FOR according them a chance to turn out for one of the country’s biggest clubs, CAPS United, the team’s late ex-coach, Steve “The Dude” Kwashi holds a special place in the hearts of a trio that traces its roots to Manicaland Province–Alois “Gazza” Bunjira, Lloyd Chitembwe and Joseph “Shabba” Takaringofa.
The history-making gaffer, who led MaKepeKepe to their first league crown after independence in 1996, died at his home in Harare last week due to suspected Covid-19 complications.
He was buried at Glen Forest Cemetery in Harare.
Kwashi was 67.
The late tactician was famed for assembling the juggernaut that steamrolled past opponents powered by the talents of the likes of skipper, Silver “Bhonzo” Chigwenje, Joe “Kode” Mugabe, Bunjira and his “partner-in-destruction”, Stewart “Shutto” Murisa, Chitembwe, Morgan Nkathazo and Farai “Mr Perfect” Mbidzo, among others.
To underline its dominance, the side produced four 1996 soccer star-of-the-year finalists on the prestigious “calendar”, with “Shutto”, “Gazza”, “Kode” and “Mr Perfect” making the cut, while Chitembwe narrowly missed out after being disqualified under controversial circumstances.
Murisa scooped the top gong.
And it was under the tutelage of “The Dude” that the triumvirate of Bunjira, Chitembwe and Takaringofa flourished, rising to national prominence at the Harare giants.
That all-conquering Green Machine has been widely touted as one of the best in the club’s storied history.
As they blazed a trail by winning domestic honours, the side restored CAPS United’s reputation as the Cup Kings of local football by lifting the league,Charity Shield, BP Cup, Charity Shield and Independence Trophy.
The memories of that glorious chapter under Kwashi will linger longer for Bunjira.
“Here is one man who was undoubtedly a visionary and it is no surprise that CAPS United were successful under him, especially in 1996. He was forward-thinking and an exceptional organiser who surrounded himself with the right people to achieve set targets.
“Some people in key roles attributed to the success of the efficient unit the coach had created in the team. I remember during that time Kwashi roped in Themba Mliswa as our fitness trainer because he realised the importance of this aspect of the game.
“Then on the administration side there were people like the late Shepherd Bwanya (chairman) and Wellington Dangarembizi (secretary general),” said the retired gunslinger whose 23 strikes earned him the 1996 Golden Boot accolade.
Bunjira, a sharpshooting marksman in his heyday,also attributed his ex-club’s success to Kwashi’s selfless dedication to duty during his reign.
Said the former forward: “The coach (Kwashi) was clear about his plans and would do everything in detail. The training sessions at the ground were for the tactical and technical drills and on match days he would turn into a great motivator both on the touchline and in the dressing room.
“He valued the contribution of others and would delegate some duties to his assistant, Antony Kambani. That shows how smart and intelligent he was. As such a smooth operator, he earned success through the meticulous arrangement of his work and not by luck.”
He added that he has no regrets for crossing the floor from Blackpool to CAPS United after Kwashi lured him as that stint defined the best days of his playing time.
For Chitembwe, Kwashi’s impact on him was so profound that he learned the intricacies of being an effective and successful coach from the late trainer.
“He moulded me as both a player and a coach. I picked a lot of the trade’s elements from him because he was very accommodative as a mentor. My growth in the craft borrowed a lot from him and we became close; no wonder even up to today I still enjoy a wonderful working relationship with his son Tostao.
“I owe a lot to Kwashi, from the day he persuaded me to join CAPS United upon my return from Europe in 1995 to the trophies we won together as well as the valuable tips and advice he always shared with me,” said Chitembwe, who repeated the heroic championship-winning exploit for MaKepKepe in 2016, exactly 20 years after Kwashi’s historic feat.
Kwashi’s affinity for young talent saw him sign Takaringofa from Zupco Mutare following the player’s brief and successful spell with the now defunct Mutare-based1993 Castle Cup champions, Tanganda.
It was the late mentor who brought another prodigious talent from the eastern border city — the late Blessing “Yogo-Yogo” Makunike to the Harare giants.
Takaringofa, who has now also turned to coaching, paid glowing tribute to his former mentor who conscripted him when he was hardly out of his teens.
“With the sad passing on of Kwashi, the local football fraternity is getting thinner and thinner in terms of football expertise because we are losing some of the best brains in the game.
“Junior football development was a subject close to his heart. He loved to see the game grow and develop. True to upholding that, the gaffer brought me to Harare alongside Yogo-Yogo (the late Blessing Makunike).
“I hold only pleasant memories of my time at CAPS United under my ex-gaffer and all the success we enjoyed together,” said Takaringofa, who is one of the assistant coaches at MaKepekepe.