THE late Zimbabwe football legend Mercedes “Rambo” Sibanda was gifted with mad football talent and his crowning moment of glory was in 1987 when he was crowned Soccer Star of the Year.
He was affectionately known as Rambo because he was strong and had big round muscles. This was the best right-back that Highlanders and the national team ever had.
His presence was felt in the back line as he cleared his lines with aplomb. He gave his everything for the team and was comfortable with the ball and rarely miscalculated.
He had excellent ball control techniques, chest control, agile legs, quick reactions and good movements that usually terrorised opponents. To cap his attributes he had some telling passes.
He was famous for overlapping from his right back position and troubled most goalkeepers with ferocious long efforts. This is the guy who was born and raised in Mzilikazi suburb.
Sunday Life Sport caught up with one of the legendary Highlanders goal-minders Sydney Zimunya who was a close friend to the legendary Highlanders right-back and even made him his best man at his wedding.
“We grew up together here in Mzilikazi and attended Lobengula Primary School together. We were in the same class. But he could not proceed to secondary school because his parents lacked money to sponsor his education. At school we would play soccer, after that we became friends, from time to time he would visit me and the bond grew,” he recalls.
He went on to reminisce about his good long-gone friend whom he described as someone who had mad love for soccer.
“I recall vividly from the time we were growing up he was a defender and that was to be his usual position for the entire of his footballing career. He would come here and we would play soccer with balls made of plastic and he loved soccer,” Zimunya shares with Sunday Life Sport at his home in Mzilikazi suburb.
Zimunya said at the age of eleven they joined Mzilikazi Youth Centre.
“There were many sports disciplines at the Youth Centre, Rambo chose soccer and would never play any sport beside it,” he recalls.
After a colourful spell at Mzilikazi Youth Centre the pair of Zimunya and Rambo joined Highlanders Juniors. Before long they had proved that they were not armatures in the beautiful game as they were selected to be part of the squad that was going to do duty at Aberdeen City International Football Annual Festival, Scotland.
There was something special about that trip — Rambo was the captain of the side. The talented Highlanders youthful side under the captaincy of Rambo wrote its own piece of history as they became the first African side to win the title. The Bulawayo side went to Scotland as a last minute replacement for a City select which had failed to raise enough funds to go to the tournament.
The youthful side was under the safe hands of Cosmas Tsano Zulu. The Bosso outfit was red hot as they beat fancied Australian team Melbourne select 1-0; they followed that with an emphatic win over Italy 4-0 and disposed hosts Aberdeenshire 3-0 for the penultimate round. In the semi-final they met Group B runners and defending champions Rosslyn sports of Scotland and thrashed them 3-0.
Zimunya reveals that Rambo and Nqobizitha Maenzanise all from Mzilikazi were the toast of the tournament.
“We had a good showing and that is when Rambo’s nickname gained prominence, after that everyone would call him that,” he reveals.
Zimunya says at the tournament himself, Willard Khumalo and Rambo earned the moniker Bush Walkers, after a wrestling trio.
Rambo had a dance with national team Under- 20, that squad had seven of Highlanders players that included Willard Khumalo, Roney Jowa, Mpumelelo Dzowa, Dumisani Nyoni, Dumisani Ngulube and Zimunya.
The Mzilikazi-born defender was part of the Under-20 national teams that won the Cosafa Youth Cup three times in a row. He was also part of the famous Dream Team. Another Highlanders legend Tobias Mudyambanje described him as a jovial character and a leader.
“We will always miss him. He was always happy and was an inspirational player. He was always punctual at training and conducted individual training sessions, that is why he was so good. Even during matches he gave his everything,” he said.
Mudyambanje said Rambo liked his food but was not a miser.
“This is the guy who had a huge appetite, during our trips he would eat a lot. He disliked cooking but preferred washing plates,” he said.
He added that Rambo contributed a lot to the success of Highlanders during a long spell. He recalls a clash in 1986 when Highlanders won Castle Cup after beating Dynamos at Rufaro Stadium.
“His work rate was always more than 100%. I remember he provided an assist during the Castle Cup match when we played Dynamos at Rufaro Stadium and that was the winning goal which I scored. I hope Highlanders will play for him on Sunday against Dynamos and win the match for him and other fallen heroes of this great club,” he says.
He retired from football in 1998. He died at the age of 36 in 2002.