The Sunday Mail
GIVEN the inconsistency and unpredictability of the current crop of Premier Soccer League players, it is certain most of the players who made it to last year’s Soccer Stars of the Year calendar will not succeed when a panel of 89 selectors converge in Harare on Tuesday to pick the best 11 for the 2023 season.
The panel — which consists of 53 sports journalists, 18 PSL coaches and their captains — will select the Soccer Star of the Year, as well as the Coach of the Year.
They will also choose the Most Promising Player, Goalkeeper of the Year and Best Referee.
But these will only be revealed at a banquet to be held in the capital on Friday.
In a season that saw Mhondoro side Ngezi Platinum Stars write their own piece of Premier Soccer League history by winning their first-ever league championship, their coach Takesure “Deco” Chiragwi is a sure bet for the Coach of the Year award.
However, it is not so certain when it comes to the best 11 players and the ultimate Soccer Star of the Year award winner.
Walter Musona of FC Platinum won the top gong last term but the Warriors’ winger will not retain the title, as he endured a below-par season by his standards.
Although he chipped in with seven goals, Musona was a pale shadow of the flying star witnessed last year, when FC Platinum romped to a fourth league championship on the trot.
Some of his peers on last year’s calendar, like Brian Muza (Chicken Inn), Delic Murimba (Ngezi Platinum Stars), Divine Mhindirira (Highlanders), Eli Ilunga (then with Black Rhinos), Gift Bello and Wallace Magalane (FC Platinum), as well as CAPS United’s William Manondo, are certainly out of contention for a place among this season’s best.
However, Dynamos centre-back Frank Makarati, who was last year’s first runner-up, could sneak back in, as could Herentals’ Tino Benza, who has scored six goals plus several assists.
Benza also won the Fans’ Choice award, which was introduced last season.
DeMbare have the best defence in the league, having conceded 14 goals by Week 33.
The Harare giants also had the most number of clean sheets — 23 in 33 matches — and Makarati played an integral role in 25 games of those 33.
He missed eight games due to suspension, injury and national duty but still managed to score four goals.
Roving right-back Emmanuel Jalai has also been a key figure during the season that he also celebrated a century of games for DeMbare.
But there should be no doubt about the Dynamos’ central midfield duo of Tanaka “Kante” Shandirwa and Donald Mudadi.
Junior Makunike is also a dark horse.
Although Ngezi Platinum Stars won the league title, they did not have a standout star, but Madamburo might provide at least three players for the calendar.
Leading goalscorer Takunda Benhura; Nelson Chadya, who won last season’s Golden Glove; and skipper Qadr Amini are very much in contention.
Defenders Gareth Madhake, who has played 32 times in the league; Polite Moyo; and Kudzai Chigwida are also in with a decent chance of making it.
It is worth noting that only seven players had reached double digits on the goal-scoring charts after completion of Match Day 33.
Benhura topped the charts with 13 goals, one more than Bulawayo Chiefs’ Obriel Chirinda; while the quintet of Michael Charamba and Malvern Hwata (Chicken Inn), Tinashe Balakasi (Simba Bhora), Fortune Binzi (Manica Diamonds) and Moses Demera (ZPC Kariba) had 10 each.
Simba Bhora’s Balakasi had a stellar second half of the season in which his goals have dragged the Shamva side out of the murky waters of relegation.
Charamba reached double digits, despite playing mostly as a winger, and is a serious contender for a place on the calendar.
Former Soccer Star of the Year winner Stewart “Shutto” Murisa feels sorry for the selectors, whom he thinks will have to scratch their heads to come up with the best 11 and the ultimate winner.
“It will be difficult to pick the 11 players for the calendar because very few players were consistent this season,” said Murisa.
The 1996 Soccer Star of the Year, however, tips the trio of Shandirwa, Amini and Chirinda to be on the calendar.
Despite flattering to deceive, in a season they went for 19 games unbeaten before faltering, Bulawayo giants Highlanders have some worthy contenders in defenders Mbongeni Nldovu, Andrew Mbeba and Peter Muduhwa.
Veteran keeper Ariel Sibanda, who has kept 17 clean sheets so far, is also a challenger for the Golden Glove.
Ardent follower of the local Premiership Luckson Muradzikwa thinks Mudadi and Lawrence Masibhera of Manica Diamonds have also done well and deserve a place amongst the best 11.
Despite playing as a deep-lying midfielder in some games, Mudadi scored five goals plus several assists.
He scored good goals in big matches against CAPS United and Ngezi Platinum Stars.
“I also feel Jalai of Dynamos could be a surprise package, but Masibhera of Manica Diamonds has done well to deserve selection,” said Muradzikwa.
He also tipped Ngezi Platinum Stars’ centre-back Polite Moyo and Herentals’ Davison Marowa to be among the best 11.
“Sibanda, Makarati, Shandirwa, Chirinda and Charamba have also been consistent for their teams,” added Muradzikwa.
It will not be a surprise if CAPS United’s utility player Eric “Cantona” Manokore makes it to the calendar as the former Cranborne Bullets star has been a revelation.
Manokore was arguably one of the best players in the first half of the season and his exploits earned him a mid-season move from Bullets to Makepekepe.
FC Platinum failed to win a fifth straight title but in Brian “BB” Banda, they have a midfield machine.
The box-to-box midfielder was one of the most consistent players in the league and earned a national team call-up, while his teammate Juan Mutudza reminded many that Zimbabwe still has visionary players who can thread that defence-splitting pass.
Of course, controversy is never ruled out in any Soccer Stars of the Year selection, as has been witnessed in the past.
Voting on regional lines has also blighted the exercise.
In 1997, the controversial selection of Hwange’s Walter Chuma, ahead of Dynamos’ winger and hot favourite Tauya “The Flying Doctor” Murewa, forced the sponsors Delta Beverages to pull out of the awards.
The traditional sponsor only returned in 2000, the year Zenzo Moyo won the award with Highlanders.