Saturday, 23 July 2011

The rebirth of short cat

THE words teenage sensation are thrown around far too often in football these days, but if there is a player who really can be that good and is already exhibiting signs of being the best thing since sliced bread then it’s Pride Zendera.
The Cat as he is known has been on the radar of all the top clubs for a while now even though he is still just 18. Much of the hype surrounding him started as early as age 16 as he progressed through the ranks to become the first choice goalkeeper at Sparrows Football Club in Bulawayo.
He did not stay long there as he was snapped under the noses of local top flight clubs by Moneni Pirates of Swaziland and ever since then he has never looked back as he his name is mentioned in the same breath as Sandile Ginidza, the Swazi National team goalie.
In his debut season he helped Moneni Pirates to survive relegation by putting up an unbelievable rearguard action that even Zimbabwe’s number one goalkeeper Washington Arubi could have been proud of.
Swaziland’s only two newspapers, the Times of Swaziland and the Swazi Observer have compared him to two of Zimbabwe’s greatest shot stoppers, Japheth ‘short cat’ Muparutsa and Bruce ‘Jungle man’ Grobbeller.
Can he follow the path the these greats of the Zimbabwean game, or is he destined to walk in the footsteps of Tapuwa Kapini and Energy Murambadoro, two goalkeepers who promised enough but only did much to be counted as good enough to feature for the Warriors.
“I am the first choice at Pirates and it only took me three games to become the first choice and at the time of my debut I was just 17. The media thought I was too young but my coaches believed in me and soon after that everyone was praising me after we won with me being voted man of the match.
“I am not good by chance but because I have the talent and you can not take away that, I am going to be counted in the league of Bruce and Japheth before I remove my gloves or I am going to die trying,” said Pride.
The goalkeepers’ production line in Zimbabwe has always produced good goalkeepers, who have gone on to do well for themselves, but few have been compared to the short cat. Pride’s height deficiency inevitably invites comparisons with Muparutsa.
And Pride didn’t help matters as kept three clean sheets in a row in his first three games with astounding saves that saw sports writers in Swaziland running into the English language archives in search of superlatives to describe what they had just witnessed.
The cat has been quick to dispel the talk that he is the new Muparutsa. Though he retains similarities with the Dynamos great, just like Muparutsa is lack of height, a disadvantage for many goalkeepers’, is his greatest asset as he makes up for it with unmatchable reflexes and a jump that takes him to the birds.
So far so good, yet many skeptics will refer to many promising players whose flickering flame was extinguished before it turned into an inferno. That said the cat is a better player. As the Swazi MTN league takes a Christmas break, Pride has kept eight clean sheets and has only conceded four goals in 12 games, making giant strides from the previous season where he only managed seven clean sheets out of 20 games.
Some journalists in Swaziland have even gone on to say that Pride is the best goalkeeper in the Swazi MTN league, although flanked by much more experienced players. It is plainly clear that strikers have to think twice when they face him, his agility, flexibility and annoying confidence matched with his handling ability are most of the time too much for the opposing teams.
He has the same reflexes a certain Tapuwa Kapini had at that age but with a better end product.
It is always important not to get too carried away with young players or to expect too much, it’s true he has done well in Swaziland, which is not the same standard as the Zimbabwean and South African Leagues, but he can only play the teams that are put in front of him.
He has already greatly impressed in his stint in foreign lands thus far. Young Zimbabwean players generally create more hype than others in foreign leagues due to the strength of the Zimbabwean league and its ability to produce great players and the danger is that they might get carried away, but it seems that Pride has his feet firmly grounded. He has a strict self imposed curfew; he also remains an avid Christian and does not drink. He is very much a shy young man and prefers to do his talking on the pitch, a breath of fresh air in an age where controversy seems to follow young footballers around.
It is not a question of if he leaves Pirates but when, it has transpired recently that he will most likely leave for the next two as he wants to first become a complete goalkeeper another good sign about the temperament of the boy. It is reported that he snubbed a move to Mbabane Highlanders as he believed that would undermine his rapid development.
Not only did he turn down Highlanders but the Swazi National team as former coach Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba tried his patriotism by trying to talk him to play for Swaziland.
The only blight in Pride’s football journey is that he has failed to represent Zimbabwe in the under 20 and 23 squads and that is not because he is not good enough but because the Young Warriors selectors are wearing blinkers that prevent them from looking beyond the borders.
“All most all the players who have been selected to play for the under 23 were my team mates in the under 17 national team. I was the first choice goalkeeper then but I failed to feature for the team because I did not have proper travelling documents.
“I believe I am good enough to play for the under 23, I am not the best goalkeeper in Swaziland by mistake but because of my hard work and ability. I could have been the Swaziland National first team goalkeeper but I turned the offer down because I want to play for my country and  I am prepared to be a last minute inclusion in under 23 national team that has been called into camp,” said the confident cat.
He is still very slight and needs to bulk up to become a top player but with his raw attributes, he could be moulded into a superstar.
There is no doubt that he is currently the most exciting young player in Swaziland but he is not that publicised because he does not score goals like Knowledge Musona – that is the ugly side of football only goal scorers are glorified.
But there is no doubt that whichever league and club is able to lure him will have a player who, if managed correctly, will eventually become one of the best players in the world and obviously the best thing since sliced bread.

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