The Sunday News
The first time I watched Rahman Gumbo playing was when he was still at Eagles but I was really young in those days. But when he joined Highlanders, I was a little older and more conscious of what was happening on the field. What struck me at the time was Rush’s football genius and what I came to learn were leadership skills.
An old school number 10 who began his pro career as a striker, Rush was that one player you could count on to play exactly like the midfielders we were watching on TV at the time: as a midfield genius, not very much separated Rush from Africa’s best.
What defined him for me and set him high on the legend strata was his goal against South Africa in 1994 when we beat them 4-1 in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the National Sports Stadium in Harare. Three years later I was privileged to have met him personally for the first time when I tried out for Highlanders where he was the assistant coach at the time.
I did not make the grade at the time but it is what he said to me during that time that made the difference for me. Rush encouraged me not to lose heart, to stay focused on my goal and keep working hard. He then came to watch me play a money game for Makwe along with the late Ernest “Maphepha” Sibanda after which he called me to the side and told me that he was the new Highlanders head coach ahead of the 1998-1999 season and wanted me to be part of his team.
I refused outright, asking him what he had seen in me that he had not seen when I tried out for the team. By then I was training with Zimbabwe Saints and I was determined to stay there.
We spoke at length together with Maphepha. They told me that they wanted to build the team around Thabani Masawi whom they felt would be able to complement my playing style. I refused and continued training with Saints until Rush invited me to join the Highlanders camp ahead of a challenge match against Dynamos. At this point, I realised just how serious they were about signing me but I had lost faith in the system at Highlanders but as former player himself, he knew how to speak to me. He convinced me to sign for Highlanders insisting that it was the best club for my budding career.
I still had my doubts, but Rahman encouraged me to use the challenge match against Dynamos to prove my doubters wrong. I then became worried that I wouldn’t be able to measure up given that I had not trained with the rest of the team. Fortunately for me, I played well and we beat Dynamos 2-0. And that match kick-started my football career with the team I had loved from childhood.
Rahman played a big role in my development as player. In my first season with Highlanders, we won the league and I was crowned Soccer Star of the Year and the league’s top goal scorer. I had not imagined this much success that soon. When I moved to Cyprus, I had already received offers from several clubs and had even gone for trials with SuperSport in South Africa. Rush advised me to move to Cyprus where I wouldn’t have to change my style of play.
On arrival in Cyprus, the first thing I noticed was just how popular he was there having played alongside Agent Sawu in that country. Everyone kept asking me if I knew Rahman Gumbo and Agent Sawu which set me up for success.
His style of coaching was different from anyone else I worked with. His ability to relate with players is what set him apart. I remember one time I went of for four or so matches without a goal and had begun to doubt myself. Media was all over me calling me a fading marksman. He set me down and told me that he still trusted me and believed in me. People had begun to write me off but he spoke to me about the dry spell, telling me it wasn’t possible for me to go bad overnight.
It felt more like brotherly love than a coach talking to his player and it worked wonders for me. I had started listening to people suggesting that perhaps it was juju that was causing my dry spell to which Rush said the only juju was in my head. He went to highlight my strengths and weaknesses and insisted that he would keep picking me to start in spite of the goal drought. I remember him saying to me I had very little in terms of skill, advising me to let those that had the skills do what they could for me so that I could achieve my goals.
And it wasn’t just with me but the whole squad. The evidence of his genius as a coach is in winning the league title in his first season in charge. Everyone who was coached by Rush should celebrate this man. In fact, as I keep saying, we must learn to celebrate our legends while they are still alive that they too may feel the appreciation shown on them.
Rahman Gumbo was my mentor before, during and after my playing career.