Thirty years later, we still wait for the arrival of another gem like King Peter

The Class of ’89 spearhead, Peter Ndlovu, could collect his third championship medal in the South African Premiership today, exactly 30 years after he announced his grand arrival on the domestic football scene at the inaugural Copa Coca-Cola schools tournament.

Thirty years later, we still wait for the arrival of another gem like King Peter
WARRIORS FOR LIFE . . . Peter Ndlovu (left) and Khama Billiat are some of the finest players to wear the golden shirt of the Warriors who, next month, will take part in their fourth AFCON finals, opening the grand football festival with a date against hosts Egypt

The man who became King, showed the world elephants could fly, briefly made his country dream of parading its flag at the FIFA World Cup finals and finally helped the Warriors end more than two decades of waiting for a dance at the AFCON finals, has come of age.

Four years before he joins the club of Golden Jubilees, King Peter and his Mamelodi Sundowns team are on the verge of yet another piece of domestic silverware in South Africa, with a victory today giving them back-to-back championships, just a week after their CAF Champions League dreams were extinguished.

The Brazilians need a victory against Free State Stars at Goble Park in Bethlehem, but a draw or a loss could open the door for Orlando Pirates, who host Polokwane City in Soweto, with the Buccaneers still smarting from two dropped points in Cape Town which could prove costly.

King Peter has been the Sundowns team manager since July 2013 and, should the Brazilians emerge triumphant today, it will be the Flying Elephant’s third league championship crown in South Africa after similar success stories in 2014 and 2016.

They also won their maiden CAF Champions League title three years ago after a 3-1 aggregate win over Egyptian powerhouse Zamalek.

If the Brazilians clear the final hurdle today, in what has been an engrossing South African Premiership race, it will provide King Peter with a fitting triumph to mark the 30th anniversary of the year his remarkable football talents first came to the fore at a schools’ tournament in his hometown of Bulawayo.

Back in 1989, he was just a 16-year-old Mzilikazi High schoolboy known, principally, around his school and the community he grew up in Makokoba.

But, all that changed when, displaying skills that made a mockery of his young age, Peter dominated the inaugural Copa Coca-Cola tournament in Bulawayo, inspiring Mzilikazi to a 3-1 success in the final against an equally powerful Manunure High School of Kwekwe, scoring one of the goals in that game.

The late Benjamin Nkonjera, who later became Peter’s best friend, also scored in that final for Mzilikazi while, the defeated Manunure, also featured Kennedy Nagoli.

“It’s something which comes into my mind, even today, because of the level of football now,’’ Nagoli, who would later play for Pele’s iconic club Santos in Brazil and also play in Europe for a dozen years, told this newspaper last year.

“It demanded a lot of which it was a great honour for me to participate in that tournament because that’s where you got marketed.

“There will be lot of scouts and there will be a lot of managers.’’

Nkonjera, just like King Peter, would transform himself into one of the pillars of Reinhard Fabisch’s Dream Team before his untimely death.

Thirty years after that defining Copa Coca-Cola tournament, the tourney – which started here and has now turned into a global show held in more than 60 countries and featuring more than 80 000 schools from across the world, and more than 1.3 million teenage footballers taking part every year – will take its first steps into its fourth decade next week.

But, questions remain about what has happened to the scores of football stars, led of course, by the awesome King Peter, which this tournament used to produce with regularity back in the days?

Players like Norman Mapeza, Harlington Shereni, Vusa Nyoni, Walter Musona, Johannes Ngodzo, Tatenda Mukuruva and Washington Arubi all came to the fore while playing at this premier schools football tournament.

‘’I think, what is crucial for us to note here is that in 1989, we had Peter Ndlovu, just 16 years old, playing at the Coca-Cola tournament and, the next year, he was not only playing for Highlanders regularly but at the end of the season had been voted Soccer Star of the Year,’’ former Warriors captain, Moses Chunga, said.

‘’What that tells us is that these guys were good, yes, they were schoolboys but their talent was there for everyone to see and I have always argued that if one is good enough then he is old enough to play for the senior team in the Premier League because that’s the way it should be.’’

Chunga, who has taken his scouting and development programmes into the country’s rural areas, believes there are a lot of unpolished gems in local football, waiting to be spotted and waiting to be polished.

“I don’t buy the argument that we don’t have talent in this country, we have lots of football talent but some people are destroying the pathways for these young players to express themselves by denying them the chance, through their obsession with over-aged players, and their lack of trust in the young boys,’’ said Chunga.

“Yes, the players who emerged at that first tournament in 1989 were exceptional but that can happen again if we do things the right way and most of those who are in charge of our schools get to know that winning is not everything in these development tournaments.

“When you look at all the big money that is being injected into these tournaments all over the world, you can see that what is inspiring the sponsors is not the names of those who won but the players who used these matches to take the next big step in their careers and Peter Ndlovu is a big example.’’

Maybe, others could possibly argue, 1989 was just fated to produce football stars with the likes of Theo Walcott, Giovani dos Santos, Gareth Bale, Daniel Sturridge, Jozzy Altidore, Alexandre Pato and Freddy Adu all being born in the same year King Peter announced his arrival on the big stage.

Don’t mention that to Liverpool fans, though, after the events at Anfield in May that year where Arsenal, needing to beat the Reds 2-0 to become champions, got exactly that scoreline with Michael Thomas scoring a late, late winner for the Gunners.

‘‘That night, football was reborn,’’ Jason Cowley, wrote in his book, “The Last Game, Love, Death and Football,’’ which reflected the dramatic events at Anfield that day against the background of the deadly events at Hillsborough, a few months earlier, where 96 Liverpool fans died in a stampede in Sheffield.

For millions of Zimbabwean football fans, it was also the year the player, whose impact would completely transform their Warriors, also announced his arrival.

Thirty years later, they still pray for the arrival of another one like King Peter.

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