His heydays in the blue of Dynamos, arguably Zimbabwe’s most successful and popular side, were fast fading in the background and his focus had shifted to other matters.
Unlike so many other players of his generation, for whom the knock of poverty on their doors was heard before the sweat had dried on their jerseys, the history-making coach had a fledgling business to look towards when his playing days were over.
He had a promising transport business to take care of. Although traffic in the capital Harare could be as daunting as dictating the flow of the game in the heart of Dynamos’ central midfield, ‘Ras Pasuwa’ was eager to tackle the new venture with commitment and vigour.
That is, until he met Nelson Matongorere.
The long serving Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) technical director had observed something that the would-be coach had not noticed about himself.
He had a way with people. Whether in business or life in general, he seemed to be able to convince people to follow his lead, to persuade men to see things his way, in his own perspective. Sure, this was an invaluable asset in the transport business but Matongorere, who had nursed the careers of many Zimbabwean coaches in their infancy, felt that these qualities would be world beating qualities in a dugout.
“I never wanted to get into coaching at all. It was never part of my plans,” Pasuwa tells FARPost.
“I was into the transport business and so I thought I’d manage my business. It took Nelson Matongorere who said, ‘you know you’d make a good coach’ that’s when I started going for my badges.”
Matongorere was so sure Pasuwa possessed good man-management skills. As a player, Pasuwa had been a big name in his native country winning three league titles with Dynamos and three Cosafa Cup titles with the Warriors. He had also been part of a continent conquering Dynamos side that had gone all the way to the final of the ’98 African Champions League, falling at the final hurdle to Asec Mimosas.
As a coach however, he was a nobody and in the eyes of some people, a starlet that had been great once upon a time and was now seeking fresh glory in the dugout.
First, he served as a player assistant at Sporting Lions, before he went back home, taking up a role as assistant coach at his beloved Dynamos. His first stint as head coach was at Chitungwiza FC in the first division, but it was only at Highway FC, all the way back in 2007, where he first made a real impact. This was where he met Willard Katsande. The future Kaizer Chiefs hardman, then a lowly footballer battling for acceptance, would be one of the first Pasuwa’s personal touch.
“I’ve known him since my early days as a footballer while playing for Highway [first division]. We got promoted together,” Katsande tells FARPost. “Nobody gave me a chance in my hometown [Mutoko], people looked down upon me. He came in and he realised I could add value and started playing me. I was influential and I played more than three quarters of the games that season.”
It was in those early days when Pasuwa developed his blueprint as a coach. Just like Matongorere had envisioned, he would be a man of the people, a coach who ruled by consensus, taking into consideration the views of his players. He would be a leader of men, a man of the people, by the people.
“For me the most important thing is to build strong relationships with my players because they are the ones who do the job for me,” Pasuwa says.
Former Mamelodi Sundowns gunman Cuthbert Malajila, another of Pasuwa’s one-time protégés, recalls how the man management Matongorere identified in a reluctant Pasuwa are what set him apart from other coaches.
“He’s a guy who talks to his players, he’s like a father and brother. He wants to see his players prosper on and off the field. You can literally talk to him about your personal problems and feel like you’re talking to an older brother,” Malajila tells FARPost.
As a player, Pasuwa was well loved at Dynamos and as a club legend, the assumption was that when he took over the reins in 2011, the seemingly bottomless ocean of love that DeMbare fans had in their hearts for him would continue to flow.
When he took over, cobwebs had begun to gather on the Dynamos trophy cabinet and the Harare giants had seemingly forgotten the taste of championship success.
In what was his first proper stint as a head coach in the topflight, Pasuwa would go on an unprecedented run, winning four titles on the trot. It was a run that earned him legendary status but unlike the love and appreciation that some might have expected, his overly successful stay at Dembare was tumultuous. It is a record-breaking period that was instrumental in the making of Pasuwa the coach, yet he still maintains that it is a time that he would rather forget than look back on with fondness.
“Dynamos. It was very difficult for me. I choose to forget about that phase because it was like hell,” he recalls.
Like all giants, Dynamos had its fair share of criticism and backstabbing, and at various times during his stint, despite his overwhelming success, his position never felt entirely secure.
Few men could have handled that sort of pressure but with the odds stacked against him, Pasuwa did not crumble. A devout Christian who even inquires if his former players keep communion with their maker long after they have parted company, some believe that his strength lies in prayer. Such was the intensity of the pressure at Dynamos that only divine intervention could have guided him through those four tense years.
In fact, the last of his four titles with Dynamos was nothing short of divine. It went to the wire with the top three teams including Highlanders and Harare City finishing level on 54 points but Pasuwa’s charges clinched the title for a record 20th time courtesy of superior goal difference. That day, he effectively sealed his place in the Dynamos Hall of fame after the title race that was only decided with the sound of final whistles in three stadia across the country’s two major cities.
“The one thing that struck me about him is how he wins against the odds. When everyone thinks the title is gone, he just has a way of winning important games and shocking everyone. He’s done it all his coaching career. Of course, he’s still learning and growing in it,” says Malajila.
Despite his success at Dynamos, there was still a fair number of sceptics that doubted if Pasuwa would ever replicate his success away from Dynamos, the club where the legend of the ‘Great Kali’, as he is affectionately known, had been born and bred. It was a fluke, some said, and as soon as he left the comfort of Harare he would be found out.
Even stints when he led the Zimbabwe Under 23 to the All-Africa Games and the Warriors to Afcon 2017 did not earn him the respect he deserved in some quarters.
What set him apart, Katsande says, are the same qualities that made Matongorere to identify him as a future mentor all those years ago – his man management skills.
“He knows how to manage egos. Many coaches are good tactically but fail to manage egos and it works against them. Then you have those that manage egos well but are poor tactically, which costs them. He has both. He’s a man manager. He’s more like a father figure,” explains the Sekhukhune United midfielder.
The Caf-A license holder is a meticulous student of the game, at least according to his former Warriors captain Katsande. “He’s very modern in terms of his training methods, tactics and systems. He pays attention to detail. He’s aware that in the modern game most goals come from set pieces and his teams thrive on that.”
With doubts still hanging over him despite a fruitful stint in Zimbabwe, for both club and country, the 51-year-old packed his bags and headed to Malawi where he would scale further heights.
In the landlocked country in south-eastern Africa, two weeks ago he sealed his third championship on the trot, another record. The same principles and management style that carried him in his native country have also held his career away from home together.
“He’s a good coach, he’s a professional, he’s a manager, he can manage a player very well,” Nyasa Big Bullets defender Sankhani Mkandawire tells FARPost.
While he has left the drama of Dynamos behind, there are rumours that at Big Bullets, Pasuwa has not had it all smooth. He is the underrated underdog that keeps winning, but still finds it hard to earn the loyalty of assistants and subordinates praying for his downfall.
Despite the doubts and in spite of his detractors, Mkandawire still rates him as one of the continent’s finest. In the meantime, what the late Matongorere perceived keeps unfolding graciously!
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By Mthokozisi Dube