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Shaya was like Messi: Omar

By Jahoor Omar

The word “Mastermind” would ring out from the terraces each time the diminutive Dynamos kingpin by the name of George Shaya had the ball at his feet.

Zimbabwean football legend, George “Mastermind” Shaya
Zimbabwean football legend, George “Mastermind” Shaya

A thousand, no tens of thousands of voices in unison, would bellow out the word “Mastermind” in the stands at Rufaro and Gwanzura in recognition of one of the most supremely gifted football players of his generation.

I swear the ground shook each time Shaya touched the ball and if you were a Dynamos fan, as I was, the warm glow and spine tingling sensation that overwhelmed your body, would last an eternity.

This was in the 70’s, during the apartheid years of Rhodesia when football was a religion and Shaya was a deity.

It is still a religion for many today, but with one big difference. There is no Shaya.

His death in the early hours of Tuesday and his subsequent burial in Harare yesterday, brought to an end the life of a footballer par excellence. Those lucky enough to have witnessed Shaya at his best will have memories that will last a lifetime.

Whether they watched him against Alec Masanjala’s Mhangura (then called Mangula) or the Jimmy Finch-inspired Arcadia United, they would invariably see a masterclass from the ‘Mastermind’ in matches in which he would often be the difference.

As Lionel Messi of Argentina, Barcelona and now of Paris St Germain’s fame, is, the comparison works with Zimbabwe’s own G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time).

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Left back Mohamed ‘Mumdi’ Ebrahim, a lynchpin during Arcadia United’s heyday 50 years ago, can give you a first-hand picture of confronting Shaya one-on-one.

“He was the Mastermind.

“His close control of the ball which was virtually impossible to get off him once in possession, his dribbling skills, his unpredictability, his versatility on either flank, his utmost confidence, his ability to take a knock or foul smilingly without looking to retaliate and also the confidence he gave his teammates whenever he was on the ball.

“The closest I’ve seen in local teams to the great Lionel Messi,” said Ebrahim, who now lives in England.

Apart from blatantly trying to injure him, which many teams attempted, opponents were flummoxed by the great man’s prowess.

Shaya’s innate ability to seemingly thread the ball through the eye of a needle to a forward’s feet metres away or shrug off a defender with a quick shuffle of his feet and set up another move when it didn’t look like evolving, left me in awe.

It also left Ebrahim scratching his head contemplating how to stop the DeMbare midfield supremo in Dynamos versus Arcadia games.

“I played many games against him. The only way to stop him was to not let the ball get to him because once he had it at his feet, you were in trouble.

“Whenever he had the ball, Dynamos only moved one way, forward,” said Ebrahim.

An unprecedented five-time winner of the annual Soccer Star of the Year Award, including three in a row from 1975-1977, Shaya helped Dynamos win a fist full of league and cup titles.

And although he never really got to showcase his skills on a grander stage in international club and country competitions because of Rhodesia’s pariah status, the ‘Mastermind,’ who would have been 75 on October 30, will never be forgotten.

The teenage boy who grew up in the small rural community of Banket, some 90km north-east of the capital, and got to watch Shaya intermittently, never will.

Jahoor Omar is a former Sports Editor of The Herald. The Sunday Mail