Harare – Portugal-based Zimbabwean youth footballer Tawanda Mlambo is a big fan of Germany and Bayern Munich star Thomas Müller.
While acknowledging that he is certainly not in the same league as the 2014 World Cup winner, he says it is okay to dream.
After all, the Fontela’s FC club for which he turns out has produced its fair share of elite footballers over the years, and that is why he calls himself Müller.
And he has broken into the lucrative and competitive world of European football after learning the business at the modest Chawira Football Academy in rural Checheche in eastern Zimbabwe near the border with Mozambique and South Africa.
Most young people from that area grow up with the minds set on becoming cross-border traders. Child marriages are rife and school drop-out and non-attendance rates are worrisome.
Twenty-five years ago, Sailas Chawira – with the full backing of his wife, Daisy – decided to set up an amateur football academy in the area to give the young people there something else to look forward to in life.
It was tough going, but now his academy attracts hopefuls from much further than Checheche – and exports talents like Mlambo to Portugal.
In an interview with The Southern Times Sport, Chawira said, “We formed this academy with the aim of giving our youth something to occupy them. Most people here just think about venturing into cross-border trading; yet some are talented enough to play football, even in Europe.
“It was difficult at first but we are managing now. We now have hundreds of players from Under-7 to Under-20. We are a rural academy and obviously we don’t have everything that we need. We haven’t even affiliated to the Zimbabwe Football Association and as such we don’t get any development fees for our products.”
Almost all the 18 clubs which play in the Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League have at least one player who passed through this modest academy.
The football pitches they train on aren’t only bumpy but have more bare patches than grass. The goalposts are not of the required standard and there are training cones, bibs, or even international standard footballs.
Yet this is the nursery where the likes of Perfect Chikwende, who recently moved to Tanzania’s CAF Champions league representatives, SC Simba, were nurtured. Former Dynamos striker Philip Marufu of Zimbabwe also traces his roots to Checheche.
And many players in the Zimbabwe women’s national team, the Mighty Warriors, also cut their football teeth at this modest but brilliant academy.