Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
METHOD Mwanjali turned 36 yesterday, the remaining symbol of those two titanic Harare Derby battles 10 years ago when a striker came of age and a defender’s time on the big stage effectively came to an agonising end.
Nyasha Mushekwi’s three goals in those two league matches in 2009, including a brace in the first game at Rufaro, is viewed by some as the moment his transformation from a basketball star into a decent footballer was completed.
Defender Sam Mutenheri’s annihilation at the hands of a marauding Oscar Machapa down the right channel of the DeMbare defence in the first duel was as cruel as they come on such big occasions and he never recovered from that battering.
While Mushekwi soon left on a foreign crusade that would take him to South Africa, Sweden, Belgium and China, Mutenheri’s career went into a free-fall, and his time in such good company of the domestic football heavyweights, was over.
Mwanjali was a big part of that Green Machine team which won the first game 2-0 at Rufaro in April before, to their credit, Dynamos found a way to fight back for their pride and their fans when they drew 1-1 in the reverse fixture in August where they even took the lead through Benjamin Marere.
A second half strike by Mushekwi handed Makepekepe a share of the spoils.
Ten years later, Mwanjali is still part of the CAPS United player roster and his 36th birthday yesterday came just a day after a Manchester Derby which exploded with raw passion, paraded the full intensity of the rivalry between the United and City, and provided another reminder of the Harare Derby we once had.
The Citizens triumphed 2-0 on that night at Old Trafford to once again assume control of Europe’s best league title race this season.
It was a typically intense derby, a throwback to a time when Harare had its version of such a premier contest, of course not on the grand levels of the epic battle the world saw on Wednesday night.
On the eve of the Manchester Derby, DeMbare had fired their coach, Lloyd “MaBlanyo’’ Chigowe, after just four league matches into the new season, blaming the gaffer for the three consecutive losses they had suffered in the marathon, and the defeat in the Independence Cup final.
And, just a few hours before the Old Trafford showdown, the Glamour Boys had unveiled Tonderai Ndiraya as their new coach, just three seasons after they let him go, despite a brave campaign in the league in which his men showed signs of life and promised a lot for the future.
The DeMbare bosses said they could not wait to crack the whip and most of the pressure came from the solid start which their biggest city rivals, Makepekepe, have made to the championship campaign with two wins, a draw against Bosso at Barboufields, and a clean sheet in 270 minutes of action.
Mwanjali, who has played in South Africa and Tanzania before returning for his swansong campaign at home, has marshalled the defence in all those three opening matches.
“Our former captain is the main reason we are yet to concede in this year’s PSL campaign,’’ CAPS United screamed on their Twitter handle yesterday.
Interestingly, on Wednesday night MaBlanyo said things would have turned out differently if he had been granted his wish to get two defenders from West Africa he had targeted to help Dynamos.
Of course, the Harare Derby doesn’t come around until towards the end of the first half of the season and, hopefully, the Glamour Boys would have recovered to find their touch to make it an explosive showdown again.
That’s the least they could do for their fans who have suffered badly in recent years, and when they look beyond the line that divides the capital into blue and red, come face-to-face with a CAPS United side still to concede a league goal this season.
“Method Mwanjali is the best defender in the country,’’ Alois Bunjira, the footballer-turned-pundit who once starred for the Green Machine, claimed on Twitter. He has all the qualities of the modern defender — marking, tackling, positioning, comfort on the ball, passing long and short, cool leadership qualities, energy of a 27-year-old.’’
That, of course, will be tested by time, but here’s a toast to the Yellowman, the 36-year-old at the back who could be marking the 36-year-old Duduza in the Harare Derby.