RODWELL Dhlakama has in a short space of time carved a niche for himself in the dugout at both club and national team level.
Doubling as Zimbabwe Under 17 national team coach and caretaker coach for Zimbabwe champions Monomotapa, Dhlakama is a football man through and through, a workaholic, perfectionist and disciplinarian.
â€œSoccer is in my veins and it is something I live for,â€ he says. â€œAs a player, analyst or coach, I derive a lot of fulfilment from the game. In fact I have had to set aside other priorities in my life to serve the game.â€
At the beginning of this year Dhlakama took over at Monomotapa following the shock resignation of former Zimbabwe captain Norman Mapeza, who had done well to guide Monos to their maiden league championship.
In his first assignment, he led Monos to the first round of the African Champions League after beating Miembeni of Zanzibar.
â€œIâ€™m motivated by my belief in success,â€ he says. â€œSelf-belief is crucial and Iâ€™m glad that it has rubbed off on the teams that Iâ€™ve coached.â€
Born in Chipinge 35 years ago, he grew up there and partly in Mutare. Dhlakama enjoyed sporting afternoons at school from a young age.
â€œAt school I was a very good athlete. I was a very quick over short distances which became an added advantage when I played soccer as a striker.â€
He said of his playing career, cut short by an ankle injury:Â â€œI played for a number of prominent teams at the time mainly in the Eastern Highlands. I played for Tanganda and Zupco Mutare. When I was 20 years I broke my ankle and that was the end of my playing career. But the injury did not take away my love for football.â€
So he ventured into coaching.
A qualified high school teacher, Dhlakama started off as a school coach in Shurugwi after qualifying from the Belvedere Teachers College with a Diploma in Education.
A holder of several coaching certificates too, Dhlakama likes to think of himself as an â€œintellectualâ€ on the local football scene.
â€œThere are four levels of soccer coaching in Zimbabwe, I went through all four,â€ he says. â€œI also did a Fifa Solidarity Course, hold an Olympic Committee Certificate for Football Coaches and British Eurospace Certificate for coaching. That is how far I went in terms of football education.â€
Before his ascendancy at Monomotapa, Dhlakama had basically coached at all levels in youth football, craftily utilising his good rapport with young players from his teaching background.
He led the Midlands Under side to the Peter Ndlovu Trophy in 1998 and in 2006 achieved National Youth Games success with the Midlands Under 20s. He was duly rewarded, being given the national schools select side, which he led to two gold medals in three-nation tournaments featuring Malawi and Zambia.
Having cut his coaching teeth in the Midlands, it was fitting that his first job at club level be in the province.
He assisted Kwekwe Cables in a successful premiership play-offs campaign in 2001, helping out head coach, the late Nani Muchiwa. Two years later as assistant to the late Lovemore Nyabeza, Chrome Stars were also promoted into the PSL.
In 2005 Zimasco United became the latest beneficiaries of his turnaround skills when they won promotion into Division One under his tutelage.
With this kind of profile, itâ€™s hard to dismiss suggestions that Dhlakama might actually have been the architect of Monomotapaâ€™s 2008 championship success.
Take for instance the fact that he arrived at Monomotapa as assistant coach after they had lost their first four games on the trot. After that they did not lose in 23 matches.
One of his accolades was being voted Coach of the Year at the Annual National Sports Awards in 2007.
Now he is set to lead the Young Warriors, the Zimbabwe Under 17s, in the African Youth Championships in Algeria this month. He is no stranger to success at this level, having won gold at the Cosafa Under 17 tournament and the Anoca Zone Six Games in 2007.
BY KUDZAYI TIGERE