By Robson Sharuko
The fallen heroes, the foreign heroes and the forgotten heroes — the supermen who blazed a green trail, smashed records and danced on the edges of both invincibility and immortality.
And, for the first and only time in their club’s history, they found a way to win back-to-back league titles.
Three of them — Blessing Makunike, Gary Mashoko and Shingi Arlon — died in a fireball, after a car crash in March 2004, three of them — Energy Murambadoro, Cephas Chimedza and Joseph Kamwendo — won the Soccer Star of the Year award.
And, one of them, Lloyd Chitembwe, took the number of his league titles, with the Green Machine, to three.
Their stable even provided the first foreign footballer, Malawi international Kamwendo, to be crowned Soccer Star of the Year.
Fifteen years have passed since the final chapter, of that brief but unforgettable era of dominance was written, but such was their camaraderie their trailblazing coach can’t even be lured, today, to try and separate them.
Doing that, he argues, would be an insult to the values of family bonds, which he infused into his men, during a period in which CAPS United marched under the glow of both excellence and dominance.
Instead, Mhlauri prefers to talk about why they were all unique and special and how each of them played a big part in their remarkable success story.
And, to reduce their fairytale to the exploits of just Three Musketeers, he says, would be an insult to the input of others.
The gaffer, who is based in the United States, believes his men would have gone on to build an empire had fate not dealt them a cruel blow, with the tragedy that struck in March 2004.
There was also that decision, by some of their key players, to stay behind in the United Kingdom the following year.
Mlhauri also left to join the Warriors and this disrupted that grand masterplan to transform CAPS United into the most dominant football club on the domestic scene in the new millennium.
This week, Mhlauri talked to The Herald, from his base in the United States, on a range of subjects related to that Green Machine which, in 2004 and 2005, dominated domestic football.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the year the final chapter was written.
The conversation shows that, while more than a dozen years have passed, and a lot has changed for both the team and the coach, the Green Machine Class of 2004 and 2005 remain a big part of the gaffer.
It becomes clear Mhlauri, for everything he has achieved since then, including guiding his country at the 2006 AFCON finals, still misses the adventure he had with his Green Machine.
He still has a very special attachment with that team, maybe because he had a big part to play in the creation of that team, shaping it into the project he wanted.
His emphasis was on the creation of a club, where every player would have a sense of belonging to the establishment, than just a football team.
His words paint the picture of a love affair which will possibly last a lifetime, a romance made in heaven, a coach who lived his dream, working at a club he really loved.
And, when the rich dividends eventually came, with the two back-to-back league titles, there was a sense of both relief and joy that everything he had put into his project, where science played as huge a part as the men who fought the battles on the fields, had reaped the rewards.
The conversation also reveals something else which, until now, has largely hidden from public view.
The secret weapon of investing into the club’s academy, to ensure a regular supply of fresh young players into the system, was a master-stroke and Mhlauri reveals he spent as much time, managing the academy, as he did the first team.
Question: Who do you consider to be the best THREE players you coached at CAPS United?
Mhlauri: “That is an excellent question, Robbo, and it is difficult for me to single out any THREE players as the best I coached because it was a very balanced, talented group of players that complimented each other very well. “I have to admit, at the onset, that the gap left by Yogo (Makunike), Garry (Mashoko), and Shingi (Arlon), may their souls rest in peace, was huge and difficult to fill. It is for the same reason that I cannot choose three players without mentioning those that paid the ultimate price. Those three had green blood and gave their all, they represented everything about CAPS.
“Credit must also go to the remaining senior players, especially Lloyd Chitembwe and Artwell Mabhiza. Others, like David Sengu, Silent Katumba (may his soul rest in peace), Asani (Matora), Elton Silent, Cephas, Milos (Phiri), Laughter (Chilembe) were all excellent defenders. In midfield, the list includes Ian Bakala, Joseph Kamwendo, Lloyd, Siza (Khoza), Rayond (Undi), Artwell, Wonder (Ngoko), Haji (Tambala), Quincy (Antipas), and Ashley (Rambanepasi).
“Walter (Tshuma), Limited (Chikafa), (Leonard) Tsipa and Brian (Badza), upfront, complemented the team. Energy, Witness (Mnkhuli), and Tsungai (Mudzamiri) were all wonderful goalkeepers. The academy produced some wonderful players like Nyenda, Washy, Lionel, Oscar, Danger, Musset, Takesure, and Charles, who stepped when called on duty and did the job. When you ask about three players it’s difficult for me.’’
Question: Who do you consider to be the best player you coached at CAPS United and why?
Mhlauri: “Well, sorry for the (repetition), but this was a talented group of players, so such a question is again difficult to answer. There were good players (Joseph Kamwendo, Ian Bakala, Ashley Rambanepasi, Lloyd Chitembwe, Laughter Chilembe, David Sengu Cephas Chimedza, Raymondi Undi, Brian, Leonard Tsipa, all excellent players. David and Laughter, while providing cover, provided crucial goals. Lentso (Tsipa) was more technical, and Brian had pace, and his confidence had improved and that proved a bit too much for most defenders. Limited and Haji were always ready to step in and fix things.’’
Question: Who do you consider to have been the best foreign-based player you coached at CAPS United?
Mhlauri: “We had a very talented group of foreigners. Still, I think Ian Bakala, Joseph Kamwendo, and Laughter were exceptional on the ball and Hadji Tambala had the strength of changing the tempo.
“Laughter Chilembe had so much grit in defence and scored important goals. In short, we had very exceptionally talented foreigners in their own right.’’ The Herald