Ali Baba a genius - Lunga Snr

HARARE - Gift Lunga Senior, knows he would have never played football at the highest level had it not been for Highlanders legendary coach Ali ‘‘Baba’’ Dube, who shaped his career from an early age.

Lunga was virtually unknown when the legendary Bosso juniors coach Dube scouted him from Zimbabwe Saints to join Highlanders as a raw 15-year-old.

But by the time he hung his boots at the turn of the millennium, Lunga had claimed every major honour in local football.

He was also voted as the first runner-up during the 1996 Soccer Star of the Year alongside such great talents like Mercedes Sibanda, Joe Mugabe, George Mbwando, Francis Jeyman, Lloyd Jowa just to mention but a few.

That year saw Dynamos striker Tauya Murewa crowned the Soccer Star of the Year.

But for Lunga, however, all this success could have been impossible without the mentorship of Dube, who is credited for unearthing other Bosso greats such as the Ndlovu brothers — Madinda, Peter and the late Adam, Thulani Ncube, Methembe Ndlovu, the late Benjamin Nkonjera, the late Willard Mashinkila Khumalo, Siza Khosa among a host of stars.

“It was in 1987, when I joined Highlanders Under-16. I still remember the day when Dube, who had come to visit my uncle at home invited me to join Bosso juniors,” Lunga recalls.

“There was no way I would have turned down such an opportunity because playing for Highlanders was every youngster’s dream then. I knew Dube already and what he was capable of doing especially with young talents.

“To me he (Dube) is a great man and you cannot talk of Highlanders yesteryear players without mentioning his name. He was very encouraging and he made us what we are today. I don’t think without his guidance I could have reached anywhere in my career.

“I learned everything I know about football at the highest level from him. I will always be grateful for the chance he gave me and how much he taught me.

“The most important lesson I learned was to show complete determination in every area.”

During the 1990s Bosso had some of the best players to ever emerge in the country, who went on to form the backbone of the national team which became known as the Dream Team under the guidance of the late Germany tactician Reinhard Fabisch.

In their ranks Bosso had the likes of Alex Maseko, Peter Nkomo and Abraham Mbambo.

However, the emerging talent from the junior ranks was undoubted and it was not long before Lunga’s breakthrough finally arrived.

It came in 1990 when a Bosso junior side with the likes of Methembe Ndlovu, Nkonjera and Musawenkosi Masango had just returned from Aberdeen, Scotland for a football festival which had been initiated by Bulawayo City Council.

Then, Lunga was only 18 years and had to settle for a place on the bench as he had to wrestle for places with the likes of Peter and Adam Ndlovu. But that didn’t deter him and following the departure of Peter to England, Lunga went on to establish himself as a prolific goal scorer in the Bosso starting line up later on alongside his cousin Gift “Thebe” Lunga.

“Hey, it was amazing. I was scoring goals, especially deciders for the team. I was coming in as a substitute mostly when I graduated into the first team,” Lunga says.

“We went on to win the championship that same year and it was like a dream come true for me.”

Lunga was the country’s top goal scorer in 1994 which opened the doors for him with the national team.

Lunga’s exploits eventually saw him secure a foreign move to Germany side Bonner SC where he played for a season before coming back to Bosso following a bad injury.

“It was not easy my brother playing in foreign lands. Meeting with new people as well as trying to adapt to new different cultures needed a lot of courage,” Lunga said.

“But I must say I really enjoyed playing in a different environment. Of course it was a Division One side but it was great playing there. The saddest thing is that, my stay there was cut short after suffering an injury. I don’t know where I could have ended had it not for that.”

Lunga finally called it quits after suffering a serious injury against Dynamos in 2000. But despite a sad ending, he felt he had done his part and has no regrets.

“Those who know me very well will always recall the 1994 BP Cup final against Dynamos at the National Sports Stadium. I scored a beautiful goal before probably a capacity crowd and it was amazing. I went on to score 31 goals that season and I could not have wished for more,” he says.

Lunga feels a lot has however, changed during his time and now.

“Those days are gone. We used to have the best players but these days it’s different, players are only concerned about money and not playing the game,” he says.

“The commitment is no longer the same. During our days it was more challenging and competitive to make it into the team. It was actually a big headache to choose players for the national team and even those that would make it on the calendar.”

Lunga is now a qualified coach and in 2006 he won the Premier Soccer League title with Highlanders as assistant to Methembe Ndlovu.

He has also coached Bantu Rovers and is hoping to emulate his exploits on the field of play from the touch line.

Post a comment

Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
- Editor

Your email address will not be shared.