars on Wednesday, before facing title rivals FC Platinum in a potential winner-takes-all on Saturday.
“There is no time to celebrate this award, we need to fight hard to win the league title,” Ngodzo said.
But Ngodzo’s wife, Getrude Shema, can afford to pop the champagne bottle.
After all, she is the one who dissuaded her husband from quitting football early in 2015, when the footballer had resolved to throw in the towel following a frustrating second stint at Highlanders.
The 2014 season ranks as Ngodzo’s worst so far.
During that season, the footballer turned into a pale shadow of the “Josta” who had smashed the local transfer record when FC Platinum splashed US$60 000 to prize him away from Highlanders in 2011.
Ngodzo was reprimanded a number of times for reporting for training intoxicated and was also arrested for disorderly behaviour in October 2014.
He was even accused of drug abuse on the eve of the TM Challenge Cup final which Highlanders lost to Dynamos.
He was then offloaded at the beginning of the 2015 season.
Fed up, Ngodzo decided to call it quits, albeit at the ripe age of 26.
His wife would have none of it.
“I was always encouraging him every time because he wanted to give up. I told him to keep up the fight, that God would pave the way for him and take him back to the top again.
“And, he has proved it now,” said Shema.
“I am very grateful for the award that he got tonight (Friday), I am very proud of him. He did a very good job this season.”
While Ngodzo might be a bad boy to some, an unpredictable and naughty character to others, he is a very good husband to Shema.
“People have different opinions of other people. Whatever people see or think about Joel, is not what we see as his family.
“We have never seen the bad boy in him. Yes, there are some naughty days, but he is a good father, he is a faithful man, I don’t think he is as bad as some people say,” she said.
Ngodzo is a father of two, Josta (5) and Joel, who is one year and eight months old.
Said Josta: “My kids are still young, but I know Josta will be happy with this one. I haven’t spoken to my other family members in Bulawayo, but I know they are happy.”
It has taken Josta exactly four years to work himself out of the doldrums to become king of the local Premiership.
When he arrived in Harare in January 2015, Ngodzo was overweight, hopeless and jobless after he had been offloaded by his boyhood club Highlanders.
He weighed a massive 90kg and looked terribly out of shape.
“I am glad CAPS United gave me another chance, Mark Harrison was the coach at that time. Then Lloyd Chitembwe came in. I respect him a lot for tuning me back to top form.
“I have played for Highlanders, where I was Soccer Star of the Year runner-up in 2010. l have also played for FC Platinum and CAPS. But certainly, Makepekepe is my real home.
“They (CAPS United) loved me when everyone else hated me and for that I am thankful, I really appreciate. I want to thank the CAPS United bosses for giving me a home,” said Ngodzo.
The skilful midfielder comes from a football family.
His brother Johannes “Signature” Ngodzo would have probably gone places had an ankle injury not put a blossoming career down in June 2003.
He was injured while playing for Zimbabwe against Eritrea in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the National Sports stadium.
Then, there is Zephania, the least gifted of the trio who, however, used his determination to feature for Highlanders, Bantu Rovers and Bulawayo City, among other Premiership clubs.
While comparisons between Joel and Johannes are bound to arise, Josta feels that he is nowhere near the levels reached by his elder brother.
“That one (Johannes) was awesome my brother. He was too good. You can’t compare him with me, that would be an insult to his talent,” revealed Ngodzo.
Asked about the two brothers’ talents, Richard Choruma, who played alongside both footballers at Highlanders, had this to say: “They are both talented, they possess a natural gift, that telling pass that can change the match completely.”
“It’s just unfortunate that Josta hasn’t been given much opportunity with the national team, but he is awesome. You could see he was in a different class when I played with him at Bosso in 2009. He was a junior, but he was already showing strong signs,” said Choruma.
Between 2000-2004, Choruma played in the same midfield with Johannes. They won the league title thrice in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Former CAPS coach Chitembwe described Ngodzo as a rare talent.
His successor Darlington Dodo calls Josta the “engine room”.
“Josta has played a pivotal role in our quest for the league title. He is a natural talent, one who drives the team from the middle of the park,” said Dodo.
As the delegates finally began to troop out of the venue well after 1am on Saturday, they seemed to agree on one thing — Josta deserves this one! The Sunday Mail
2019 Soccer Stars of the Year finalists
Ariel Sibanda (Highlanders),
Ian Nekati (ZPC Kariba),
Ralph Kawondera (Triangle),
Wellington Taderera (Black Rhinos),
King Nadolo (TelOne),
Prince Dube (Highlanders),
Evans Katema (Dynamos),
Phineas Bamusi (CAPS United),
Never Tigere (FC Platinum),
Clive Augusto (formerly Chicken Inn),
Joel Ngodzo (CAPS United)
Most Promising Player of the Year: Andrew Mbeba (Highlanders)
Goalkeeper of the Year: Ariel Sibanda (Highlanders)
Coach of the Year: Joey Antipas
Referee of the Year: Brighton Chimene