HARARE – Muzondiwa Mugadza is one of the finest Zimbabwean goalkeepers to have emerged from Bulawayo, but remarkably, “Lazy Mzoe” never played for the city’s flagship club, Highlanders.
The former Zimbabwe Saints and AmaZulu shot stopper joined Saints juniors after getting “serious push” from his friends, Dumisani Dube and Lloyd Jowa.
He then made his senior team debut for Chikwata as a 19-year-old during the 1993 season when he was given the nod for the last two games of the season.
“My debut came as a trial offer and both games where in the capital.
The first match was against Black Rhinos at Gwanzura on a Saturday and we beat them 2-0,” Mugadza tells the Daily News.
“It was a flying start for me having not conceded a goal and the following day it was against the big giant Dynamos at Rufaro and I guess that was the game that catapulted me to stardom.
“We drew 0-0 and it was such a great feeling to have played against the late Francis Shonhayi and Vitalis Takawira, who was one of the most lethal strikers of our time. I remember the headlines ‘Mugadza heroics save Saints’ and thereafter it was ‘Mugadza shines again’.”
Mugadza admits he wanted to play for Highlanders at some stage in his career but was not particularly happy with the offer he got from Bosso.
“In all fairness, every top player wants to turn out for big clubs and I wouldn’t sit here and lie that at some point in my career I never wanted to play for Highlanders,” he says.
“The chance to join Bosso came in 1998, but Highlanders couldn’t pay what I was worth. Saints asked for Z$1 million, then I was right at the top of my game and I knew that was my worth. The fee was negotiable but Bosso tabled a miserable offer of Z$250, which I thought that was disrespectful to me and Zim Saints.”
The reluctance by Highlanders to make a firm offer saw Mugadza crossing the floor in 1999 to join Delma Lupepe’s AmaZulu, a team he had rejected the previous year.
Mugadza started off his national team career as a Young Warrior, having been thrown into the deep end against Nigeria. This was after Gift “Umbro” Muzadzi, who was the first choice goalie, together with Edelbert Dinha, were dropped on suspicion of age cheating.
He however did well, despite the team losing the two legs on identical 1-0 scores.
“Obviously feeling the shoes for a top keeper like Umbro was always going to be a challenge, I stood my ground though and produced a five-star performance,” he says.
“Umbro and I also had a special relationship that none of our team mates in the national team believed was real. We knew each other at a tender age and grew to be big boys together. When in Harare, Umbro would take me to his house and meet everyone and the same would happen when he was in Bulawayo. So our competition was healthy, even when I became the first-choice I had his full support.”
Among his individual accolades, Mugadza is proud of being voted the best goalkeeper of the season in 1996 and that same year he was on the Soccer Stars of the Year calendar. In 1998, he was again voted among the Soccer Stars but the calendar never materialised due to a scandal in the selection process.
Remarkably, Mugadza that year shared the top goal scorer gong at his club Zimbabwe Saints.
“I scored nine penalties and Chipo Tsodzo and the late Howard Mago shared the prize with me, but they were both ashamed as strikers to share it with a goalkeeper so they let me have the trophy,” he says.
The nickname “Lazy Mzoe” was in recognition of his “hatred” for physical training, but he says there was actually more to the moniker.
“I guess it had a lot to do with me not being a physical training fanatic, but I had a few Lazy Sam outfits. I would remove ‘Sam’ with a mighty marker and put ‘Mzoe’ on it,” he quips.
“I also signed a few of my things as Lazy Mzoe when I was still a junior and the name just stuck on. So a clothing line under that name one day will be a permanent feature in my home country.”
Mugadza claims administrators blocked several potential moves abroad.
“The problem back home then was that players where viewed as personal property or objects and a few times my moves were blocked for selfishness reasons. Rapid Vienna wanted to give me a trial and the deal was blocked,” he says.
“Cyprus move again was blocked and both where at Saints. At AmaZulu, Ria Stars came to meet me in person and personal terms were presented to me but Mr Lupepe thought he was being short changed and Ria and Chicco gave up in the end.
“Then I came to Barnsley in the UK for trials and Mr Lupepe wanted me back for a big game so my trial was cut short. Barnsley wanted to give me a further week for trials and Sheffield Wednesday wanted to see me as well. So these are opportunities, I look back and think they might have changed the rest of my life. But again, I hate to live to regret. Whatever happened was for a reason.
“I have nothing bad to say about that man (Lupepe), but only to say for his passion, if it was shared by other football administrators, then our game could be a lot better.
Now based in Coventry, England, Mugadza says: “In 2000 I conceded only 13 goals but missed out on the Soccer Stars calendar, it was a mockery because three goalkeepers were chosen and I was left out.
“But I am happy that I came in when I was at the top of my game and left when I was on top. I decided to leave for the UK in 2001 when things didn’t seem to be changing for better. I look back and think it was a brave season.”