GAME ON! with CHAPADONGO LUNGU
THE dropping of national soccer team captain Christopher Katongo from the national team marks an end to an era of great success and heralds an unendingly changing horizon.
Love him or loathe him, Katongo holds quite some lofty position in Zambiaâ€™s football history and rates highly.
Rewind and those memories of him lifting aloft the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations trophy in Libreville vividly appear. Wrapped, almost literally, in a sweat-soaked green jersey with striped national colours, Katongo held the trophy firmly and pecked it. The impression is lasting if not everlasting.
As national team captain, Katongo ranks favourably among such greats as Dickson Makwaza and Kalusha Bwalya, both exceptional, in fact, incomparable. Kalushaâ€™s profile as a footballer reverberates from every country in the world and that is why it is difficult to compare him with anyone.
Katongo has had some memorable moments for the national team since scoring a double brace for his club Green Buffaloes against Motema Pembe of Democratic Republic of Congo in 2004.
Since being called to the squad by then coach Kalusha in 2003, Katongo was to become one of the best players, scoring crucial goals at critical moments.
While football may be a team sport and credit usually rubs off to all, Katongo was credited for guiding Zambia to the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana when he grabbed a quickfire hat-trick against South Africa in a crucial qualifier Zambia had to win.
Having lost 0-1 to Bafana at home, Zambia, under Patrick Phiri, faced a challenge of monumental proportion in the return leg and Katongo was equal to the task, blasting Bafana Bafana in their backyard. He was playing for South Africaâ€™s Jomo Cosmos at the time and he was already a household name in that country, having emerged as league top scorer.
It was not the first time Katongo was breaking South Africansâ€™ hearts. He did so at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations in Alexandria, Egypt, when he inflicted defeat on Bafana Bafana with the solitary goal of the match.
Although Zambia were knocked out in the preliminary stage after losing to Tunisia (4-1) and Guinea (2-1), Zambia got some measure of respect by defeating the southern African-mates.
At the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations in Kumasi, Ghana, Katongo was, again, Zambiaâ€™s main man although Zambia again failed to go past the first hurdle. Katongo spared Zambiaâ€™s blushes when he found the net against the Pharaohs of Egypt in that 1-1 draw. Egypt went on to win the title, their second on the trot.
More recently, Katongo was influential in Zambiaâ€™s pursuit for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations title. Of particular importance were his goals against Libya and hosts Equatorial Guinea.
He found the back of the net in the 2-2 stalemate with Libya and got the all-important goal when Zambia edged Equatorial Guinea 1-0 in the group stage match.
The goal against Equatorial Guinea was perhaps one of his best. He swivelled to the right past a forest of legs and fired into the near-post.
He was hailed as skipper-extraordinaire and his employers in the Zambia Army responded with gratitude, promoting him to Warrant Officer Class One.
But after the 2012 outing and his journeys across the globe in search of club football, Katongoâ€™s influence on the team diminished. He was even left out of the starting line-up when Zambia played Burkina Faso at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
But he still had some football in his legs, yet again leading Zambia to a 1-0 victory against Ghana in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, a journey that his team was to fail to complete successfully.
I have deliberately skipped any social escapades because I do not have the competence in that area. I know, though, that Katongo has had brushes with reporters, whom he has accused of wanting to bring him down. This is a perception arising from his failure to manage media relations vis-Ã -vis his overblown pedigree.
In other words, he was blowing his own trumpet and, usually, it eventually hurts.
Quite recently, Katongo told off Evans Kangwa after the striker scored a brace against Uganda. Katongo should have embraced the young man to encourage him to do even better.
His sentiments against Kangwa were widely criticised by stakeholders, especially the media. That is not because they hated him and wanted to bring him down but because he was downrightly wrong. Praising Katongo for his barbed statement against Kangwa would have been equated to celebrating an own goal.
Despite all this, I believe Katongo should be recognised as someone who helped raise Zambiaâ€™s profile, just like thousands if not millions of other Zambians.
It would not be out of place, therefore, for the Football Association of Zambia to organise a farewell match for him just to demonstrate that his release from the team was purely for professional reasons.
Coach Honour Janza should also be praised for taking the bold step. One needs some guts to do that.
For now, letâ€™s allow young players to also show us what they are capable of doing, just like Katongo did 11 years ago when he started off on his journey that ended with 21 national team goals.