MADINDA Ndlovu was in his first stint as Highlanders head coach when goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda made his senior bow for the Bulawayo football giants in 2009 after graduating from the team’s development side.
BY FORTUNE MBELE
Sibanda (29), the longest-serving player in the current Highlanders squad, would go on to play for five different coaches at Bosso — from the unheralded Egyptian Mohamed Fathi, Mkuphali Masuku, Zambian Kelvin Kaindu, Bongani Mafu to most recently under the outspoken Dutchman Erol Akbay.
His loyalty to the country’s oldest club has, however, not been rewarded with championship success, but despite his frustrations Sibanda says he will not quit the club until he wins the coveted title with his beloved Bosso and realises his childhood dream of playing in the CAF Champions League.
“I am very much disappointed that I have never won the league title with Highlanders, the club that I love so much,” Sibanda opened up in an exclusive interview with The Sports Hub last week.
“The hope of winning the championship with Highlanders for the first time in my career is what drives me to continue working hard and hopefully I will win the championship here soon.
“Every new season I consider myself just like everyone who has just joined the club for the first time because I have not won the title for Highlanders yet. I want to win the league title and my biggest wish is to play in the CAF Champions League for Highlanders. Maybe after that I will consider quitting,” Sibanda says.
Sibanda’s goalkeeping skills and antics over the years have earned him the nickname “Mangoye” (which means cat in isiNdebele) from the Highlanders fans since taking over from Washington Arubi as first-choice goalkeeper in 2009.
“My strength as a goalkeeper is starting the moves from the back and I am good on the low shots maybe that’s why I got the nickname Mangoye, but my biggest weakness is that I have a communication problem,” he said.
The goal minder’s special relationship with the club’s fans also stems from the fact that throughout his professional football career he has only played for Highlanders.
During that time Sibanda has worked with close to 10 goalkeepers such as Njabulo Nyoni, Josphat Sibanda, Winston Chiwetu, Lovemore Makwavarara, Munyaradzi Diya, Archieford Katsande and the current reserves Prosper Matutu and Nedrick Madeya.
When the club’s new coach Ndlovu indicated that he would add new blood in the side after releasing veteran players Erick Mudzingwa, Simon Munawa and Ralph Matema, there were genuine fears that Sibanda was finally on his way out.
The Bosso gaffer, however, kept faith in the soft-spoken shot-stopper, a decision Sibanda said stemmed from the duo’s close relationship from his formative days.
“It was Madinda who was coach when I was promoted to the senior team in 2009 and I became the first-choice goalkeeper during his first stint at the club. However, having been trusted to continue comes with great responsibility and I must lead the young players by example. I guess my long stay at Highlanders is all about discipline, hard work and having the team at heart,” Sibanda says.
While the league championship has eluded Highlanders during his career at Bosso, the former Warriors goal minder has managed to win a number of trophies.
He has won the BancABC Sup8r Cup, Mbada Diamonds Cup, the NetOne-sponsored Easycall Cup, ZNA Charities Shield (twice) and the latest being the KCD Mohadi Charity Shield.
Sibanda, however, says despite the silverware he has won with the club, he will not be satisfied until he wins the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League championship and play in the CAF Champions League.
The chance to play continental club football eluded Sibanda in 2012 when Highlanders pulled out of the CAF Confederation Cup, which attracted a three-year suspension from CAF competitions after Zifa had blundered and registered the Bulawayo giants against their will.
That ban was upheld despite appeals and they missed out again on continental football in 2014 when they had won the Mbada Diamonds Cup the previous year.
Sibanda is a product of the National Association of Secondary Heads (Nash) Copa Coca-Cola football tournament, a competition, which has provided a stepping stone for many local footballers.
It was at one of the Copa Coca-Cola youth football tournaments where he was spotted while doing his secondary education at Embakwe High School in Plumtree and pays tribute to Highlanders goalkeepers’ coaches Peter Nkomo, Cosmas Zulu and Tembo Chuma, whom he says have propped him up in his career.
In 2012 he was voted the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League Goalkeeper of the Year and was among the 11 finalists and in 2016, he was named the club’s best player.
The former Highlanders captain was early this year selected into a committee of senior players who compiled the players’ grievances before they were tabled before the coaches and the executive.
Sibanda has also represented the country since his formative days when he was part of a star-studded Young Warriors side, which also included the likes of Archford Gutu, Devon Chafa, Denver Mukamba, Rahman Kutsanzira, Mathew Rusike, Lincoln Zvasiya and Qadir Amin just to mention a few.
He has also been called up to the senior national football team, the Warriors, 15 times under Ndlovu, Norman Mapeza and Rahman Gumbo.
Sibanda featured in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in 2012 and started when the Warriors, who were under the tutelage of Gumbo, lost out on the ticket to the continental showpiece to Angola.
Under Ndlovu, he played in the African Nations Championships (Chan) finals in Sudan in 2011 and he was first-choice goalkeeper ahead of Arubi and Tafadzwa Dube.