By Robson Sharuko
HARARE-AFTER 43 years of waiting, CAPS United finally provided a championship-winning coach. The club’s most decorated son, Lloyd Chitembwe, guided the Harare giants to success in the 2016 Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League title race in an explosive and nerve-wrecking finale last Saturday.
The Green Machine beat Chapungu 1-0 at Ascot in Gweru, where they have generally struggled to win – losing 1-2 last year and being thumped 0-3 in 2014. Their past struggles in Gweru had raised FC Platinum’s hopes that the Harare giants would collapse on the last hurdle to give the miners an historic league championship title provided they won their game against Tsholotsho.
The Zvishavane miners were battling the demons of history given that, for 50 years now, no football club from outside Zimbabwe’s main cities of Harare and Bulawayo has ever been crowned league champions. But they went into their final showdown against Tsholotsho with a spring in their step after demolishing former champions Highlanders 3-0 in their last match.
Still, FC Platinum needed CAPS United to drop points in Gweru, but the Harare side calmed the nerves of a huge army of their travelling fans, who invaded the Midlands capital hoping for a party. After taking a second minute lead through striker Simba Nhivi, and, just as they had done in their previous two matches, they held onto that slender advantage to win the championship.
The Green Machine won their final three matches by identical 1-0 margins, scoring early in all the games, and then flexing their defensive muscle to repel the opponents. This saw them earn the nine points, which helped them secure the crown that had been eluding them since their last win in 2005 under coach, Charles Mhlauri.
It was CAPS United’s fifth league title in their 43-year-old history, and they trail their biggest city rivals Dynamos, who have 21 titles, by a country mile in terms of league championships won. But all that mattered little, as the Green Machine family staged the mother of all celebrations in Gweru while impromptu parties erupted across the country.
Interestingly, the club’s first four league titles – in 1979, 1996, 2004 and 2005 – had all been delivered by coaches from outside their stable. Meanwhile, their biggest rivals, Dynamos and Highlanders, largely depended on their own former players who had risen to become coaches, and who would later inspire the two giants to success.
Sunday Chidzambwa, the most successful Zimbabwean coach of all-time, turned Dynamos into serial champions, winning seven championships under his watch. He also led them to the final of the CAF Champions League in 1998 where they lost to Ivorian giants ASEC Mimosa 4-2 on aggregate.
Chidzambwa also became the first coach to guide the Zimbabwe Warriors to the Nations Cup finals, ending the team’s 23-year wait, when they secured a place at the Tunisia 2004 AFCON finals.
David Mandigora, another former Dynamos player, guided the Glamour Boys to league championship success in 2007. The following year, he was also in charge when the team reached the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League.
Moses Chunga, yet another former De Mbare player, guided unfashionable Harare side, Gunners, to the league title in 2009. Rahman Gumbo also guided his old club, Highlanders, to league title honours at the turn of the millennium before going on to win the championship in Malawi and Botswana.
While several former Dynamos and Highlanders players achieved championship success, as coaches, those from the CAPS United camp did not enjoy similar fortunes. Except for Joel Shambo, who came close to winning the title in 1995, at Harare side Blackpool – only to lose the race because his team had scored less goals than Dynamos after they ended the campaign with the same number of points, and goal difference, as the Glamour Boys.
Until last weekend, when Chitembwe celebrated his finest hour at Ascot, not a single former CAPS United son had guided a local club to league championship honours as a coach. And the domestic football family had wondered, for some time now, why the ex-Green Machine players never transformed themselves into very successful coaches.
But all that ended on Saturday when Chitembwe, who won three league titles as a player with CAPS United in 1996, 2004 and 2005, orchestrated the Green Machine’s success story in a landmark season for the Harare side.
CAPS United ended more than half-a-dozen years of failing to beat Dynamos, in a league match, by defeating their rivals 1-0 in their own backyard at Rufaro. This, before CAPS United staged one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the domestic championship by coming back from three goals down in the final five minutes of the reverse tie at the National Sports Stadium, to force a 3-3 draw.
Chitembwe’s CAPS United also did not lose a league match, at home, all season this year. The first time they did that was 20 years ago, under the guidance of former Zimbabwe Saints and Dynamos forward Steve Kwashi, when they won the league championship in 1996. “I pay tribute to the players, who showed remarkable spirit this year and put the interests of the club ahead of everything else,” Chitembwe told The Southern Times.
“They are an amazing bunch of individuals and they deserve their success while the club’s leadership also played a big part while the supporters backed us all the way.
“It feels good to be champions again.”