When memories of the famous Warriors Dream Team are evoked, names of players and their late coach Reinhard Fabisch are quickly mentioned while tales of that firebrand team are told.
Report by Michael Madyira
But there is an unheralded story of the role played by one key member of Fabisch’s backroom staff.
This is the story of Pernell McKop (pictured above) who was also heavily involved in preparing the team that was one of the most feared sides on the African continent.
The Bulawayo-born goalkeepers’ coach had a task to specifically take former Liverpool gloveman Bruce Grobbelaar for goalkeeping sessions.
What made McKop’s role more intriguing was that his debut coaching experience with the Warriors in 1994 was a plunge into the deep end where he had to closely work with a vastly experienced goalkeeper who was eight years his senior.
Not only was Grobbelaar his responsibility, he also had to deal with Brenna Msiska, who was older than him by seven years and Abdul Karim Abdul who was almost his age.
“When Roy (Barretto) and Fabisch asked me to assist them I was 29-years-old and I felt intimidated by working with Bruce,” said McKop.
“But Bruce was a professional who worked the way an expert should. As daunting as it was, I was honoured to assist and also enhance myself working at the highest level.”
It was however not his first time to work with Abdul, whom he had coached in the national Under-23 team.
McKop was forced to retire and took up coaching in 1992 due to a nagging back injury at the age of 27, a stage when most goalkeepers would normally be at their peak.
This was a time when he was enjoying his football at Highlanders but had sustained the injury five years earlier while he was at Zimbabwe Saints during a league match against Wankie (now Hwange) at the Colliery.
He had landed awkwardly on his back following a collision with Wankie striker Lazarus Nyaramunda while trying to cut a corner kick.
“The injury kept on nagging me when I moved to Highlanders up to a point when I required some surgery,” said McKop.
“The doctors then advised me that if I did not quit football I would end up on a wheelchair. But in some way it helped open new doors for me and that is when I ventured into training goalkeepers, which earns me a living today.”
He was encouraged by then Highlanders coach Barretto to enrol for courses as a specialist goalkeepers’ coach and was immediately roped into Bosso’s technical department.
As “devastated” as he was for hanging his gloves early, what consoled him however was that he had already bagged the 1988 league title during his three seasons at Saints, before another championship crown at Highlanders in 1990 in a two-year spell.
Two Warriors caps under John Rugg and eight with Peter Nyama’s national Under-20 side where he was competing with the late Japhet Mparutsa for a starting place also acted as solace.
True to his word, his early retirement opened wide avenues into goalkeepers’ coaching.
Now based in Cape Town, South Africa since 2004, McKop is credited for nurturing some of the respected goalkeepers in Africa.
He worked at Absa premiership sides Santos, Free-State Stars, Bay United and Maritzburg United where he was part of a technical team that gained top-flight league promotion.
His protégés include Zambia’s Africa Cup of Nations winning goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene whom he began coaching as a raw 18-year-old at Free State Stars.
At Stars he also worked with Congolese goal-minder Michel Babale whom he helped earn a contract with Orlando Pirates before aiding Arthur Bartman to secure a move to Kaizer Chiefs during his time at Bay United.
After only six months working with Shu-Aib Walters at Maritzburg, the goalkeeper got a place in South Africa’s final 2010 World Cup squad where he was the third choice.
McKop was overshadowed by his younger brother Henry who was a prominent member of the Dream Team as a player, and is still underrated in Zimbabwe although he can be counted among the country’s best coaches today.
Being a specialist goalkeepers’ trainer, he has for the past five months been running his own goalkeeping academy under the Just4Keepers (J4K) franchise which operates in 16 countries around the world.
J4K is the world’s biggest goalkeeping school.
What McKop feels about local football
While others might think McKop is divorced from local football, his heart bleeds at seeing the game ravaged by the Asiagate match-fixing scandal.
“This bribery scandal has tainted the beautiful game in Zimbabwe but I hope that the country can come through it all. The only role I can play for Zimbabwean football is trying to help our players find clubs when they are this side. It is not easy though,” said McKop.
McKop, who grew up as an ardent Bosso fan, feels it would be “disrespectful and unfair” to offer advice to Zimbabwean football because he has been away from the local game for too long.