Harare – Time was that Rodwell Dhlakama did not have a penny that could fall through the holes in his pockets.
Several hard years and much hard work later, Dhlakama earned a college qualification. And then some.
The ever humble man is the proud mastermind of some of the most iconic moments in recent footballing memory.
Dhlakama coached Zimbabwe to Under-17 Cosafa Cup glory, reached the last 8 of the Caf Champions League with rank outsiders Monomotapa, and swept the board in the Eswatini top-flight.
Now the unlikely hero has reportedly attracted the fancy of
Botswana soccer giants Township Rollers, Mbabane Highlanders of Eswatini, Zimbabwe's cup kings Caps United, Zambian big boys Zesco United and FC Lupopo of the DRC.
Perhaps still keen on scripting another fairy tale, Dhlakama has opted to coach Zimbabwean side Ngezi Platinum Stars.
"I am aware that a lot of teams wanted my signature … Some approached me, some came through my agent. The likes of Township Rollers, Mbabane Highlanders, Caps United ... all wanted me and I am humbled by that. I will consider some of the offers in future but for now I am settled at Ngezi," said Dhlakama.
The head-turning offers are a far cry from where he stood not too long ago.
Few people know that Dhlakama dropped out of school and was led a destitute life not far from the Mhondoro base where his Ngezi Platinum side play their home matches, about 100km southwest of Harare.
He stayed with his grandparents, hundreds of kilometres from his own home because his parents could not afford to send him to school.
When the grandparents died, he found himself on the streets and was eventually rescued by his sister.
"The situation I once found myself in made me strong. I had to work hard at school and I managed to pass. I then went on to train as a teacher."
It was during his time as a teacher that nurtured today’s stars, like Kaizer Chiefs talisman Khama Billiat, Polokwane City goalkeeper George Chigova, Baroka captain Elvis Chipezeze, and others who are plying their trade across Southern Africa.
The allure of the football pitch finally drew him completely from the classroom as he found a new home for his teaching talents.
"I always had an ambition to do well as a football coach. The opportunity I had as a teacher was immense. I wouldn't belittle that. I won several accolades during my time as a school coach.
"I slowly realised that I would make a name for myself if I took the job on a full-time basis.
"It was during that contemplative time that I was given the chance to lead Zimbabwe's Under-17 squad at the Cosafa 2007 tournament.
"A flawless show saw us taking regional honours, and back home I won the Coach of the Year award at the Annual National Sports Awards. That spurred me on to aim for the stars."
After helping a relatively new club in the top-flight, Monomotapa, to glory in Zimbabwe’s Premier Soccer League the following year, Dhlakama showed he was no flash in the pan as he led the club to the Caf Champions League group stage in 2009.
For good measure, his side beat continental powerhouses like Asec Mimosas of Cote d’Ivoire along the way.
In 2010, Eswatini side Manzini Sundowns then knocked on his door, and he obligingly opened it.
A season later, he was swimming in glory in the Eswatini top tier, winning a league and a cup double on his way to being named Coach of the Year as four of his squad members made the Team of the Year.
With the 2020 soccer season in Zimbabwe scheduled to kick-off in August, Dhlakama is aiming to lead the side to its first ever league title.
Few punters will bet against him defying the odds once more.