Football Sport

Henry Nyambe Mulenga: A hero of our time

ON Lusaka’s Cairo Road, on a wet March afternoon last year, in the lobby of the Protea Hotel, I caught sight of an immaculate man with a beautiful lady by his side.
He wore a beaming smile on his handsome face. His hair was cut to perfection. Henry Nyambe Mulenga!
I had been inundated on social media with messages on when the majestic defender would take to the turf after suffering serious injuries in a fatal road accident in Kabwe in December 2014.
The presence of Nyambe at Protea Hotel was like a heaven sent gift dropped by angel to a football writer.
“Nyambe!” I exclaimed excitedly. I was overjoyed to meet him. It was the first time I was seeing him in flesh since the accident.
“Big man,” he responded with consummate politeness.
We exchanged pleasantries and he introduced his dear wife to me. He was walking virtually unaided. I requested for a selfie. He duly obliged. I then took a few shots of him and his better half.
I promptly shared the photos on my social media Facebook page.
The 2016 season had begun with Zesco United announcing that Nyambe was resuming training and was being assessed.
So at the time I was meeting Nyambe, just a few days before the end of pre-season training, to see him on his feet portended fitness for the new season.
However, in what was a stellar season for the Ndola giants where the then George Lwandamina coached club reached the last four of the lucrative Champions League, Nyambe never made a single appearance.
I don’t even remember him making the bench.
So when Zesco United announced their squad it was with sadness to note that Nyambe was not appearing on the 30-man roster submitted to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for the 2017 Confederation Cup.
The statement indicated that Nyambe had been redeployed to Zesco Limited; the club’s principal sponsors.
Effectively, based on medical advice, this looked like a retirement announcement for the defender who featured at the Africa Cup of Nations final in 2012 which the Chipolopolo won after edging Ivory Coast on penalties in Gabon.
Nyambe entered the fray after the injury of veteran Joseph Musonda and later paved way in the closing stages for the nimble footed Felix Katongo in a tactical switch by then boss Herve Renard.
This tells me of a player who the Frenchman could call upon and use without fuss.
Nyambe demonstrated in that moment the behavior of a player who understands the ethics of a team sport and how important a squad is to winning titles.
He came on the pitch. He did his part. He accepted his substitution with grace.
The redeployment means Nyambe has not sufficiently recovered to continue playing the game he loves for the time being or ever.
I remember watching Nyambe come to the fore with the Zambia under-20 in the Canada 2007 FIFA World Youth Championship.
I woke up in wee hours to catch the action and Lwandamina’s boys made the second round of the tournament won by Argentina as Sergio Aguero emerged the star of the show.
A tough defender who wore his heart on his sleeve for Zambia causes, Nyambe was extremely uncompromising in the country colours picking up a few red cards.
It must not be lost on us that the tragic accident in which Nyambe broke his leg occurred when he was travelling to Lusaka to join the national team that was preparing for the 2015 Equatorial Guinea Africa Cup of Nations.
In a typical tough defender pattern, I hear Nyambe is reluctant to retire from football despite the latest setback.
Nyambe reportedly told Radio Icengelo: “Miracles do happen to any person. The doctor may say I can’t play but you may find me running and playing football. My career was not supposed to end in this manner. I am not giving up on playing. Miracles do happen so I may play again.
“I have been missing playing. I have been missing playing since I sustained the injury. I want to play but there is nothing I can do. The club [Zesco United] has helped me a lot.
It is just that what has happened to me is a difficulty for me to understand”.
When the history of this great footballing nation is scripted and archived, the folklore shall include the name Henry Nyambe Mulenga. He was part of the Zambia national team that won the Africa Cup for the first time.
On the local scene, Nyambe shall certainly be missed in club commitments. This is no time to write his career obituaries but wish the star his heart’s desire in his faith.
When next I meet the 29-year-old in flesh, I will simply eulogise him with a greeting: “Hello, Nyambe, a hero of our time!”

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