It needed five years of toiling in the Division One wilderness for 2014 Soccer Star of the Year Dennis Dauda and his first runner-up as well as Goalkeeper of the Year Tendai Hove to raise their hands up and be counted as the country’s finest footballers.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
It took three years for Dauda’s second runner-up and ZPC Kariba teammate Limited Chikafa to bury the agony of two and half months facing death in hospital with a heart ailment.
He also had to erase from his football chapter the year 2010 which he completed without kicking a ball.
Saul Chaminuka only started gaining respect six months ago, culminating in him being honoured as the season’s best coach, but not even in anyone’s wildest of dreams did it ring that ZPC Kariba would complete a clean sweep of the Soccer Stars awards on Friday night.
That headlines the story of the ZPC crop of 2014.
In their debut Premier Soccer League (PSL) season in which they turned themselves into giant slayers and put up an impressive display, nearly snatching the league from Dynamos, ZPC however ended the term empty-handed after all the effort.
The Kariba side charmed many fans, coming close to making history by becoming the second team outside Harare and Bulawayo to win the league title after the 1966 St Paul’s Musami side.
They also narrowly missed on becoming the second side to win the league title in their maiden league campaign after the Black Rhinos crop of 1984.
But on Friday night, on the 45th edition of the prestigious awards, they sealed a historical feat of providing three players as the top footballers of the season.
In a season where spectatorship of PSL games grew from last year’s 495 000 fans to 515 000, ZPC Kariba- also enjoyed more eyes on them, especially playing their home games at an adopted home, Gwanzura in Highfield, Harare.
A panel of journalists, PSL coaches and captains then selected the Soccer Stars and ordained Dauda as the 2014 king.
From Lancashire Steel via DSTV Rangers before landing in Kariba, Dauda shone brightest and broke the Dynamos hegemony of providing soccer stars in succession since 2011.
A disciplined centre half who unusually and rarely gets booked, he overcame the grief of losing his mother on August 16.
“The season was tough especially losing my mother in August. It affected me but my friends and advisors kept urging me to concentrate on my game and fight for my life,” said an emotional Dauda.
“I always felt I could win this award although I would sometimes doubt it. I think I did well all season. I rarely got booked because I am good at ball timing and deeply concentrate on marking and cautious of losing the ball when I am in possession.”
His goalkeeper and captain Hove conceded 12 goals in 23 games in a steely defensive wall that also included Ephraim Mwinga.
When the back four got porous, Hove would make crucial saves that helped stretch ZPC Kariba’s unbeaten run in their first 19 games.
A qualified Class 1 artisan electrician, Hove’s pursuit of professional football was disrupted when he was an apprentice at Ziscosteel between 2007 and 2011.
“That is why I was not commanding a regular jersey at Lancashire Steel. Now I am a full time footballer. It is an honour scooping these awards and I owe it to the goalkeepers’ coaches who worked with me throughout my career. They include Elfigio Staben, Innocent Chogugudza, Matembo Banda and Tembo Chuma.
“But I will not take these awards as consolation for missing out on the league title because this is individual achievement while winning the league title is team effort.”
It is however the inclusion of Chikafa that has sparked debate on the composition of the best three.
Chikafa scored nine goals, three more than Dynamos’ joint top goal-scorers Roderick Mutuma and Washington Pakamisa.
The 33-year-old’s career seemed to be headed for the rocks after a fallout with former CAPS United coach Lloyd Chitembwe in 2008.
After a stint at Shooting Stars before completing the year 2010 sitting at home, his career was just as good as over. But an attempt to rejuvenate his career at Chicken Inn in 2011 resulted in a near-death experience after playing just two games for the Bulawayo side.
A heart problem that struck him in April that year saw him spending two and half months admitted at Avenues Clinic.
“To be honest with you I did not have hope at all. I thought my career had ended. The doctors even told me not to play football again when I was finally discharged. But I went against their advice after spending two months sitting at home and I began light training on my own,” said Chikafa.
He landed at Eastern Region Division One side Setheo two years ago before joining Triangle at the beginning of last season for another dance with top-flight football.
The remarkable transformation highlighted by the aplomb of a veteran had him score nine goals in an environment where strikers are goal shy and deservedly landed himself at the third best player of 2014.