17 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Great Goalscorer, Scorer of Great Goals

TWENTY years ago, Adam Ndlovu had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to join Manchester United and spent a month at the Old Trafford club training under the eagle eye of Alex Ferguson. The Scottish coach was looking for a forward who could provide the spark for his Red Devils to end an agonising wait, spread over a quarter-of-a-century, without being crowned champions of England.

Adam was one of those being considered and chances are that he could have made it had someone special, a genius whose artistry on the pitch would turn United into a mean machine and lay the platform for a golden age of success, not appeared on the radar.

His name was Eric Cantona.

Back then, few players in England, or in the world, competed with Cantona for a contract and once his availability from Leeds, whom he had led to the championship the previous season, was confirmed, the door was shut.

For Adam it meant a lost opportunity and he returned home and found himself coming second once again, in the race for the Soccer Star of the Year crown, which went to Wilfred Mugeyi.

But Adam was 22, raw and bullish, and he knew that his football journey was just beginning and there would be more chances for him to secure a contract with a European club in the future.

That was soon sealed, two years later, when he moved to Switzerland.

Exactly two decades after iconic Frenchman, Cantona, denied him a contract at Old Trafford and Mugeyi took away the Golden Ball from him, Adam's adventure in life, which took him from Makokoba to a rumble in the Swiss highlands as a professional footballer, came to a tragic end yesterday.

His younger brother Peter, the Flying Elephant that has a bigger profile around the world, was by his side, just as had been the case when they played together on the streets of Bulawayo as they honed their skills, when the end finally came.

"Well, Peter, he is my brother and we are good partners upfront," Adam told The Sunday Mail in '91 when they asked him who was his best friend.

The two brothers were together, upfront, when Peter's BMW X5 skidded off the road after a tyre burst and ploughed into some trees before landing in a ditch.

Peter, somehow, escaped with his life, with four broken ribs, a deep cut on his forehead and injuries in both legs.

Sadly, Adam didn't, and died on the way to Victoria Falls hospital.

As Zimbabwe mourned one of its greatest football sons yesterday, the huge impact that Adam made on our national game, in particular, and country in general, became all-too clear.

In the age of a polarised domestic football family, where some have turned themselves into shameless merchants of hatred by fanning tribal discord through social media or questionable decision-making at leadership levels, it's refreshing to note that we once had unifying characters of this nation, and this national game, like Adam Ndlovu.

Through his goals, playing for the Warriors, especially the Dream Team, and an infectious smile that seemed to be permanently carved on his handsome dark features, Adamski united a nation that really loves its national football team.

When he had that gold-and-green jersey on, there was one thing on his mind - to serve his nation in the best manner possible on the football field.

That he made a success story out of it is there for everyone to see, and for the historians to keep in our archives, and the fans loved him and, crucially, they trusted him because they knew he was giving it all that he had.

Adam was certainly not as technically gifted as Peter but he had his own special qualities - strength, both on the ground and aerial, good positioning, great awareness, leadership qualities once he was thrust into the frontline and a good scoring ratio.

Someone told me the other day that Adam was a great goalscorer and I said that was half the story. To me he was a great goalscorer and also a scorer of great goals.

He served his country well, which is all that matters, and fittingly, he was part of the group that represented this nation in our first Nations' Cup appearance in Tunisia in 2004.

As fate would have it, he was on target in the 2-1 win over Algeria, in our final group game, as the Warriors finally tasted a victory at the Nations Cup finals for the first time.

The football fans of this country have a full drawer from where they can pick the highlights of Adamski's greatest moments on the pitch.

It's certain that the '92 Nations Cup qualifier against Malawi at the National Sports Stadium, where Adam and Peter led the line with Moses Chunga pulling the strings in midfield, will feature prominently given the joy that followed that four-goal destruction of the Flames.

Mine, interestingly, comes in a losing cause, one unforgettable October day at the Stade Ahmadou Alhidjo Stadium, before 85 000 screaming Cameroonian fans, in Yaounde, in 1993.

With a place at the '94 World Cup finals on the line, the Indomitable Lions appeared to have settled the deal with two goals in the first half from Francois Omam-Biyik.

We needed someone to provide us with a ray of hope and, in that cauldron, it wasn't an easy thing. But, just five minutes after the break, Adamski popped up at the other end and, in a flash, we had scored and, suddenly, it was game on.

That was Adam at his very best and, 10 years later, he would be rewarded with a place at the Nations Cup finals.

It's tough to take that Adam is gone, especially given the tragic circumstances surrounding his death, and coming at a time when he was beginning to show quality in his chosen new field of coaching.

Crucially, he was a good man and that is more important than a good footballer and that is what is torturing millions of souls today as they try to live with the shocking reality that he is gone.

The tears will roll down for some time, because this came as a bolt from the blue, and this Christmas, without Adamski, will feel a little hollow.

But Adam travelled his journey well, in life as in football, and in '97 he was voted the Player of the Year in Switzerland after a starring role at Delemont, which earned him the ticket to join FC Zurich.

Some things, and some people, can't be forgotten.

You can see him now, can't you, lining up his teammates, after scoring for the Warriors, as if they are a group of people about to face the firing squad.

Then, he opens the imaginary trigger and they all go down one after the other.

That was our gunman, our striker, our forward, our Number Nine, who almost signed for Manchester United.

Gone, just like that, at 42.

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