Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Why ‘Short Cat’ didn’t break into Europe

By Danai Chitakasha

At just 18, Japhet M’parutsa was already getting rave reviews from seasoned journalists such as Assel Gwekwerere and David Legge.

Japhet Mparutsa (centre)

When Dynamos played Shooting Stars in Ibadan, in an Africa Champions Cup match in 1981, M’parutsa turned on a man-of-the-match show.

“I have never seen such a dominant goalkeeping performance from a young goalkeeper in my long career as a journalist,’’ wrote Legge.

In the return leg at Rufaro, M’parutsa delivered another fine show.

“In only his fourth match for the Glamour Boys, M’parutsa showed why he is destined for greatness,’’ wrote Gwekwerere.

The following year, still at the tender age of 19, M’parutsa was crowned the Soccer Star of the Year, the first goalkeeper to win the award in Zimbabwe.

By then, he was a full international, consigning both Raphel Phiri of Rio Tinto and big Mike Mhlanga of Arcadia United, to the bench.

Some say he benefited from the absence of Bruce Grobbelaar but that is a story for another day.

What cannot be debated is that he became the country’s number one.

In one international match against Malawi, Innocent Kurwa, another veteran journalist, captured it in a headline — “Malawi foiled by M’parutsa!.’’

“Japhet M’parutsa became the darling of thousands of Malawi fans who watched this match at Kamuzu Stadium,’’ wrote Kurwa.

“Frank Sinalo unleashed a ferocious shot, M’parutsa made a curved airborne dive and held the ball firmly in his hands.

“Even Frank Sinalo shook his head in disbelief, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.’’

M’parutsa joined Black Rhinos from Dynamos in 1983 and helped the army side win the League and Cup double in 1984.

In 1985, he won the Vaseline Blue Seal Goalkeeper of the Year trophy.

“I was good with crosses, had a good grip and I played without fear,’’ he said.

“My distribution was immaculate and I perfected the drop-kick.

“Shaw Handriade (the late Dynamos midfielder) called me ‘Ten Hands’. That was my advantage, I always had big hands.’’

For a man of such goalkeeping pedigree, why did he fail to play in Europe?

Why did he not follow in the footsteps of Grobbelaar who conquered the football world with Liverpool?

I asked him these questions.

“Our generation lacked representation and exposure,’’ he said. “We did not have agents who would link us with outside teams.

“A few teams like Coventry, from England, and Switzerland’s Grasshoppers came to Zimbabwe but, I guess, I was unfortunate not to get noticed.

“I did go for an attachment with Watford but, despite some good performances, they did not keep me.

“I think Bruce had the advantage of height and that made it possible for him to sign for Liverpool.”

M’parutsa, Stanley “Sinyo” Ndunduma and Mercedes “Rambo” Sibanda had an opportunity to join Brondby of Denmark, after the club had visited Zimbabwe, for a friendly in 1987.

“We played against Brondby in a friendly and they were impressed,’’ he said.

“The team wanted to sign us and, who knows, I would have rubbed shoulders with Peter Schmeichel, who also happens to be one of my goalkeeping heroes.

“For Sinyo, and me, our employers, the Zimbabwe National Army, scuppered the deal.

“I am not sure why Rambo was not released by Highlanders. This was really unfortunate.

“Our chance to break into a descent European league went up in smoke.’’

In February 1989, a number of Danish First and Second Division teams came knocking for M’parutsa, Rambo, Ephraim Chawanda and Henry “Bully” McKop.

The moves never materialised.

“We would have opened doors for others but our employers did not see it that way,’’ he said.

“We ended up staying in Zimbabwe until I decided to join Bloemfontein Celtics in South Africa.

“What a downgrade.’’ The Herald