Unlucky as a player but luckier as a coach

HARARE - As a player, Melusi “Mabaleka” Sibanda was a utility player who could play in different positions in defence and in midfield.

 While this versatility was a bonus for his coaches, it proved to be a big disadvantage for the player who would spend most of his time on the bench while being reserved as a fixer.

 And as a result, Mabaleka was never a regular at his boyhood club Highlanders with whom he won four league championships. This led to some talk that he was an unlucky player as he would at times not even make the team despite doing a good job in the previous match, when he would have been called upon to fill in for an out of form colleague.

 “I used to sit down with my father and let him know that football fans kept telling me that I was unlucky but he always told me that was not true and I should just continue playing my game,” Sibanda says.

 “People would tell me that I needed to be cleansed traditionally but I am a member of the Seventh –Day Adventist Church and I never took up that route. I do think that I was unlucky as a footballer though, because even today I cannot explain how I broke my leg in 2004 and even at national teams I would find myself being dropped at the last minute.”

 One incident that has remained etched in the minds of Highlander fans as a classic example that Sibanda needed some form of intervention in his career was in the year 2000, when Bosso played against Seychelles outfit St Michel in the African Champions League preliminary rounds.

 In the first game of the two-legged tie, Highlanders played at home and a diminutive midfielder named Clovis Gave Highlanders left-back Gift Lunga a torrid time. After realising the danger posed by Clovis, the Bosso technical team drafted Sibanda into the team to replace Lunga for the second leg.

Sibanda rose to the challenge and did an exceptional job of shutting out the Malagasy danger man but, in the next round when Highlanders where up against Young Stars of Tanzania, he found himself on the sidelines and Bosso were made to pay the price.

 After a 3-3 draw in Tanzania, Yanga came to Barbourfields and created an avenue on the Bosso left flank, scored twice before the match was abandoned because of crowd trouble as the home side’s fans threw missiles onto the pitch in disgust.

 Sibanda was surprisingly not even on the bench and right back Noel Kaseke had to shift to left back to try and do some damage control.

 Frustrated by his failure to command a regular first team jersey, Sibanda left for CAPS United in 2003 where he only played a handful of  games towards the end of the season, after being sidelined by a contractual dispute between Bosso and Makepekepe.

 In 2004 he returned to Highlanders but his woes continued as he suffered a career threatening injury.

 After years on the sidelines, Sibanda joined Lancashire Steel in 2007 and the club sent him to their sister club Ziscosteel where he played for a single season before making his way back to Highlanders in 2008 as juniors coach.

 He was in charge of the Under-17 side that won the championship in the Bulawayo Province Junior Football League after winning 29 games out of 30, with the other match being a draw.

 In 2009, Sibanda moved to Bantu Rovers where he was put in charge of the juniors’ setup.

 “People may say that I was unlucky as a player but it is a different story as a coach because I am doing well,” Sibanda said.

 “I have won the championship at Highlanders with the under-17s, a feat that I repeated at Bantu when we won the championship with the Under-14 and Under-18 sides in 2010.”

 Sibanda started playing football at ZRP Stops in 1992 before joining Highlanders juniors in the following year.

 At Highlanders juniors he won the Castle Cup in 1993 after a 2-1victory over Dynamos. And a couple of years later he was on the losing side when the Highlanders under 19 team lost 1-3 to Black Rhinos in the Castle Cup.

 He was promoted into the Highlanders senior team in 1998 alongside the likes of Siza Khoza and was chosen as the most disciplined player at the club for the 1998-99 season.

 Sibanda has worked with the Bantu Rovers senior team and the Bulawayo Province Under-20 squad.

 He is currently in charge of Bulawayo Province Division One campaigners FMH Academy but says his ultimate wish is to one day be the head coach at his boyhood club Highlanders. -  Sakheleni Nxumalo

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