Wariors left back, Devine Lunga, has with no doubt risen from the favelas thanks to two guiding lights, his mother and his first coach, who have kept his feet firmly on the ground.
Siphambaniso Dube, the director of Mpopoma-based Ajax Hotspurs, the junior club where Lunga played his first competitive games, almost wells up with emotion when he tells B-Metro Sport about his former charge.
Dube says he was the least surprised of anyone when the boyfaced wonder exploded on to the world football scene with the Warriors against Egypt a fortnight ago in a game he mercilessly stopped Liverpool forward Mohammed Salah.
“I started coaching Devine Lunga while he was still at the age of 10. The other coach at Ajax Hotspurs was Gugulethu Dlomo who is still with Ajax Hotspurs. I always knew he would turn out to be a top professional.
When we had him as a boy I predicted he would turn pro, play for
Zimbabwe and I believed he would get big.
“At Ajax Hotspurs we have never stopped to believe. It was a marvel to watch the boy shut out one of the best players in Africa. I have always reckoned that Salah is the African version of Messi and I was overjoyed to see our own product at Ajax Hotspurs stop him,” said Dube.
Dube, an unsung junior football development manager, who also saw Highlanders duo Peter Muduhwa and Mbongeni “Mbola” Ndlovu pass through the Ajax Hotspurs junior ranks, said:
“A journey back to where it all began for Lunga reinforces the scope of his talent and the speed of his rise.
It all happened exactly as I knew it would as he proved to be an exceptional player from a very tender age. He even captained our
Division Two team at the age of 16 before he was signed by Chicken Inn.”
According to Dube, by all accounts the young left-back, fondly known as Magaya in his neighbourhood, did not need much coaching, only a little love and support. Thankfully, he has always been guided by people with his best interests at heart.
Following his stellar performance in that 2019 Africa Cup of Nations opener, Lunga’s impact forced Ronald Pfumbidzai on to the bench only to be ruled out of the last Warriors’ Group A match against Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) due to a knee injury.
Mpopoma’s Bango Ground is an unsurfaced pitch and this is where Lunga’s football education started; stopping strikers, dodging defenders and midfielders double his size in the dust with so much aplomb.
Fast forward to June 2019, deep in the bowels of the 75 000-seater Cairo International Stadium, according to the Egypt versus Zimbabwe match statistics, Lunga managed a 72 percent pass accuracy, with two key passes, four out of seven key passes, and two out of three complete dribbles as he kept Egypt’s cult football hero Salah in check for most periods in the match.
While the task of marking Salah would have been a nerve-wrecking experience for many, Lunga, said he was never intimidated.
“Salah is a player who can create a goal any second, so the plan was to stay with him.
I was instructed to go with him if he cut inside (on his stronger left foot) or show him outside (to his weaker right foot).
That was the task for me,” said the 24-year-old Golden Arrows defender.