By Lovemore Dube
Isaac Riyano remains one of the best junior players ever to come out of the Highlanders Football Club nursery in the 1980s.
Sadly he could not graduate into the first team to fill in vacancies left by club and Zimbabwe legends Rahman Gumbo, Willard Khumalo and Tito Paketh who had left the People’s Team for Europe.
Weak O-level results left him with an invitation to take up employment in Zvishavane and join Shu-Shine FC at the invitation of his maternal uncle, yet another football legend — Tavaka Gumbo.
Riyano shone like a beacon in the middle of the park for the Highlanders Under-16s in 1987 and went a gear up with the Under-18s the next two years.
His combination with equally talented Vivian Sturu Mushekwa in an Under-18 squad that won virtually everything legally worthy contesting in those years was top drawer material as Ali “Baba” Dube as the youth coach underlined his dominance of national and provincial junior football.
The talented youngster would rise in stock to Dream Team material four years after walking out of Highlanders for a living as an independent adult.
“My results were not so good. My family expected better and my uncle Tavaka is the one who invited me to come and stay with him on realising that I had football talent.
“I had a promising start to my football career at junior level and was poised for promotion under Roy Barreto and Barry Daka who had been keeping an eye on me and were passing rave reviews regularly but it never got to be.
“It would have been due recognition of my talent and skills if I had the opportunity to team up with great stars like Benjamin Mpofu, Cleopas Dlodlo, Dumisani Nyoni, Mercedes Sibanda, Peter Nkomo and many others of that era,” said Riyano.
He was not the only young player to be lost by the club in those years as the midfield had lost Thoko Sithole (South Africa), Ronnie Jowa (Zisco), Tutani Moyo (Black Mambas), Mpumelelo Dzowa (Darryn Tornados) and Nqobizitha Maenzanise to Zimbabwe Saints.
But Ali Dube’s supply line would not dry or the already seasoned likes of Amin Soma-Phiri were there to keep the flame glowing with Lazarus Mwambopo, Benjamin Nkonjera and Makheyi Nyathi.
Born on 24 April 1972 in Zvishavane, Riyano was encouraged by his father, who worked for the National Railways of Zimbabwe, to like football.
Growing up in Greenhill, BG Cosmos became a natural destination where he hooked up with senior players Pernell Mckop, Cedric Green and Henry “Bully” Mckop.
“There were seniors at the club as we started playing at Under-10 level and we looked up to them for inspiration. When I was old enough to play Under-14 football, I joined Jani Gwede at Zimbabwe Saints where I met so many good players there.
“It must have been around 1986 when Ali Dube approached me and said I was good enough and he wanted me at Highlanders. I did not think twice and left to join the club where I met many brilliant footballers like Adam Ndlovu, Sikhumbuzo Ndebele, Lovemore Ncube, Ian, Vusa Nkomazana, Nqobani Ncube, Methembe Ndlovu, Sijabuliso Ndlovu, Mthandazo Sithole, Likhile Sithole, Nkululeko Dlodlo, Reason Sibanda, Muziwakhe Dube, Sturu Mushekwa under Dube.
“We won many tournaments as my game grew in leaps and bounds to the star who could hold his own,” said Riyano.
He remembers seeing the likes of Joe Mugabe, Norman Mapeza, Lloyd Chitembwe, Usman Misi and several other Caps and Darryn T players in national tournaments such as the President, Manica, Bona and Castle Cup finals.
Riyano, nicknamed The Dutchmaster says junior football back then was exciting and very competitive and it was easy to keep check of promising talent through such events.
He was part of the Gifford High School first team from Form One dazzling schools with his good ball control, incisive game reading and passing and necessary dribbling.
At Shu-Shine when he arrived with Sturu they were initially shunned as being too young and small in frame. But sheer talent cannot be ignored.
Riyano with the support of Gumbo and Martin Ncube, another senior player from Bulawayo, made the boys acclimatise quickly at the club and he would make his debut against relegated Chapungu.
“It was a mean side with Nkulumo Donga, Bekezela Moyo, Choddy Chirwa, Gary Mkandawire, Charles Muringayi and Jonah Murewa. They were scary, I was thrown in and the fans loved my performance and I became an instant darling of the crowds.
“We drew 1-1 and my confidence at the end of the Mandava match was left high and for the second match against Chrome Stars the fans and sponsors had already laid down the foundation for my inclusion.
“Supporters were wondering where Sturu and myself had been, young as we were, but brilliant on the field. We drew 2-2 in a hard fought battle and there was no room for the technical team and teammates to blame us on anything, I put up another brilliant show and from there on I became a regular of the side in 1990 and was very involved in creating goals for our promotion in 1991,” said Riyano.
His most memorable match was the 1-0 loss to a Hwange side teeming with talent with players such as Fabian Zulu, Chingumbe Masuku, Johannes Tshuma, Nation Dube, Venancio Ncube and Mebelo Njekwa at their best at Mandava.
“We were up against a very experienced Division One side that had just been demoted from the Super League but had managed to retain most of the players.
“I remember we had Likhile Sithole, Ishmael Flamingo, Gumbo, Martin Ncube, Lewis Sibanda, Norman Moyo and Farai Vandira,” said Riyano.
In 1992 Shu-Shine found themselves playing in the Super League with Gumbo voted among the 11 best players in the land.
“That was motivating to me to see my mentor get that recognition. I continued to work hard and boom avenues started opening for me.
“I got a call up and played in Swaziland for the Warriors and after a good showing I was told I had done enough for the team of mostly local-based players to earn recognition in the Dream Team.
“Sunday Chidzambwa told me he would recommend to Reinhard Fabisch that I be part of the great team and I got the much needed nod to be among Zimbabwe’s elite stars.
“To cap it all at the end of the 1993 season I was among the 11 Soccer Stars of the Year finalists. My success and that of Gumbo was an announcement to the country that there was talent all over Zimbabwe and that they needed to cast the net wide. People started respecting Shu-Shine. It was a big achievement for us under Ian ‘Fifa Coach’ Malombo,” he said.
Growing up in Bulawayo under a supportive father Riyano was lucky to watch Majuta Mpofu, Boy Ndlovu, Onias Musana, Ebson “Sugar” Muguyo, Tito Paketh and Boyce Malunga.
“Those were exceptional talents. I enjoyed watching them and my dad was the proudest father that year as he had always supported my football career,” he added.
Riyano was inspired by the likes of Archieford Chimutanda, Joel Shambo, Paketh, Stix Mtizwa, Willard Khumalo and Hamid Dhana.
“These were great midfielders,” said Riyano.
He says the 1-1 against Malawi who equalised towards the last minute, of which they had been thrown into the fray, was his worst match in Warriors colours.
“Just the fact that we let victory slip away did not go down well with me as also I felt I did not play my best football on the afternoon,” said Riyano.
Riyano moved to Lancashire Steel to play with Vandira, Paul Gundani, Kingstone Rinemhota, Abdul Karim, Lloyd Jowa and A kim Muganyi in 1994 and would in the next season join high flying AmaZulu guiding them to the Southern Region title in 1996 with great players like Maenzanise, Simba Nyakudziwanza, Arnold Tsuro, Thabani Sibanda, Wisdom Sibanda, George Chambarara and Sikhumbuzo Ndebele.
AmaZulu he says were by far the most organised of the clubs he played for. He made his Premiership debut for AmaZulu in a 2-2 draw with Blackpool and Maenzanise scored both goals.
He missed the 1999 Independence Cup win due to injury and had retired by the time AmaZulu won the league championship in 2003 after leaving to join his wife in the United Kingdom frustrated that local football did not have any good financial returns.
He regards Moses Chunga and the once mercurial Peter Ndlovu as the best players to emerge from Zimbabwe.
His best AmaZulu X1 is as follows:
Muzondiwa Mugadza, Simba Nyakudziwanza, Nkosana Gumbo, David Mkandawire, Hebert Dick, Ferdinald Mwachindalo/Esrom Nyandoro, Joseph Kabwe, Isaac Riyano, Norman Komani, Nqobizitha Maenzanise and Patrick Daka.
Riyano had a chance to watch some of the stars who overlapped with their careers into independent Zimbabwe and his best X1 is as follows:
Bruce Grobbelaar, James Takavada, Ephraim Dzimbiri, Ephraim Chawanda, Francis Shonhayi, John Phiri, Peter Ndlovu, Moses Chunga, Agent Sawu, Norman Mapeza, Stix Mtizwa.
A favourite of Lionel Messi and an Arsenal supporter he says Maradona was King during his era and that he found good roommates in Makheyi Nyathi, Gumbo, Khumalo and Paul Gundani who always pushed him and emphasized discipline and hard work as key to success.
He is on holiday in Bulawayo and returns to the UK this week and has been spending time with his best friends Nkosana Gumbo and Aubrey Sauramba both former footies at Zimbabwe Saints. Sunday News