The Sunday Mail
IT took less than five minutes for Shingi Kawondera to convince Wieslaw Grabowski that he was a gem, but the Polish mentor would go on to observe with regret as this fine talent failed to transform into a real diamond he had envisaged.
Grabowski discovered Kawondera in the sprawling dormitory town of Chitungwiza in the 1990s, when the striker, then a raw teenager, was turning out for Cone Textiles and the coach immediately enlisted the player.
Thanks to Grabowski, Kawondera made his first move to Europe in 1999, when he signed for Polish side Gornik Zabrze.
Kawondera went on to play for AEP Paphos in Cyprus, Gaziantespor in Turkey and SuperSport United in South Africa, in a topsy-turvy career that saw him retiring at Harare giants CAPS United in 2012.
However, Grabowski — the man who promoted a number of talented footballers including the legendary Norman Mapeza — still has regrets over Kawondera.
The Polish mentor believes Kawondera was at the peak of his powers and good enough to play for any top team in the world, but the dreadlocked forward disappointed and failed to play to his potential.
“Shingi was a brilliant player, top player, but the problem was his environment. I still emphasise that the boy was good enough to walk into any top team, Manchester United included, but he was his own worst enemy,” Grabowski told The Sunday Mail Sport.
“Football wise, he could manage, but off the field he couldn’t. At some point he chose to work with some crooks disguised as football agents”.
The DT Africa United director recounted his greatest moments with local players.
“My greatest football moments were whenever players under me succeeded in the world. Like when Mapeza ended up playing in the Champions League.
“Not only Mapeza, but Dickson Choto and Takesure Chinyama, who did well in Poland. Costa Nhamoinesu also went on to do well in the Czech Republic.
“I have a good history with most of these European clubs. You see, if you are good at scouting for talent these clubs always look for you.
“They (European clubs) know that I don’t bring them bad players, they trust me. It’s a trust that has been built over the years.”
Kawondera, who played for Zimbabwe at the 2006 African Cup of Nations finals in Egypt, has a chequered football history.
While his penchant for life in the fast lane is well-documented, some football decisions he made, especially after dumping Grabowski as his agent, also cost the highly regarded forward.
After dumping Grabowski for South African agent Mike Makaab, Kawondera had an opportunity to join Premier League side West Ham United in 2006, but he chose Gaziantespor of Turkey.
He still regrets that decision, as much as he also wants to quickly forget about his past lifestyle.
The former Warriors star striker admitted to making some mistakes in his life in an interview with this publication in August, 2018.
“I was still a boy when I went to Europe. I also didn’t have much time with my mother who divorced my father when I was only eight.
“So, I guess I lacked motherly advice when I needed it most. During my career, I would come back home for two or three weeks and I would spend most of the time drinking and having fun,” Kawondera said.
Now 38, Kawondera has retired from the game and is staying in Ruwa, where he is planning on starting a football academy.
And Grabowski still thinks of this gem he discovered in Chitungwiza.
“(The) First time I saw Shingi, I told myself this was real talent. I also picked Elliot Matsika and Musareka Jenitala from that stream.
“I introduced them to professional football and had high hopes for Shingi. Any team in the world, he could play, but at some point he lost it.
“Now I can only pray for him to do well in his post-playing career. Zimbabwean players, some of them, they don’t see the future. Their imagination levels are very low. But in football you have to understand that not all players are sharp.”
Apart from acknowledging his past mistakes, Kawondera still regards Grabowski highly.
“Grabowski is a pillar in Zimbabwean football. One thing Grabowski is good at is training players individually. He taught us sport science back then.
“He would emphasise on the need to maintain weight and how to stay clean and safe from diseases.
“He trained me individually to the extent that I could at one-time train on my own and still play for the Warriors when I was clubless.
“Whatever I did in football, I owe it all to Grabowski,” a thankful Kawondera said.
Such was Kawondera’s huge potential to explode that he was not only Zimbabwe’s best player at the CAF African Under-17 championships in 1999, but was rated among the tournament’s best players, who included a young Michael Essien from eventual winners Ghana.
While Essien would go and feature prominently for Lyon in France and later Chelsea in England and winning championships with both, Kawondera never exploded the way Grabowski and Zimbabweans would have wanted and starred for low-key sides.