GAME ON! with CHAPADONGO LUNGU
COMING up with Zambiaâ€™s golden team of soccer players, from both the current generation and generations gone by, is as complex an issue as the opinions of the thousands, if not millions of soccer fans who have passionately followed football in the country.
Nonetheless, a fair assessment of the qualities of the players can only be made once clear and well-defined criteria or set of standards are developed. This way the readership would be offered opportunity to make their own informed opinions on the matter.
Part of the criteria could be as follows:
1. National and international achievements as players
2. Skill and class
3. Leadership on the pitch
4. National and international popularity
Itâ€™s interesting that since its early days, football has not changed much save for a few rules to protect players and teams against ill-intended practices on the pitch. Itâ€™s important to underscore equally that players have possessed and displayed unique and enchanting qualities, is it skill? Therefore, it would not help the author nor the readership if some information about players that have donned the Zambia national team jersey or indeed those that have enjoyed a part in the Zambian soccer heritage is not provided. Effort will be made to fulfil that obligation.
Debate about who has been Zambiaâ€™s best player has generally narrowed down to two – Godfrey â€œUcarâ€ Chitalu and Kalusha Bwalya.
But there are several other players whose skills were exceptional and whose contribution on the pitch was so riveting that it is impossible to forget them.
Chitalu scored a record 107 goals and is touted, at least locally, as a world-record holder, surpassing the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Pele, Maradona and a host of other greats in the game. Sounds like a joke but it is true.
Kalusha is the only player in southern Africa to have won the African Footballer-of-The-Year award and his performances across the five continents stand out.
Todayâ€™s column has little to do with me; instead itâ€™s for you to express your views about Zambiaâ€™s best 11 players since 1964. Your sentiments will be tallied and the best 11 published four weeks from today.
As a guide, I will run through some names and teams I consider great but you can pick your own.
Some of the best teams are the 1974 squad captained by Dickson Makwaza, that towering central defender who commanded his area with sheer brute and class.
The team had the likes of goalkeeper Emmanuel Mwape, defender Dick Chama, midfielder Boniface Simutowe and striker Bernard Chanda. They came out of the tournament with a silver medal and some say they have been the greatest team ever.
Then there was the 1994 squad under the stewardship of Kalusha, which boasted such talent as James Phiri, Elijah Litana, John Lungu, Johnstone Bwalya and Kenneth â€œBubbleâ€ Malitoli, among others. This team also settled for a silver medal.
Before the 1994 squad, there was the Emmy Musonda-guided team with the likes of Ghost Mulenga, John Kalusa, Fighton Simukonda, Alex Chola, Jack Chanda and Peter Kaumba. This was perhaps a talented collection that came out third at the tournament held in Libya.
Special mention should go to the 2012 squad that conquered Africa when least expected; the team that defied logic and stunned the world as skipper Christopher Katongo lifted the coveted trophy. Herve Renardâ€™s boys bellied extraordinary confidence displayed by the likes of Kennedy Mweene, Stoppila Sunzu, Nathan Sinkala and Emmanuel Mayuka, among a cast of other luminaries.
So, who really deserves to be in the squad? Is the best goalkeeper Emmanuel Mwape or is it Efford Chabala? Or could it be someone else?
Who has been the best right back? Would you settle on Edwin Mbaso or John Kalusa? Would the number 3 position be reserved for Ackim Musenge or Manasseh Mwanza? What about Dick Chama, Dickson Makwaza, Estone Mulenga as best central backs and then Richard Stephenson, Moses Simwala, Willie Phiri, Johnstone Bwalya in midfield?
Does anyone remember Alex Chola, Charles Musonda and Jani Simulambo as quality attacking midfielders? Who has been the best striker? Would you go for Chitalu or Bernard Chanda or indeed Collins Mbesuma?
What about the left wing? Would it be Kalusha, Peter Kaumba or Brighton Sinyangwe?
Having selected your best 11, go further to pick the captain of this greatest team of Zambia. But I reserve the right to pick the coach for the squad. The greatest coach, in my view, was Samuel â€œZoomâ€ Ndhlovu, that master tactician who once made Italy look like amateurs.
Keep the names coming to firstname.lastname@example.org
GAME ON! with CHAPADONGO LUNGU