Many defensive midfielders have graced the Zimbabwe football terrain. These anchormen, who solidify the spine of the team, are often ignored when the plaudits are dished out. The focus is usually on the attacking midfielders and the strikers, leaving the hunters and gatherers of the ball to feed on crumbs. The inimitable Eric Cantona once dismissed the serial winner Didier Deschamps as a mere “water carrier” for Zinedine Zidane.
However, in Zimbabwe, many of these so-called defensive linkmen were also capable of advancing into enemy territory and score a few goals. They did not just sit in front of the back four. Here are the top 10 picks of a few legends who played this role to perfection and give them their bells from post-independence era.
The 1980 Soccer Star of the Year award winner who played for Dynamos Football Club was known for his graft in the middle of the park which allowed the likes of Hamid “Muzukuru” Dhana to shine without worrying about defensive duties. “Yogi” as he is known in football circles was tireless and was a long-range booming shots specialist. Winning the Soccer Star of the Year award speaks volume about his abilities.
Nicknamed “Chikwama”, the tireless midfielder who played for Rio Tinto before moving to State House Tornadoes and later Darryn T, was renowned for his booming shots. He played for the senior national team for close to 10 years. “Chikwama” can be described as a box-to-box player, he had the energy to go up and down. As it is said in the football language, he had a big engine.
The nickname “Dragline” says it all. He was a powerhouse in midfield and his only undoing was that he played for the so-called small teams. He played for Wankie (now Hwange Football Club), Rio Tinto and Arcadia United. National team selectors, however, noted his abilities although the fans were not always appreciative. If you remember one match at the National Sports Stadium when Zimbabwe played against Namibia, the fans booed Muradzikwa’s every touch of the ball. He did not get unsettled and when a loose ball came his way, he hammered it hard and low from about 30 metres. It was a scorcher and it immediately silenced the “Boo Boys”. Muradzikwa is among the top five hard heaters of the ball in Zimbabwe.
He played for Black Aces and later Dynamos Football Club. He was versatile and that is why at Dynamos he also played as a right back. At Black Aces and the national team he was an anchorman. Nicknamed “Mukoma Fembera Fembera” because with the ball at his feet anything was possible. He was capable of the booming long-range shots. He scored many good goals because of this ability.
The ever-popular and full of energy “Mahwiii’’ was a capable ball winner and distributor. What set him apart from most defensive linkmen of his generation was his ability to lift the crowd with a bit of showboating on the ball. “Mahwiii!!!” the crowd would chant in response after his trademark gallop with the ball at his feet. The legend was popular across the football divide and was known for a clever quip in interviews. He once said: “Doctor Khumalo is too beautiful to play football!” in reference to the handsome South African star man. That was “Mahwii’’ for you, what a character! He is a Highlanders Football Club legend.
Nicknamed "Makanaky" after the legendary Cameroon Italia ‘90 hero Cyrille Makanaky, the diminutive anchor was a respected ball winner. He was often criticised for being too conservative in possession and lacking the forward pass. During the Dream Team era, this was a stick that was used to beat him with. In later years, when he moved to Amazulu, Nkonjera evolved and actually added goals to his playing style.
The hardworking and no-nonsense anchorman kept it simple, he collected the ball and gave it to those with the fancy skills. In the swashbuckling CAPS United Football Club team which won the league in 1996, Chitembwe’s role is often underappreciated. Those who understand football, however, will always remember that he was the steady hand that made the Green Machine midfield tick. Alongside Farai “Mr. Perfect” Mbidzo and Joe Mugabe who was nicknamed "Kode", that midfield department was a well-oiled machine.
Nicknamed “Yellow”, he played for Amazulu before establishing himself as one of Zimbabwe’s best foreign exports in South Africa where he played for Mamelodi Sundowns. Esrom was hardworking, disciplined and contributed the odd goal for the team. His goal against Cameroon during the history making AFCON tournament in Tunisia will live long in the memories of all those who watched the match. The legend was a model professional.
He had an interesting nickname “Father”. Was it for the manner in which he bossed the midfield department? Tinashe was really good and at Kaizer Chiefs he is regarded as a kingpin. He also had a successful stint with the Zimbabwe Warriors.
Nicknamed “Gazza”, Maringwa was on the rise until injuries derailed his career. Before the unfortunate injury, Gazza was on the radar of Spanish La Liga giants Celta Vigo. According to reports, they wanted to sign him as a direct replacement of Claude Makelele the man who gave rise to the “Makelele role”. This says a lot about the abilities of the Zimbabwe legend. Shame about the injury curse.
Legends like David Zulu, Chingumbe Masuku, Blessing Gumiso, Ferdinand Mwachindalo, Charles “The Chief “ Chilufya, Leo Kurauzvione, Mthulisi Maphosa, Ashley Rambanapasi, Farai Mbidzo, Danny Phiri, Alois “Shaw” Godzi, Tavaka Gumbo, Gary Mkandawire, John Phiri, Justice Majabvi and Max Ruza also deserve to be mentioned in this roll call of honours.
- Danai Chitakasha, , The Herald, Published: 8 March, 2021, Accessed: 11 March, 2021