A reliable Warrior

Zimbabwe’s national side, the Warriors, are the only  team from southern Africa that has qualified for January’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Gabon. Despite boasting a golden generation of sorts in their current squad, Zimbabwe still owes a great deal of that success to Musona’s goals.

It is the Warriors’ first Afcon appearance in 12 years since Ndlovu, who launched his career in England at Coventry City as a teenager, led them to the 2004 and 2006 editions.

At the retirement of Ndlovu – one of the longest serving African players in Europe having spent 12 years in the UK – Zimbabwe were not able to immediately replace his talismanic presence.

File picture. Zimbabwe captain Peter Ndlovu (L) vies with Rwandan captain Hamandikumana Bitana during the World Cup qualifier 04 September 2005 in Harare. Zimbabwe won 3-1. Photo: AFP/ANP/Stringer

File picture. Zimbabwe captain Peter Ndlovu (L) vies with Rwandan captain Hamandikumana Bitana during the World Cup qualifier 04 September 2005 in Harare. Zimbabwe won 3-1. Photo: AFP/ANP/Stringer

Former Portsmouth and Manchester City striker Benjani Mwaruwari was a loyal servant of the Warriors, but he didn’t have the same returns as Ndlovu.

Musona has come in and filled those big boots, delivering the goals when his country sorely needs them, popping in time and time again to get the Warriors out of trouble. His 16 goals in 38 appearances for the Warriors bear testimony of an impressive strike rate.

The 29-year-old was born and raised in Norton, a small town just outside Harare.

The Smiling Assassin

Last season Musona finished second top scorer in the Belgian top-flight league after netting 11 goals for Oostende.

He was just three goals behind joint top goal scorers Sofisne Hanni of Algeria and Frenchman Jeremy Perbet.

Musona is a  favourite with the fans at the Belgian club, always playing with a smile , a gentleman on and off the field.

Musona is a  favourite with the fans at the Belgian club, always playing with a smile , a gentleman on and off the field.

File picture: Zimbabwe's official line-up, for the knock-out round game between the Black Stars of Ghana and The Warriors of Zimbabwe in the Group D of the African Nations Cup (CAN) preliminary football, played in Ismailia, north of Cairo, 31 January 2006. Photo: AFP /Khaled Desouki

File picture: Zimbabwe’s official line-up, for the knock-out round game between the Black Stars of Ghana and The Warriors of Zimbabwe in the Group D of the African Nations Cup (CAN) preliminary football, played in Ismailia, north of Cairo, 31 January 2006. Photo: AFP /Khaled Desouki

His nickname, the Smiling Assassin, was earned during his days with Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa in recognition of his potency in front of goal despite his laid-back and easy disposition.

Breakthrough, dip, and back again

Musona was barely known in his homeland when Kaizer Chiefs signed him back in 2009. He had never played top-flight football in Zimbabwe when Chiefs spotted him at Aces Youth Academy, a famed Harare football academy  known for nurturing top-quality football talent for the country. It’s where Sundowns’ star player Khama Billiat also comes from.

Musona made 50 appearances for Amakhosi (Kaizer Chiefs’ nickname) in his first spell with the Soweto giants, and netted 20 goals.

He seemed to make a step up in his career after he was signed by Bundesliga side 1800 Hoffenheim for a fee reported to be in the region of US$2 million.

He seemed to make a step up in his career after he was signed by Bundesliga side 1800 Hoffenheim for a fee reported to be in the region of US$2 million.

But it wasn’t to be. He struggled and his career stalled in Germany, only making 16 appearances between 2011 and 2014, and scoring no goals.

Photo: Kickoff.com

Photo: Kickoff.com

He was loaned back to Chiefs, and played 19 times for them. It would prove a wise move by his handlers. Suddenly, at a club he is so loved and where he feels at home, a team that regards him a club legend, Musona’s mojo was back.

Oostende then came calling, and the Smiling Assassin was off to Europe again.

He has scored seven times this season, and only last month  Oostende singled him out for praise when the club announced it was giving him a new deal that would keep him at the club for a further three-and-half years.

“Our silent assassin has so far, perhaps, been the most consistent player and the likeable Zimbabwean has now been rewarded with an extended contract,” the club said on its website.

Gambling scandal

A few months ago, Zimbabwean football fans woke up to unpleasant newspaper headlines that their star man had been involved in a betting scandal in Belgium.

A Zimbabwean fan cheers for "The Warriors" prior to the knock-out round game between the Black Stars of Ghana and Zimbabwe in the group D of the African Nations Cup (CAN) preliminary football, played in Ismailia, north of Cairo 31 January 2006. Photo: AFP/ANP Issouf Sanogo

A Zimbabwean fan cheers for “The Warriors” prior to the knock-out round game between the Black Stars of Ghana and Zimbabwe in the group D of the African Nations Cup (CAN) preliminary football, played in Ismailia, north of Cairo 31 January 2006. Photo: AFP/ANP Issouf Sanogo

Zimbabwean football has scars of a match-fixing scam, called “Asiagate”, in which several players and officials were handed lengthy  bans (including life bans) for taking bribes from an Asian syndicate to lose matches between 2007 and 2009.

Thankfully, it wasn’t as serious as initially feared and  seemed to be the work of overzealous sub editors to boost newspaper sales.

The story was that Musona had been accused of placing bets on matches involving his team, Oostende.

A report from the Belgian Gambling Commission listed Musona as one of the players that gambled on matches in the Belgian Pro League. Footballers are prohibited from gambling, as they could influence the outcome of a game.

Musona and Zimbabwe were further calmed when Oostende jumped to the defence of the Warriors talisman, saying he had “acted correctly.” There was no evidence to suggest he had gambled on the matches.

Musona the man

When the spotlight is on, Musona is shy and withdrawn.

But among his teammates and people he knows well, he is just like everybody else, a man who enjoys a laugh and a night out.

During the off-season in his Germany days when his career appears in limbo, he arrived at a popular Harare club partially hiding under a hoodie.

His troubles in Europe aside, he had kept delivering for the Warriors – and obviously people were going to recognise him.

After being mobbed by adoring revellers at the club, he quietly slipped away and left but not before ordering rounds of beer for everyone.

One reveller who witnessed it said he paid the barman wads of US dollars cash and left the change.

In June this year, Musona married his childhood sweetheart Daisy at a glitzy wedding in Harare.

And it happened a week before Zimbabwe beat Malawi 3-0 to seal qualification. Musona, who had to postpone his honeymoon, was among the scorers.

After the wedding, he said:  “I don’t want to tell anyone where we are going for the honeymoon. It is between me and my wife. It feels good to wed. I think these two weeks are very special because first it was my wedding day last weekend and this weekend it is a game where we can possibly qualify for Afcon.”

The Warriors will be hoping he can turn up in Gabon next January.