By Tadious Manyepo
The year 2007 Highlanders are the defending league champions. Clement Matawu is the reigning Soccer Star of the Year. Dynamos are chasing their first league title in over a decade. They are far from invincible.
But, with an array of seemingly average players including Edward Sadomba, Lovemore Mapuya, Brighton Tuwaya, Reuben Mhlanga and goalkeeper Willard Manyatera as well as inspirational captain Murape Murape, the Glamour Boys are somehow managing to squeeze results.
Their cause is largely aided by their huff-puff, topsy-turvy rivals who are struggling to collect points consistently.
Despite starting the season as one of the favourites, given they have some remnants of that all-conquering 2004-2005 squad in Limited Chikafa, Washington Pakamisa, Masset Zengeni, Danger Fourpence as well as goalkeeper Tsungi Mudzamiri, CAPS United are at the tail-end of the table with demotion increasingly looking likely.
Moses “Bambo” Chunga is their coach and at one point at Gwanzura, Chunga has to be escorted by anti-riot police after irate Green Machine fans threaten to unleash a reign of terror following yet another disappointing result.
The “Razorman” has to work out the right formula to win the last six games to be ensured of survival.
The first of such games would be against Masvingo United at Rufaro.
Boasting of good players like Godfrey Dondo, Wonder Sithole, Lloyd Hlahla and George Magariro, this one would be tricky for Chunga and his mediocre charges.
And it was indeed tough.
With about seven minutes of regulation time remaining and CAPS United fans are already singing degrading songs, calling for Chunga’s exit with neither side finding the target, the Warriors legend looks over his shoulder and gives signal to one fresh-faced tiny boy to get ready.
As the substitution is effected, the boy appears so high in confidence and everyone in the stands look perplexed and they all have one question.
Who is that boy?
Noone really knows him and besides, CAPS United are in a promising move as they are about to take a throw in with everyone upfront.
This boy becomes the beneficiary of the long throw from Fourpence.
He traps the ball with the composure of a veteran, finds space and sells his marker a dummy before laying the ball back to Pakamisa who was by then clear of the goal and the striker wouldn’t miss from that position.
This is literally the last action of a dull afternoon and Makepekepe clear the Masvingo hurdle.
The stadium erupts into a frenzy and all CAPS United players, including those on the bench, mob this boy hoisting him in the air.
His name is Tafadzwa Rusike.
“It was a tough match. I had to play my cards well. l knew I would introduce this boy (Rusike) at the crucial moment and I was pretty confident he would deliver and he did just that. In fact, Rusike is the next big thing to happen in Zimbabwean football . . . ” a relieved Chunga said after the match.
And indeed, Chunga was right.
For three years that followed, Rusike was CAPS United’s main man, helping the Green Machine win the inaugural BancABC trophy in 2008 with his bullet winner in a 2-1 victory over Dynamos in the semi-final particularly stealing the hearts of many.
Even when Kaizer Chiefs forward Khama Billiat arrived at CAPS United in 2010, he wouldn’t really make an impact at a club where Rusike had become cult heroes.
And when Ajax Cape Town came knocking, with the late Edzai Kasinauyo, Rusike was expected to take his career to another level at the Cape Town-based side which he joined along with Billiat.
The pair lived up to expectation and were reportedly offered contract extensions after their initial two-year stay lapsed in 2012.
Billiat took it and Rusike didn’t.
And that would be the beginning of a merry-go-round career the ZESCO United man would endure while his countryman, Billiat, went on to seal a lucrative deal with Mamelodi Sundowns.
Yet Rusike looked set to join Belgian side Oud-Heverlee Leuven after impressing in trials.
“Paul (Tafadzwa Rusike) impressed during his time in Belgium. He gelled immediately with the team and the players even gave him a nickname, an indication that he was accepted by the rest of the squad.
“Now we will have to wait on Leuven FC for their decision regarding Paul,” the late Kasinauyo said at the time.
Even Rusike himself was dead sure he would join the Belgian club.
“The club is just like Ajax Cape Town, warm and friendly. I received a warm welcome and I felt comfortable at training. I settled very quickly into the team’s system and I enjoyed my time at the club.The coach and the technical staff explained what they were looking for and I am proud to say that they were impressed by my performances at training,” said a confident Rusike back then.
But somehow the deal fell through.
Even up to this day, Rusike doesn’t have a solid explanation to what then went wrong.
The 31-year-old would spend the rest of 2013 club-less although managing to impress at the side which, however, said Rusike was not match fit, having gone for six months without playing competitive football.
A stint at Dynamos and in Angola in 2014 and 2015 would do little to lead him back to his former promising self.
In 2016, Rusike helped CAPS United win the league title, their first in 11 years before joining Zambian side Zanaco between 2017 and 2019.
He is now the main man at ZESCO United along with Kenyan Jesse Were but, the question is what really went wrong in a career that promised so much but has failed to deliver the promise?
There has been talk about Rusike’s proneness to injuries but his manager at the moment, Andrew Rusike, who is also his uncle, said the player has never had a permanent injury whatsoever.
“A lot has been said about Tafadzwa (Rusike’s) injuries. We have always engaged local medical personnel to examine him and he has always come out clean,” he said.
“I remember when he was about to rejoin CAPS United in 2016, it was reported that he had career-threatening injury. But when he joined CAPS United, during pre-season training, he was the fittest. I am not saying he is not prone to injuries, no. Players are different and the conditions also affect them differently.
“But, he has been commanding a constant starting place (both at Zanaco and Zesco United). Even when he played in Angola in 2015, the whole season, he was one of the stand-out players playing for Progresso du Sambizanga FC.
“In fact, in 2019, he was among the best XI in the Zambian Super League playing for Zanaco. He was voted man-of-the match for Zanaco at least two times in CAF Confederation Cup games by CAF. One of the games was against Raja Casablanca on April 19,2018, in Morocco for that matter.
“He hasn’t missed so many matches in Zambia, so the issue of injuries is out.
“However, I am equally perturbed why he hasn’t gone places despite him being distinctly talented. Maybe it’s just something that wasn’t written in the heavens but we hope he will one day play in Europe although age is fast catching up with him.”
He seems to be coming back now after playing a blinder in the first half of the second leg of the back-to-back 2021 Afcon qualifiers against Algeria at the National Sports Stadium last month though. The Herald.