NOT so long ago, the local game was blessed with what can only be described as a treasure trove of rare talents.
Desmond “Gazza” Maringwa at Dynamos. Johannes “Tshisa” Ngodzo at Highlanders. Joel “Josta” Ngodzo at Highlanders, FC Platinum and Caps United. And all represented the nation admirably. At some point in their individual careers all were voted Soccer Star of the Year Finalists and it was no wonder that Josta was crowned the King of Zimbabwean football in 2019.
These three extraordinary talents were almost lost to Zimbabwean football. All three suffered similar injuries, yet were able to come back and dazzle the crowds.
Seemingly without effort, this trio of midfield generals illuminated stadiums across the country and Africa at large.
They had lots in common: classic control of the ball, a passing range straight out of this world, and an eye for that beauty of a goal when it mattered in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans.
All three suffered knee injuries that could have ended an ordinary soul’s career on the spot. They were all young and just breaking into their strides as class professional footballers. In fact, for them it was all within the first five years of the said careers.
Maringwa, who had the world at his feet and destiny within his grasp, saw his life change dramatically when he suffered a serious injury in 2000.
However, he recovered to play in the Caf Champions League and lifted three domestic league titles in DeMbare colours. However, Gazza was never the same and, at the end of 2012, he retired from the game as he could not go on.
When Maringwa was injured in 2000, he was on the verge of landing a move to Spanish side, Celta Vigo. The Spanish side wanted him to replace the departing Claude Makelele, who was leaving for Real Madrid.
“I had a great opportunity to move to Celta Vigo because they wanted a replacement for Makelele, who was leaving for Real Madrid, and the coach had settled for me and everything was being sorted out in the background and I was really excited about making a breakthrough,” Maringwa recently recalled in an interview with The Herald.
“Unfortunately, I had that injury and it changed everything and today I can only wonder what might have been if things had not happened the way they happened but we live a life where we don’t have control of everything that happens to us. There is, indeed, a sense of regret because I could have done more as a football player, in terms of my career, but then what can I do, things happened and you have to live with that, even though it hurts,” he said.
With Tshisa, it is exactly 18 years after he limped off while on national duty in an Afcon qualifier against Eritrea.
He limped off during a June 3, 2003 match which the Warriors, under Sunday Chidzambwa, won 2-0 at the National Sports Stadium through a Peter Ndlovu brace as they marched towards their maiden Afcon finals appearance in Tunisia.
Due to the injury, Tshisa, who was a key member of the team alongside his Bosso teammates Thulani Ncube, Dazzy Kapenya and Richard Choruma, missed the trip to Tunisia.
Even though he made a recovery from the injury, he was never the same player who dazzled the local football scene with his deft touches.
“I have heard all this nonsense that I was injured while playing social soccer in my hood,’’ Tshisa recently told Chronicle Sport.
“People can always say what they want but the truth is that I sustained that injury while representing my country. It’s just unfortunate, and even painful, that people would say such unsubstantiated claims. Those close to me know and are aware that I was injured on national team duty, the other talk is just from people who have their own unknown agenda,’’ he added.
Once touted as the answer to the country’s playmaking role predicament, Joel who just like his elder brother Johannes was endowed with equal power and prowess in both feet, suffered a career-threatening knee injury at a tender age.
He had burst onto the football scene in 2010, showing great promise with many expecting him to eclipse his brother, but the injury and the player’s indiscipline made a comeback difficult.
However, like Maringwa and Johannes, he rose from the ashes. But it was not that easy.
In 2014, three years after he had broken the domestic league transfer record when he crossed from Highlanders to FC Platinum in 2011, Josta had to be “put on a strict diet to shed weight”.