By Grace Chingoma
Former Warriors coach, Norman Mapeza, believes Knowledge Musona’s European adventure would have taken a different, and more successful path, had he not first landed in the German Bundesliga.
Mapeza was the first Warriors coach to give the Smiling Assassin his first AFCON qualifier cap when he thrust the then 20-year-old forward to lead the line in the match against Liberia in Monrovia in September 2010.
Musona scored in that match which ended in a 1-1 draw.
Ten years later, Musona has transformed himself into probably the most influential Warrior, since the retirement of Peter Ndlovu, with consistent performances in the colours of his country.
His goals helped the Warriors end 11 years of waiting, for a return to the Nations Cup finals, when they qualified for the football showcase in Gabon in 2017.
And, as skipper, he led from the front as the Warriors completed back-to-back appearances, at the AFCON finals, in Egypt last year.
On Sunday, Musona turns 30 and, while his adventure with the national football team has been a huge success, the same cannot be said about his foray into Europe with the clubs he has played for.
He first arrived in Germany in July 2011, after being snapped by Bundesliga side TSG Hoffenheim, on a five-year contract, following a starring role at South African giants Kaizer Chiefs.
German coach, Dieter-Klaus Pagels, who was seconded to ZIFA as a football development expert, before he had a brief flirtation with the Warriors as their gaffer, said the length of the contract signalled the Bundesliga side’s confidence in the long-term future of the player.
Six months earlier, Brazilian forward, Roberto Firmino, who is a year younger than Musona, had arrived at TSG Hoffenheim from Figueirense on a four-and-half year contract.
However, while Firmino has gone on to explode on the European scene, including sealing a £29 million move to English giants Liverpool in July 2015, where he has won the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup, Musona’s Euro adventure hasn’t gone to expectations.
While all the headlines in the Liverpool’s attack have been stolen by Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, Reds manager, Jurgen Klopp, says Firmino is the one who provides the X-Factor for the team.
“He’s a connector. It’s pretty rare that you meet a person like Bobby who is so selfless and unselfish. He’s like, ball there, ball there, pass the ball and he’s really happy about it,’’ Klopp told the British media.
“Then he realises ‘well I didn’t score for four or five weeks actually’. But it’s unbelievable [his unselfishness], it doesn’t matter. No, really, he’s world class.
“Just a sensationally good guy.
“He is the connector for our team, he is so important for us. He is the only one who can play the position, and he plays the position in a very special way.’’
However, while Firmino looks set for a bumper longer contract with Liverpool, who are set to soon end a 30-year wait for the league title, the future of his former TSG Hoffenheim teammate, Musona, remains uncertain.
Reports have indicated the Warriors skipper could return to South Africa while his management team insist he could stay in Europe.
Whatever happens, what can’t be disputed, is that Musona hasn’t exploded, in Europe, the way many expected, when he first arrived in Germany nine years ago.
He was loaned to Augsburg, retreated back for a loan spell at Chiefs before arriving in Belgium, where he played for KV Oostende before being snatched by giants Anderlecht.
However, his Anderlecht move has proved a nightmare and he was loaned to KAS Eupen at the beginning of the year before his parent club announced the Zimbabwean did not have a future at the club anymore and will have to find a new home.
Mapeza feels the Musona Euro adventure could have turned out differently if the forward had first arrived at club in Belgium or the Netherlands rather than plunging straight into the Bundesliga.
And, as fate would have it, Musona arrived in Germany at a time when the Bundesliga was at its competitive best with its leading club, Bayern Munich, reaching the final of the UEFA Champions League in May 2010, which they lost 0-2 to Inter Milan of Italy.
Ten months after Musona’s arrival in the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich again qualified for the final of the 2012 UEFA Champions League where, once again, they lost 3-4 on penalties to Chelsea following a 1-1 draw after extra-time.
Bayern had eliminated Spanish giants Real Madrid in the semi-finals.
The following year, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund met in the final of the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley in London.
Mapeza, however, said there was a lot to celebrate, about Musona’s career, even though he could have been a bigger hit in Europe.
“He has done well, especially with the national teams,’’ said Mapeza. “Massive, massive contributions and his stats say it all.
“As for club football, I think it wasn’t that smooth-sailing and I’m sure he can admit to that.
“The Bundesliga, where he started his European adventure, is always a difficult league to develop as a young player and, the fact that he was coming from Africa, didn’t help him much.
“If he had started his European career in countries like France or Holland, for example, at a team like Ajax, because of their history in producing young talent, we could be talking about a different story.
“But, to sum it up, he has done really well in his career so far.’’
Musona never played in the domestic Premiership.
Mapeza, one of the few Zimbabwean players who have featured in the UEFA Champions League, says it’s never cast in stone that every talented player, who lands in Europe, will be very successful.
“The environment is usually the biggest challenge. The weather, and new tactics, all need time to get used to, but you won’t have that time,’’ said Mapeza.
“Some clubs won’t be patient enough with these young players because of the pressure for results. That’s why you will see some of these young players being sent out on loan.
“Home sickness is an issue as well. It all requires mental strength, determination and dedication at the end of the day for them to overcome those challenges.’’ The Herald