Former Zambia international Clifford Mulenga has lifted the lid on how his football career spiralled into a life of alcohol, curtailing his progress.
Mulenga was touted as the next best thing in the African game after being named the 2008 African Young Footballer of the Year.
On a night when French-Malian star Frederic Kanoute became the first player born outside Africa to win the African Footballer of the Year award, the Zambian midfield sensation lifted the prize for the best Under 23 African player. He beat off competition from Ibara Franchel of the Congo U20 team and Nigerian U17 player Oseni Gani.
What made Mulenga’s award even more special was the fact that footballers from southern Africa rarely get any recognition at continental level but the performance that he put at the 2007 U20 World Cup in Canada was enough to convince the selectors to present him with the accolade. But as he looks back, the nomadic winger admits he could have achieved a lot more had it not been for the bottle.
“I think alcohol killed my career and I say it with all the love I have for myself. I have always believed so much in myself. I have always had this confidence to the point where I felt I could do anything. But sometimes, I forget and grab a bottle where I shouldn’t,” he told a Zambian publication.
Mulenga was sent home by coach Herve Renard during the 2012 African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea for disciplinary reasons. He breached the team curfew when he went on a drinking spree with three team-mates after Chipolopolo’s 1-0 win over the hosts.
“If I could change something about Clifford Mulenga, I wouldn’t have drunk as much as I did,” he added.
At 20, Mulenga had already been to the AFCON finals twice. The left-footed maestro had a brief spell with Orgryte of Sweden. At some point, he was likened to his legendary compatriot Kalusha Bwalya, one of the best talents ever to emerge from the southern African country.
The 32-year-old has had a professional career in the PSL, turning out for Bidvest Wits, Bloemfontein Celtic and SuperSport United, amongst others.
“And now I sit and contemplate where I come from, what has been and I feel as if I have let go,” he said.
RELATED STORY: You can’t drink and thrive
By Mthokozisi Dube