THE two costly blunders that Warriors’ captain Method Mwanjali committed in Cape Verde were met with mixed reactions; some turned red with outrage, some became sad, while for a few who have been there before it was a case of déjà vu - they easily swallowed the bitter pill because they are used to it.
Mwanjali is considered as one of the best defenders of all time to emerge from this land encompassed by two majestic rivers, the Zambezi and the Limpopo. Who cannot admire the elegance that he has introduced into the national team rearguard, the cool, calm, in-your face defending that turned Mamelodi Sundowns’ head?
The old-heads cannot help but compare his style of play to other Roll Royce-type of Warriors’ defenders who also had the privilege to be captains – Thulani ‘Biya’ Ncube and Norman Mapeza.
But waxing lyrically about Mwanjali’s talent is not the rationale of this piece; it is to question his resolve to remain captain after the Cape Verde shame. He should be applauded for sticking to his guns but there is a lot that goes against that decision.
Those who frown upon the move or lack of it believe that Mwanjali will never fully put behind the ghost of Cape Verde. They fear that each time he takes to the field in a Warriors’ jersey he will be a haunted man and because of that, a shadow of his former self.
To them the national team captain’s armband is now a burden that will weigh heavily on Mwanjali diminishing his skill and pace. If he desires to remain that graceful defender whose play is easy on the eye he must shed the armband and pass it to a Warrior unsoiled.
If Mwanjali has a change of heart and leads the Warriors no further, he will not be alone but will find company in a group of past national team greats who quit the captaincy or threw in the towel altogether.
A few of those greats who turned villain spring to mind:
In 1992 the late Warriors shot stopper, John Sibanda, made a horrendous last-minute goalkeeping error that cost Zimbabwe qualification to the Africa Cup of Nations. Fielding the legendary duo of Peter Ndlovu and Moses Chunga for the first time together, Zimbabwe needed a win against Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and was leading 2-1 until Sibanda, all alone and intent on running down the clock, inadvertently threw the ball in his own net.
The match ended 2-2 and Zaire went through to the finals at the expense of Zimbabwe who would wait for another 12 years to make their maiden appearance at the finals. The former Warriors goalkeeper immediately, though reluctantly, retired into coaching.
In 2006 former Warriors’ captain Peter Ndlovu went to AFCON with the sole intention of exorcising the ghost of AFCON 2004 where the national team failed to qualify to the next round despite an impressive display. But it proved futile as Zimbabwe was soundly beaten by Nigeria and Senegal by 2-0 identical score lines.
They won their last match against Ghana 2-1 and Ndlovu felt that he had let the nation down and that compelled him to quit the international game. Those close to him say Ndlovu retired because goals deserted him throughout that tournament unlike the previous one were he was the leading light.
Just last year, Benjani Mwaruwari decided to do a Peter Ndlovu after the goalless draw against Cape Verde at home at the national sports stadium. Booed throughout the match by the fans that had a love-hate relationship with the former Manchester City striker, Benjani, who presided over the Warriors’ worst run from 2006, felt it was time to walk away from it all.
Benjani, who revealed soon after that match that he was turning his attention to club football, admitted that he was on the departure lounge because he had failed to reproduce his rich club form on a national platform.
But what justifies Mwanjali’s attachment to the armband is that unlike Sibanda, Ndlovu and Benjani he still has age on his side – he is 28. He can unravel that pit in his gut and dare scale heights that other disgraced Warriors dared not attempt again.
The defensive-positional play has not suddenly deserted him and it will be harsh to conclude so after one disastrous match. His display for Sundowns makes sure the jury will remain out for seasons. He has shaken off the Warriors disappointment, the momentary rust is not deep rooted as feared.
Odds are for him that he will not fail to fire up and if that happens strikers will hardly have his measure, even as a right back where his pace, sure touch and steady nerves make him hard to beat.
The aura of quasi-invincibility that abandoned him in Cape Verde has not followed him to South Africa. He did not look ordinary, a motivating truth that he eagerly acknowledged.
That is enough reason for him to rest assured that the captain’s armband is his to lose. Unless he proves again and soon … in Warriors colours that he can no longer carry the heavy load of leading the team at the highest level, then it will be precise to suggest that he should have passed the button soon after his Cape Verde tribulations and be content with getting his fill captaining Sundowns instead of entertaining the risk of losing the trust of other national team players.