TO some fans, he remains the ultimate symbol of football royalty — their superstar, the player of their dreams, a magician who transformed fantasy into reality.
By Robson Sharuko
But, to others, he is just a rebel.
The one who first clashed with the ZIFA leaders, challenging the officials to pay the Warriors decent wages, or they should forget calling him to fly back home to ‘’play for peanuts.’’
The spiky hair, the gapped teeth, the raw facial features have all disappeared, as the years pile on, but the confidence, which borders on arrogance, still remain.
Then, just like now, it’s hard to convince him the domestic football production machinery has ever produced anyone more talented than him. And, like Muhammad Ali before him, he still calls himself “The Greatest.’’
Bambo to some, Razorman to others, he still moves with a swagger, as if to remind us of what he used to be, back in the days, when his football skills, catapulted him into a Dynamos legend and a Warriors captain.
A pioneering star, he was the first Zimbabwean footballer, to be transferred directly from a local side to a European club, after Independence.
Thirty years ago, Chunga produced his finest display, for his country, with a virtuoso midfield show, taking the role of playmaker to another level, as he inspired the Warriors to a 4-0 destruction of Malawi in a ’92 AFCON qualifier. Handed the free role to conduct the orchestra, open the defence and provide the chances for a battery of exciting young forwards, who had emerged on the scene, Chunga was virtually unplayable that afternoon, on April 14, 1991.
He scored one of the goals as the Warriors completed their demolition mission with further goals from the late Adam Ndlovu and a double from Henry ‘’Bully’’ McKop,
Chunga was just 25.
And, after a complicated relationship with ZIFA officials, which had strained his romance with the Warriors, this was supposed to be the golden moment, which was set to kick-start his love affair with the national team.
A maiden qualification for the AFCON finals would have sealed the deal but the campaign came off the rails, just three months later, in heartbreaking fashion, at the National Sports Stadium. Needing victory over Congo-Brazzaville, to take control of the qualifying process, with just another match against Malawi remaining, Chunga and Peter Ndlovu combined to push the Warriors within touching distance of victory.
The Warriors led 2-1, through goals from McKop and Adam Ndlovu, with just a minute left in regulation time when the late goalkeeper, John Sibanda, made a mess of what should have been a routine save.
The 2-2 draw swung the pendulum, in favour of the Congolese, and the image of Chunga and Peter, in tears in their dressing room, captured the pain of a nation.
For Chunga, although no one appeared to know it then, his international career was virtually over, just three months short of his 26th birthday.
While Peter went on to make 100 appearances for his country, scoring a record 38 goals, and taking his Warriors to their first two AFCON finals, Chunga’s international career fizzled out after that winter of ’91.
With Reinhard Fabisch insisting he had to prove his fitness, at a time when injuries were haunting him, and the Dream Team having found a way to fly without him, Chunga became the forgotten man of the Warriors.
His adventure with Eendracht Aalst had also ended, with injuries bringing their special relationship to a premature end, although the Belgians have never forgotten their hero, honouring him with the freedom of their city.
For Chunga, there was a remaining piece of business, a grand farewell show with his beloved Dynamos, which came exactly 26 years ago.
Although he was still only 30, injuries had taken their toll. And, while he was no longer the dashing free-spirited star whose brilliance, in the ‘80s, had provided the Glamour Boys with a football god, he still had a bit of magic still left in his boots.
He converted the penalty, in the 1-0 victory in the first leg of the ’95 CAF Champions Cup quarter-final against Express, in Uganda.
And, in the second leg, at the National Sports Stadium, he rose from the bench to score a beauty, taking the ball on his chest, and then volleying it home, from distance, for the equaliser.
However, the Ugandans scored again and won the contest on away goals rule.
For Chunga, it was as if lightning had struck twice, after his goal, from a free-kick, in the second leg of the quarter-final of the same tournament, in 1997, gave Dynamos the advantage in their bruising battle against Canon Yaounde of Cameroon. At that moment, the Glamour Boys, who had lost the first leg 1-2 in Yaounde, were leading on the away goals rule.
But, the visitors got their priceless away goal and DeMbare’s adventure ended.
While Chunga’s legendary status isn’t in doubt, some questions have to be asked, 35 years since he was crowned the finest footballer on the domestic scene.
Did Chunga’s career touch the heights, which his special talent deserved, or the curse of injuries meant the fans only just saw a glimpse of what could have been from this genius?
If Kalusha Bwalya, who was in Belgium at the same time like Chunga, used his adventure there as a springboard to join the then European champions PSV Eindhoven, en-route to being crowned African Footballer of the Year in 1988, could Chunga also have taken a smilar route and moved a step higher?
If he was good enough, to be invited for trials by one of the greatest coaches this game has ever seen, the late Brian Clough, doesn’t that suggest Chunga’s European adventure should have gone a notch higher than a dance with a Belgian second-tier league side?
If he was good enough to be invited for trials at Nottingham Forest, who had just won the European Cup in 1979 and 1980, doesn’t that suggest Chunga’s talent probably cried for a bigger stage in Europe than just the Belgian second-tier league?
Did the Warriors get the best out of Chunga, to the extent he can be included among the top 10 players to wear the national side’s jersey, and be described as one of their legendary players, or the two parties’ complicated relationship destroyed what should have been a beautiful romance?
Are those critics, who say they would rather describe Chunga as a Dynamos legend, than a Warriors legend, justified or they are just trying to find ways of settling scores with a man, and a genius, they have failed to understand over the years?
Thirty years after his finest show, in the Warriors’ colours, and 35 years after his finest hour, as the king of domestic football, Chunga still divides opinion.
No one can dare question he was a genius, the challenge, it seems, is where to really place him. Of course, don’t try to ask him because, as far as he is concerned, he is ‘’The Greatest,’’ and there are many who also believe he is right. – Herald