10 December 2018

Zimbabwe: The King Whose Special Place in the Palace Provokes Debate

It's hard if not diabolical not to fall in love with Rodwell Chinyengetere's romantic story -- his spectacular rise in just six years from the dumps of a horrific career-threatening injury to become king of the domestic Premiership football.

The first back-to-back winner of the gong handed to the best footballer in our top-flight league since a teenage wonder kid called Peter Ndlovu exploded on the scene at the turn of the '90s en-route to superstardom and a solid claim of being the Greatest Of All Time in this country.

The fourth member of a special group of footballers who have won this award more than once -- the others being King Peter, Stanley Ndunduma who is late and George Shaya who still lives to bear witness to all this after winning the first award about half-a-century ago. The one who now walks in the special company of serial winners which even the great Moses Chunga, to some the finest ever Zimbabwean footballer, didn't make it despite a raw talent that was at best amazing and at his finest simply unplayable. The one who from now onwards will be feted as a player, when it comes to the Soccer Star of the Year award, who achieved more than the great Mercedes "Rambo" Sibanda, the great Ernest Kamba, the great George "TNT" Rollo and the great Ephraim Chawanda who all have single gongs in their cabinet.

The one who, from here, will be considered a better success story for this award than Tendai Chieza, Peter Nyama, Moses Moyo, David Mandigora, Ephert Lungu, James Takavada, Masimba Dinyero, George Nechironga, Wilfred Mugeyi, Agent Sawu, Memory Mucherahowa, Tauya Murewa and Stewart Murisa who all picked up this gong once in their illustrious careers before the turn of the millennium.

And the one who, from now onwards, will be feted as having done better than Zenzo Moyo, Dazzy Kapenya, Cephas Chimedza, Joseph Kamwendo, Clemence Matawu, Mutare Murape, Evans Chikwaikwai, Ramson Zhuwawo, Charles Sibanda, Denver Mukamba, Tawanda Muparati, Dennis Dauda, Danny Phiri and Hardlife Zvirekwi who lifted this gong once in their careers after the turn of the millennium.

And then, remarkably, there are those who somehow didn't win it despite their greatness -- Madinda Ndlovu, Willard Mashinkila-Khumalo, Nyaro Mumba, Jonah Murewa, Joel Shambo, Stanford "Stix" M'tizwa, Jose ph Zulu, Oliver Kateya, Edward Katsvere, Lloyd Mutasa, Derby Mankinka, Victor Mapanda, and many other greats too many to mention in one edition of this newspaper.

It took 27 years for the domestic Premiership to see a footballer end the wait and win this award for a second time, 33 years for someone other than King Peter to do it and 40 years for a fourth man to be added to this exclusive group. That should, in some way, show that it's a special achievement and Chinyengetere has clearly been the best of the lot in the domestic Premiership for some time now.

One wonders if he would not have even won more of these awards had his career not been derailed by that horrific injury while playing for Hwange against Monomotapa six years ago.

During that period some who were not embraced by the entire nation as worthy winners came along, notably Muparati and Dauda while questions still stalk the honours handed out to Chikwaikwai, Zhuwawo, Sibanda and even Murape. But that's the way it is because even the decision to hand the Ballon d'Or to Luka Modric this year sparked a global outcry from the Cristiano Ronaldo brigade who felt the Portuguese superstar deserved another gong.

However, there is no questioning Modric's talent and great season and therein lies the difference with what is now obtaining locally where those who probably would not even have been mentioned when the likes of Stix were being denied this award now celebrate the greatness of not only being winners but serial winners.

One possibly has to feel for those who choose because they have a mandate to select a winner even in a season of considerable mediocrity where none of the players illuminated the scene to deserve such an honour.

The tragedy is that it devalues the honour which used to be associated with such a prestigious gong and amid the celebrations sparked by Chinyengetere's brave fight from that horror injury to be the king, not once but twice in a row, it's important that sober reflections be made.

The exclusive company he has now joined is what provokes the debate. Is he in anyway worth the special club where one used to find only King Peter, the great Ndunduma and the mastermind George Shaya in the past?

There is no questioning he is a decent player but the other three were superstars and anyone who says Chinyengetere is a superstar is certainly lying.

The others are immortals and when people ask how good was George Shaya, those who didn't see him play are told he was a five-time Soccer Star of the Year.

This award defines, or used to define greatness, and it's clear now that something has changed and things are not what they used to be.

Chimedza, a former deserved winner of this award, showered Chinyengetere with praises on Twitter. "Congrats Rod Chinyengetere, it's not easy to come back from a serious injury and get your old form back but you surpassed it and showed it wasn't a fluke," he wrote.

"Now, go to Mzansi and show them you are the real deal."

There is no hiding the sentimentality of it all -- the feel-good romance of someone who fate appeared to have damned when he was badly injured refusing to throw in the towel and fighting his way back to the top.

It's a lovely story and in a game poisoned by many ugly things, including a Denver Mukamba, who lost his way by letting himself be a prisoner to his love for intoxicating substances, Chinyengetere comes through as a shining beacon.

But there should be more to joining the company of King Peter, George Shaya and Stanley Ndunduma than just sentimental values given the greatness of such a club.

Therein lies the big question which historians will have to grapple with when they compile the story of the Soccer Star of the Year, its monumental flaws and its real heroes.

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