The Sunday News
JAPHET Mparutsa headlines a cast of brilliant soccer goalkeepers to guard the posts after Independence.
He is widely regarded as the best ever goalie to emerge from this country, his record for Black Rhinos, Bloemfontein Celtics, Dynamos and Zimbabwe’s Warriors speaks for itself.
Emerging in Dynamos colours and later to share the number one slot for the Young Warriors with Lucky Dube, a much taller opponent ahead of gangly Weekly Mwale from the Eastern Lowveld, Mparutsa was every budding star’s favourite in the early 1980s.
It was common for boys during break times or upon finding any patch of turf to kick the ball to the Short Cat. That was Mparutsa’s football nickname, every kid wanted to be a good goalkeeper. Even the tall guys did not find Mike Mhlanga or Raphael Phiri, the ideal role models to emulate, they dreamt of following the DeMbare icon who had successfully filled in the shoes once worn by the likes of Labani Kandi.
Mparutsa at almost 1,70m was among the shortest goalkeepers of that time. Shorter than Highlanders’ Peter Nkomo but he was so agile that he could tame big strikers like Onias Musana, Lemmy Mnenekwa, Richard Manda, Shaky Tauro, Nyaro Mumba, Rodrick Simwanza, Gift Mpariwa, Kembo Chunga and Bigboy Ndlovu on aerial balls from freekicks and corner kicks.
Many believed he had springs that went off for him to thwart a certain goal headed or shot to the far post, but alas the Short Cat would go airbone to extinguish danger.
For over a decade he dominated the goalkeeper’s position and if not for a former colonial master like Britain, Mparutsa would have played in Europe. He just was too good for Africa and won rave reviews where ever he played.
Even in Senegal where Jean Betrand Bocande scored a hat-trick against him he stayed the star of the show. Those that were there in 1985 talk about his exploits as if they are current.
For him to have forced Frank Mkanga who joined Dynamos from Zisco in 1980 to the bench, speaks volumes of Mparutsa. Mkanga was a complete goalkeeping product boasting of size, technique, big throw and calculated kick above that superb ball handling skills.
Mkanga did not have it easy at both Dynamos and Warriors nor was it so cheap at the steelmakers where there was Langton Marizani an Under-20 national team trialist.
All of Kandi, Raphael Phiri of Rio Tinto, Wankie FC’s ageing Posani Sibanda, Highlanders’ Peter Nkomo, Saints’ Alban Mafemba, Pernell Mckop, John Sibanda and Ben Phiri, Dynamos’ Leon Ntawatawa and Dube, Gweru’s Ranga Mutanga, Arcadia’s Nat Bismark and Peter Fanwell and Bulawayo Wanderers’ Johannes Tshuma lived in the shadows of one Japhet Mparutsa.
Even this writer still has a scar on the elbow having crashed on to a log goalpost while trying a Japhet Mparutsa one handed tip over the bar to the left post.
Mparutsa was phenomenal. Move into the 1990s, goalkeepers such as Nelson Bandura, Amon Chimbalanga, Muzondiwa Mugadza, George Mandizvidza, Britto Gwere, Witness Munkuli, Chenjerayi Dube, Karim Abdul, Gift Muzadzi emerged to dominate for almost a decade. But none came close to Mparutsa, they were great goalminders in their own right and deserved better than the Zimbabwe leagues.
Then the early 2000s gave Zimbabwe a fine young man called Tapuwa Kapini. He would knock off Edmore Sibanda and Britto Gwere to ascertain himself as Bosso’s goalkeeper of the decade. Three championships and an appearance on the calendar as one of the best 11 players on the land are his achievements. He won the Cosafa Cup and qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations making him one of the decade’s most decorated players and has played in South Africa for almost 12 years.
His greatest competitors have been Soccer Star of the Year Energy Murambadoro and Washington Arubi both of whom starred for the biggest clubs in the country and kept goal with aplomb for their country.
Today’s story is about Ariel Sibanda, the Bosso shot-stopper. He wrote his own script this week when he was voted among the 11 Soccer Stars of the Year. Coincidentally, he has also been nick named Mangoye (cat).
The lad, a former Embakwe and Plumtree High School protégé followed on the tracks of the Gift “Great Umbro” Muzadzi who became the first goalkeeper in the modern day Castle Lager Premier Soccer League to appear three times on the calendar.
Sibanda may not have the charisma and stature of many great goalkeepers. His story has been simple. He has been good for club, country and the game. He celebrates his 10th anniversary this year.
He was thrown into the Highlanders first team by none other than Bosso’s celebrated winger-general Madinda Ndlovu in 2009. As a fresh 20-year-old then, Sibanda never looked back and in four years he was national team material and if not for a porous defence against Manucho of Angola five years ago, Sibanda could have kept goal at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015.
Three appearances on the calendar is a feat achieved by legends Madinda Ndlovu, Willard Khumalo and Mercedes Sibanda.
Bruce Grobbelaar, Ananias Dube, Peter Nkomo and Tapuwa Kapini remain etched in the Bosso faithful’s hearts. Ariel has done enough to deserve being mentioned among these four great men who gave excellent and distinguished service to Bosso and the game at large.
Ariel deserves respect at Bosso, respect in Zimbabwe and in the game. Cool as a cucumber to an extent that at times he appears to have slept on duty letting slip a harmless ball, the next move he is blocking a well taken penalty to keep Highlanders in the game. He has been good, at one stage he was Highlanders top goalscorer with four goals all from the spot having saved as many too.
After 10 years of service, at 30, Sibanda still has another five to seven years on the field.
In 1982, Wankie FC retired the legendary Amos Rendo and held a testimonial match for him.
That must have been the first and last time such was held in Hwange.
Taking a cue from that Ariel deserves a testimonial match and evening for his long service and brilliant.
Football has no pension in this country.
Proceeds from his Benefit Week could go towards shaping his future away from the game and activities may even include a golf day, charity work, a football game and a dinner dance.
Players must be helped towards their future.
Ukubabalekela ema-bottle store sebeyiziporori lezimankani has become the order of the day in our society yet we all had a chance to shape their lives.