Zimbabwe Premier league is currently not among attractive or lucrative leagues in Africa or the world over due to poor financial benefits, but in the mid 80s right through the league’s inception in 1993 up to late 90s, Zimbabwe used to be a favorite destination for players from mostly – Malawi and Zambia – who flocked in their numbers in search of greener pastures.
According to legendary football commentator and analyst Charles Mabika who is no doubt Zimbabwe’s football encyclopedia, having started his football commentary in the mid 1980s – Mabika is regarded by many as the voice of football in Zimbabwe.
He is the go to man for any historical fact or statistic of Zimbabwean football that might arise.
Having had the opportunity to watch many talented foreign players like John Maduka, Hadji Tambala, Robert N’gambi (Malawi); Ian Bakala, Billy Chikabala, Dabwitso Nkomah, Francis Kasanda, Clive Mwale (Zambia); Athuman Mambosasa (a 6ft 7in giant ‘keeper from Tanzania who had a short stint at Dynamos); Geoff Wheeler (United States). Then there was Chewe Mulenga (Zambia), a very good striker from Zambia who ended up as top scorer with Railstars in 2000. Francis Kasanda, George Owusu and more recently Sylvester Appiah, Emmanuel Paga, Martin Ofori (Ghana); Albert Eonde (Cameroon); Alex Orotomal (Nigeria), Mabika has provided us with the Top 10 ranking of the best foreign players to ever grace Zimbabwean football.
Here is the list:
10- Carles Chilufya (Zambia) – Popularly known as “The Chief” because he reigned supreme in the middle of the park for his club Highlanders after he arrived in 2000.
Now late, Chilufya was one of the most popular players at Bosso during his illustrious stay there and was a swashbuckling operator who was a marvel to watch when Bosso were on the attack and the lean-framed entertainer also added some exquisite finishes to his impressive resume.
9- Webster Chikabala (Zambia) – Oh, how true is that adage: “dynamite comes in small packages” is because this is exactly what this late Mhangura side’s player/coach was. As strong as an ox and a diminutive midfielder, Chikabla led by example at the now-defunct copper-mining side.
When he gained possession, he would direct operations with both his hands and loud instructions as the exciting outfit built up an attack. He just loved his game and would also be a darling of the media at Press conferences because just like one Jose Mourinho, Chikabala would have the whole house in stitches with his tingling connotations.
8-Andrew Shue (United States) – A bow-legged midfield Trojan horse who played for Bosso in the 90s. Undoubtedly the most famous player to parade his abilities in our top league following his colourful Hollywood career where he played Billy, one of the main characters in a high-grossing American soap opera titled Melrose Place, which followed the lives of a group of young adults living in an apartment complex called Melrose Place.
Shue, who was here in a Zimbabwe/US cultural exchange programme, featured for Highlanders during seasonal breaks of his show.
As impressive as he was before the Hollywood cameras, he also shone like a beacon during his time at the Bulawayo club with some outstanding performances that were underlined with his compact marking and close ball control. He was always ready to sign autographs every weekend after a game at Barbourfields or away from the City of Kings and Queens. Shue also played for the popular LA Galaxy side during his acting career.
7-Christian Epouopa-Ntouba (Cameroon) – A gem of a forward who delighted the Dynamos fans with his articulate finishes from in and outside the box during his one-season wonder tenure in 2018.
Left the club acrimoniously after he claimed that the Harare giants owed him a huge amount in signing-on and bonuses and went to Botswana.
A bull terrier for opposition defences and tricky customer especially in one-on-one situations. Nicknamed “Nyakanyaka” by the Glamour Boys fans because that’s simply what he would cause upfront — total mayhem! A sharp-witted centre forward who would evade tackles with mesmerising ease before slamming or “passing” the ball into the back of the net.
6- Mark Watson (Britain) – A mustachioed, pencil-slim and slippery forward who starred for Bosso soon after the attainment of Independence and decided to settle here after he hung up his boots in the late 80s. A top-of-the-range opportunist whose specialty was in the mould of a modern day Jamie Vardy whose trait of running behind opposition defenders to create openings for passes and slam home from any angle was also Watson’s hallmark.
Nicknamed “Lord Soames” after the last British governor in a pre-independent Zimbabwe (Lord Arthur Soames). Was a fan favourite during his exciting stay at the club.
5- Ferdinard Mwachindalo (Zambia) – An industrious midfielder who is still the longest-serving foreigner to ply his trade here when he starred for Masvingo United in the 90s until the turn of the new millennium.
A gritty workhorse who was difficult to shake off the ball after winning possession and was the heartbeat of the Yuna Yuna midfield. Quiet and unassuming during the entire 90 minutes and let his forays into enemy zone do all his talking. Didn’t score many goals from his deep positions but loved to try his luck from corner kicks where he would pull the trigger from any loose balls.
Mwachindalo was very instrumental in Masvingo United’s stunning run in 2005 – a year in which the team finished second behind CAPS United and won the OK Woza Bhora and the ZIFA Unity Cup.
He Is credited for mentoring Warriors and Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder Esrom Nyandoro, whom he played and won the 2003 league title with at Amazulu.
4- Sandras Kumwenda (Zambia) – An exciting, high-powered marksman who churned out chilling finishes for the Dynamos fans to celebrate week in and out during his stay there in the late 90s and at the turn of the new millennium.
Nicknamed “Chopper” because of his striking resemblance to the late local sungura music king, Simon Chimbetu, who had the original nickname, Kumwenda was an intelligent forward who would peel away from his markers and also possessed some close shielding abilities and a sudden acceleration of speed as he bore down on goal before unleashing some stupendous executions.
3- Laughter Chilembe (Zambia) – Arguably the finest defender ever to come from a foreign land. At first glance, any big opposing striker would laugh at Chilembe’s small stature but the former would quickly realise his folly and re-adjust after one or two uncompromising tackles from the former Zambian international.
Chilembe was amazing especially in the air because he would amazingly outjump the bigger and taller forwards of the opposition. He was also an intelligent customer who wouldn’t just belt the ball away after winning a tussle but would set up attacks for his forwards with long and clever launches.
2- Joseph Kamwendo (Malawi) – A smooth midfield gladiator at CAPS United who still holds the record of being the only foreigner to be voted as the country’s Soccer Star of the Year upon his arrival in 2005 and churned out an exhilarating performance for the pharmaceutical side.
An attacking operator who would pierce the opposition rearguard at will and could also score sublime finishes. A skilful ball player who was also an expert at dead ball situations. His repertoire was swiftly noticed by the scouts of top Danish side FC Norrdsjaelland who snapped him up from Zimbabwe just 12 months after his amazing stint with the Green Machine.
1- Derby Mankinka (Zambia) – Oh, what a genius this midfielder was! He arrived in 1991, brought here by former Darryn T and Warriors coach, Wieslaw Grabowski, who had nurtured him when he was coaching the Zambian youth squads.
An attacking midfield magician who was a marvel to watch when controlling the ball in mid-air with his whole body off the turf before hypnotically threading a pass through for his forwards. Every opposing fan who had an opportunity to watch this wizard will admittedly reveal to you that he or she were unashamedly jerked up from their seats to applaud a goal manufactured or scored by Mankinka against their team! Yes, that’s how special and creative this mercurial artist was.
The late Makinka played just under a third of the games for Darryn T in 1991, before he left for Europe, but he had done enough to claim a place on the Soccer Star of the Year calendar
When Mankinka was in the Darryn T squad everyone knew that he would be the one to make things happen… and boy, did he make things happen for the textilers! He was also a gifted dribbler who could waltz his way past an entire defence like a stroll in the park. He was sadly, member of the delightful Zambian squad that perished off the Gabon coast in 1993 when their plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean on their way to a 1994 World Cup qualifier against Senegal, killing all passengers on board.