The Churchill High School student had just been voted most valuable player in the Mashonaland Basketball Association league –– and through the perseverance of his journalist cousin Itai, who worked for this newspaper –– a little profiling piece found its way past a scrutinising editor.
Three years on, he is one of the favourites to become Zimbabwe’s next Soccer Star of the Year when the winners are announced on December 17.
He is Nyasha Mushekwi.
Having netted 21 goals to top the PSL goal-scoring chat at the end of the 2009 season when he virtually played into the hearts of even non-Caps United supporters, one gets a good feeling there is something special about this 22-year-old star forward from Harare.
“At the beginning of the season, I told my friends that I will be the top goal-scorer,” he told IndependentSport. “God made it happen. I knew it needed hard work, but I am a guy who likes challenges. I’ve always wanted to be challenged. I like to figure out things, and because of that I believe the best from me is still to come.”
Yet for this multitalented sportsman, his rise in football is nothing short of a fairytale. He played soccer at Blackiston Junior School in Harare, but when he proceeded to Allan Wilson High and later Churchill, soccer took second priority to basketball.
He also tried his hand at hockey, rugby and athletics.
“When the whole soccer thing started, it was just to keep fit,” he concedes. “I was looking for something to keep me running in the basketball off-season. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I fell in love with soccer. It was challenging, and that motivated me.”
The football world is full of stories of players being turned down by certain teams and then going on to make it big playing for others. Mushekwi has the same story.
“I tried out with Motor Action but they refused to sign me. At that time they were having their problems with paying players and staff.
“I then went to Caps United and Moses Chunga was the coach. When you are young you hear about these greats like Moses Chunga, Rahman Gumbo and Peter Ndlovu. Meeting them is a much bigger thing. I mean, it was a big breakthrough for me. You don’t just wake up and say ‘I want to play for Caps United…or Dynamos’.”
But what did Chunga see in this youngster who had been told he wasn’t good enough by a lower club?
“I don’t know,” says Mushekwi. “Probably it was because at that time Caps were struggling with strikers and scoring.”
Caps United had an indifferent start to the season, and at some stage, the chorus among the club’s fans was the sacking of coach Lloyd Chitembwe.
But largely due to Mushekwi’s lethalness in front of goal, the Green Machine improved vastly, narrowly missing a second-position ending to rivals Dynamos.
His strongest point is his instinct. His two beauties in the Cosafa Senior Challenge final against Zambia are a perfect example. For the first, he controlled the ball and with the same movement, shielded the ball between his legs from attentive defenders before slotting home. He then rose majestically between defenders to plant a firm header past diving Zambia keeper Jacob Banda for the second goal.
Year-in-year-out, different upcoming players have been labelled, and harmfully so, with the tag of being “the next Peter Ndlovu” by nostalgic fans and journalists alike. While others believe Mushekwi is the next big thing in Zimbabwean football, others debate his natural skill and flair to even be spoken in the same vein as the legendary former Zimbabwe captain. But Mushekwi knows his strengths and that does not bother him.
“For one to be recognised as a striker, it’s about the number of goals you score,” he says. “It’s not how you juggle the ball or how well you control it. For me, if I get a chance to score, with whatever part of the body, I have to score. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than seeing the ball hit the back of the net.”
And he also knows too that such greatness as achieved by Ndlovu at the international level calls for even greater commitment to the national team shirt.
“I hope I get called for every national team game, I really want to play for my country. But I know it’s something you have to earn. I will work hard for it.”
While only last year he could walk unnoticed in the streets, these days he has had to adjust from being an ordinary young man growing up in tough Zimbabwe to a public figure.
“Nothing about me has changed. I still have the same friends. Nothing has changed. Maybe what changes is that you try to accommodate people you don’t know…because these people know you,” he says.
Born and bred in the capital city, Nyasha grew up in Avondale in a family that also had his musician cousin Tonderai Mushekwi aka TK Hollum.
“TK used to play soccer, but his passion was music. Itai was a very good hockey player, but his ambition was to become a journalist.”
Recently returned from trials in South Africa, he is still focused on playing for Caps United next year in the absence of offers.
“For now I am a Caps player,” he says. “But I know I’m going to play in Europe one day, for a team called Barcelona! I don’t support them but I like the way they play, the way they pass and the way they move. I think that’s how Caps play. I’m sure I can fit in that. I can probably fit in any team.”
Call it overconfidence, but that’s what has brought him this far.