As he edges towards the end of his career, after a football journey that has spanned over two decades, only those that hold a deep grudge against him can say Mkhokheli Dube does not love the beautiful game.
In the modern game, where most attackers hang up their boots in the early 30s due to tired legs or after having grown tired of spending their weekends being kicked in the park by over-eager defenders, Dube is a rare breed.
A career that began on the dusty streets of the high-density suburb of Tshabalala in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city Bulawayo has seen him odyssey through two continents and three countries.
It has been a decorated journey in which he helped his clubs pick up an impressive array of silverware and personal accolades along the way.
At 38, Dube is still a relatively young man, but when he finally breathes his last, a very long time in the future hopefully, on his tombstone should perhaps be engraved the words, “Here lies Mkhokheli Dube, six-time Zimbabwe PSL champion, Superliga title winner and Michigan Bucks Hall of Fame inductee.”
Even so, such words would not justifiably sum up the kind of career that Dube has enjoyed. A tombstone only has room for so many words after all. In many ways, his achievements in his home country are unprecedented.
He was a key part of the Highlanders sides that won a record four titles on the trot at the turn of the millennium [won the last three of those]. And despite being surrounded by a galaxy of stars in that record-breaking side, he managed to finish as the club’s top goal scorer during the campaign that claimed the last of that quartet of titles.
As if that run was not enough, he would, later on, claim a hattrick of titles with Zimbabwe’s new undisputed football kings, FC Platinum, who were crowned champions between 2017 and 2019.
Sandwiched between those titles are stints in the US with Lindsey Wilson, Delaware Dynasty, Michigan Buck, and Coastal Carolina.
Playing in the Major League Soccer with New England Revolution and Chicago Fire marked the zenith of his career. On his return to southern African soil, he turned out for AmaZulu in Durban before joining Chicken Inn and Bulawayo City in his native Zimbabwe.
It was only this year that he signed a one-year contract with first division side Talen Vision who are keen to tap on his vast football experience. After a lifetime on the road, entertaining fans in arena after arena, the man that Highlanders fans playfully christened “Mkhonto” as he spearheaded their attack, believes it is time to guide the next generation of stars from the dugout.
After all, he is already the holder of a Caf C coaching license, a BFut [Brazilian Football] Level 4 coaching license, and a Level 3 Zimbabwean coaching certificate. Since 2015, he has been Zebra Revolution Academy director of coaching despite his continuing responsibilities on the field of play.
“Retirement is on the cards, having spent 20-plus years playing, I think it’s time. I have an academy called Zebra Revolution, which I started in 2015 and the boys that I started with are grown and I’m planning to register them in the second division,” he tells FARPost during a brief visit to Johannesburg this week.
In a career littered with memorable highlights, talk of his time at the trailblazing Highlanders still brings a sparkle to his eye. “Of all my achievements, the sweetest was my first championship for Highlanders. It was the best because it was the time I announced myself to the big league,” Dube says.
“The first championship with FC Platinum was also special because the club had ambitions to win the league title which had been eluding them. It prompted them to change their recruitment strategy and they added experience in their ranks, which worked.
“In my first year with them, we won the club’s first championship and did it two more consecutive times. Another big moment for me was winning a Superliga title with New England Revolution in a foreign land. It felt really good,” says the 2009 Revolution top goal scorer.
It is understandable that Dube perhaps treasures that first triumph with Highlanders the most. Essentially, during that championship, he fulfilled a childhood dream. It was a dream that had begun on the Barbourfields Stadium grandstands where he often went to watch the black and white-shirted boys with his dad.
For a boy from Bulawayo, football honours do not come higher than championship triumphs with Highlanders. In fact, it was double the joy as he got to share the same locker room with one of his childhood heroes, Zimbabwean football legend Adam ‘Adamski’ Ndlovu.
“My dad introduced me to the game. From a tender age, he used to take me to Barbourfields and that’s when I fell in love with the game,” explains Dube. “That Highlanders of the ’90s was the best. My favourite players were Madinda Ndlovu and Adam Ndlovu. May his soul Rest in Peace. I was lucky to play and learn from him at the end of his career. Adam was one of the coolest guys, always willing to help youngsters and guide them in the right direction and he was the one who helped me get signed at AmaZulu in South Africa when I got back from the US.”
Perhaps Dube’s most enduring legacy, despite all the accolades, will be how he was a distinguished and disciplined servant of the game throughout the time he played the beautiful game. One does not make it to the age of 38 without a strict and disciplined regime of conditioning.
It speaks volumes that throughout his career, he never had any significant disciplinary issues off the field either. That saw FC Platinum coach Norman Mapeza signing him when the striker appeared as if he was bidding farewell to his playing days.
“When I brought him in [at FC Platinum], it was the second half of the season and I wanted someone with experience. I thought with the experience from his time in America he would give us another dimension.
“He was a good example to our players. He was an exceptional professional, he looked after himself well, he is a family man. You could tell he grew up where there was real football played. His attitude and behaviour was top-notch. He’s a true professional,” Mapeza tells FARPost.
He adds that the former youth international looked after himself well. “He would not do nights out. He was also cautious about what he ate.” While his time at Highlanders brought him glory, Dube acknowledges that time served at various sides in his career fostered professionalism within him.
“From my stint in the US, I learned to be a professional, it was a wake-up call from what I was used to,” he says. “Being in a foreign country makes one stronger because you have to be on top of the situation all the time, you have to be better than the locals, your productivity has to be above par, hence the need to be more professional. By professional I mean being punctual, eating right, taking care of my body, resting, doing extra training, being my biggest critic. Taking responsibility and being accountable.
“I’m a passionate person, sometimes my passion becomes an obsession, which led me to take my football seriously because I realised I was making money doing something I love. So, eating right and taking care of my body has helped me stay this long. I’m also grateful to the Almighty for keeping me from any serious injuries,” he says.
Despite a career that conforms to the highest standards of professionalism, his time at AmaZulu remains a blight on a career that is otherwise without blemish. “South Africa wasn’t much of a success as the coach that signed me for AmaZulu was fired six months later,” he adds.
As if to underpin his overall sense of purpose and drive, Dube is one of the footballers that has pursued his education, keeping an eye on the future even as the adulation of thousands poured on him from the stands.
“Along the way, I realised it was important to get an education,” says Dube. “It is always key for any footballer because it’s an unpredictable career. Football is a contact sport, anytime you get on the field it’s a 50/50 chance of getting injured, so it’s always ideal to have a backup plan.
“And for me, education and football got me an opportunity to go to the US. I went to the US on a soccer scholarship, and without education, I wasn’t going to the US. I studied Business Administration and Communications.”
As he winds down on an incredible football journey, Dube is eager to make an indelible mark on the next generation of Zimbabwean football stars!
By Mthokozisi Dube