Zimbabwe/Swaziland: Father, Teacher, Coach

CHICKEN INN goalkeeper, Pride Zendera flips bumps into a torn Eswatini newspaper cutting before finding what he has been looking for.

It's an article that reminds him of a journey he has walked outside the country when he was voted into the 2011-2012 Team of the Season in the Eswatini top-flight.

Zendera grabs his phone, takes a photograph and sends it to Ngezi Platinum Stars coach, Rodwell Dhlakama.

The gaffer was the coach of the season after guiding Manzini Sundowns who won a league and cup double in a campaign Zendera kept 10 clean sheets for them.

"Thank you dad for the role you played in my career," reads the caption of the picture the goalkeeper sent to Dhlakama.

"You are also the one who made me come back home. I still remember word for word what you told me and I am glad I have managed to implement a lot in terms of what you taught me and the rewards have been telling."

Zendera was an unknown quantity after he decided to follow the money, playing his league football in Eswatini.

He was part of Dhlakama's national Under-17 side that grabbed Cosafa gold in Namibia in 2007.

He is not the only famous player who calls Dhlakama a father.

George Chigova, Tonderai Mateyaunga, Munyaradzi Dhiya, Winstone Mhango, Ariel Sibanda, Ovidy Karuru all view Dhlakama as a father figure.

"He treats players like his own children. He is more than just a football coach. Every player who has dealt with him knows what I am talking about," said Zendera.

Dhlakama said his background, as a teacher, makes him understand players better.

"My heart bleeds when I see players wasting their God-given talent engaging in detrimental activities," said Dhlakama.

"I was a teacher for 10 years from 1997 to 2007. During that time, I discovered a lot of players, most of whom are the current national team players.

"I make sure I give counsel to players across the league since I have coached most of them at some stage."

Dhlakama, who reached the mini league phase of the CAF Champions league with Monomotapa in 2009, said he is yet to achieve his ultimate goal -- winning the Premiership as a head coach in Zimbabwe.

"We won the league title in 2008 with Monomotapa but I was assistant to Norman Mapeza who then left the club in my charge in the CAF Champions League.

"What I want now is to win the league. I have won a lot of accolades but the league title is the ultimate."

Dhlakama, however, is viewed as a controversial figure in some quarters.

In the early stages of last year, the gaffer was said to have signed contracts with both Chapungu and Eswatini side, Muhlume Peace Makers.

"That wasn't going to be possible by miles. I went to Muhlume Peace Makers, which was under Takesure Chiragwi, during our off season.

"A Swazi journalist saw me and assumed that I was back to coach in that country and went on to publish that story.

"But, that made me even stronger."

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