The Sunday Mail
WHAT was undoubted was his uncanny eye for talent. His expansive links in Europe, especially in his native Poland, afforded dozens of talented Zimbabwean players a chance to play on football’s grand stages.
Wieslaw Grabowski was and is still a hero to many Zimbabwean players.
His Darryn T project, which unearthed gems like Norman Mapeza, Lloyd Chitembwe, Edelbert Dinha, Gift Muzadzi, Alois Bunjira and 1996 Soccer Star of the Year Stewart Murisa, dazzled until the turn of the millennium, when the team was relegated from the top-flight.
Grabowski also facilitated European moves for Shingi Kawondera, Dickson Choto, Musareka Jenitala, Costa Nhamoinesu and Takesure Chinyama, who became the first non-European top-goal scorer in the Polish First Division (Ekstraklasa) in 2009.
Chinyama scored 19 goals for Legia Warsaw, earning himself hero status at the Polish giants.
It is now 20 years after Darryn T were relegated and the club is no longer competing in any division, but Grabowski — the man renowned for unearthing rare football talent — is still in business through his DT Africa United project.
The veteran coach is still resident in Zimbabwe and exporting footballers to Europe.
In fact, Grabowski has since opened new export markets in Japan and South Korea.
“DT Africa United is no longer participating in any games or recognised competitions, but we are still exporting and promoting young players from Zimbabwe,” Grabowski told The Sunday Mail Sport in a rare interview.
“I have an academy in Poland now and we are still penetrating Europe.
“We have been stopped by coronavirus, but we have eight players that were supposed to go to Turkey, South Korea and Japan.
“I will not tell you their names and locations because vultures disguised as football agents will circle around these boys and confuse their minds. There are criminals in this game,” said Grabowski.
Never short on humour, the gaffer has over the last decade increasingly shied away from the media spotlight.
His wife, Kristina Grabowski, is a consular at the Polish Embassy in Harare and is also a renowned gynaecologist whose diplomatic roles sometimes suck in her husband, Wieslaw.
“We have to do this interview fast because I have an engagement at the German Embassy, there is some important function there,” warned Grabowski as he settled for a rare chat.
“We are still discovering talent and we introduce this talent to professional football. There are a lot of players we export, but we will concentrate on Zimbabwe after coronavirus is out.”
Grabowski’s first exports to Europe were Mapeza and John Phiri, who went to Poland in 1993.
Mapeza excelled for Sokol Pniewy before earning a lucrative move to Turkish giants Galatasaray the following season.
“Mapeza went on to play in the Champions League for Galatasaray and featured prominently for them against Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League.
“I am always in contact with Mapeza. Everyone who got success through our links we still talk. Lloyd Chitembwe, you know him, we still talk,” he said.
The former Zambia and Zimbabwe national team coach also revealed a list of players he believes were up there in terms of talent.
“Most of them were talented, but Matsika (Elliot) and Usman Misi were up there in terms of technique. Shingi (Kawondera) was also good, so was Jenitala, Dinha and the keepers Japhet Mparutsa and Muzadzi.”
Although most local players are now ending their careers in the South African league, Grabowski is convinced Zimbabwe still has players good enough to go straight to Europe.
“There is more demand for players in South Africa, but South Africa is like your secondary school and Europe is the university.
“After secondary school you need to get to university, so there is still need for Zimbabwean players to go to Europe.
“Zimbabwe has got talented players who can go straight to Europe. We still have a lot of talent here in Zimbabwe and I have the names.
“But I won’t tell you the names because if I do so, then there will be 20 manipulators around the players already.
“We have eight good players ready to go to Europe after the coronavirus is dealt with.
“We have two players who are also going to South Korea. What is key is the eye for talent. If you don’t know how to select talent, then you will never have success.
“Technique is key. Physical fitness is natural and easy to develop, but technique is difficult to develop. It demands a lot of work. There is no need for players to run and run without technique.
“Ronaldo and Messi, they spend time during off-season perfecting their technique, but generally in Zimbabwe we are ignoring its importance,” Grabowski said.
One of his protégés, Dinha, revealed how Grabowski was obsessed with technique.
“Grabowski was very good at technical development. We never really understood what he meant or what he wanted until we mastered it.
“At first we couldn’t believe him, but he emphasised that once you have the technique you can survive in Europe.
“When I went to Poland, the first thing we did there was shooting, and we used to do shooting with Grabowski, so it was very easy for me.
“Because I knew exactly which part of the foot to use, coaches in Poland were actually surprised to see an African boy exhibiting great shooting technique.
“I can proudly say Grabowski played a huge role in our soccer careers. He is the one who organised my first European trial,” Dinha said.
He now owns a football academy called Shumba in South Africa.
“Grabowski had an eye for talent and he knew Chitungwiza had some good players. I think Chitungwiza produced more players than any other town.
“I don’t know about Mbare, which is also a hub, but I think Chitungwiza contributed massively,” added Dinha.
Jenitala, who starred for Darryn T in 2000 and is now based in Germany, owes his career to the Polish coach.
“If it wasn’t for Grabowski I wouldn’t have reached the levels I reached. People can say whatever they want to say about him but to me he is more like a father.
“The life skills he taught us, we are still using today. He is the one who opened the doors for us to go to Europe,” said Jenitala, who is now involved with the Homeless World Cup programme.
“Grabowski plucked some of us from the dusty streets and sent us to Europe where we had an opportunity to meet and play with some talented players.
“I feel Grabowski is not fully appreciated. He is a true Zimbabwean football hero who played a crucial role in the development of football in the country, thanks to his links in Europe, especially Poland,” he said.
Murisa, who won the 1996 Soccer Star of the Year award at CAPS United after playing for Darryn T and Blackpool, had some special words for Grabowski.
“Grabowski did a lot for us. It was because of his links that I went to Poland when I had just turned 20. I will forever cherish his contribution to my career,” said Murisa.
Former ZIFA technical director and CAF coaching instructor, Nelson Matongorere, thinks Zimbabwean football would have been poorer without Grabowski.
“In terms of football development, Grabowski ran his race and he ran a very good race,” said the Harare City assistant coach.
“This coach played a very important part by developing excellent players like Chitembwe, Mapeza, Choto, Murisa, Dinha and Bunjira . . . the list is endless. The players are too many to mention.
“A lot of Zimbabwean players had great opportunities to go to Europe for trials with top clubs. Some of them ended up playing in top European clubs, especially in Poland,” said Matongorere.