George Shaya: The Dazzling Football Mastermind We Lost

HARARE - When Hollywood producers made the 1982 blockbuster movie “An Officer and a Gentleman” which starred film icons Richard Gere and Louis Gossett (Jnr) they could have had Zimbabwe legendary player George “Mastermind” Shaya in mind.
Charles Mabika, Special Correspondent 

HARARE – When Hollywood producers made the 1982 blockbuster movie “An Officer and a Gentleman” which starred film icons Richard Gere and Louis Gossett (Jnr) they could have had Zimbabwe legendary player George “Mastermind” Shaya in mind.

The former tricky right winger, widely regarded as the finest ever footballer to grace our playing fields, was a meticulous and hyper-active artist on the field who immediately transformed himself into a humble and modest character off the pitch. 

He passed away at a Highfield hospital on Tuesday. He was 77.

The Mastermind had not been well for the last couple of years following a nagging ;right leg ailment that had eventually resulted in the doctors amputating it just above the knee.

The former senior national team’s skipper and Dynamos playmaker, who wore the No. 7 jersey at both sides, was a rare breed of players whose strongest attribute was using his brilliant vision and guile  to outwit his the opposition hence the nickname Mastermind that was coined for him by ex-Herald Sports Editor, the late Alan Hlatywayo.

In one of his articles about Shaya, Hlatywayo felt that the little magician possessed what is referred to as the “sixth sense” which is the ability to know and conjure something without using the ordinary “five senses” of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste.

That depiction summed up Shaya at his best for the Rhodesia national team or the Glamour Boys.

Born and bred in the high density suburb of Mbare, Shaya attended Chitsere Primary School situated in the in the same suburb where he was quickly thrust into the school’s first team whilst still in Grade Three.

His strike partner was the late Peter “Thunderboots” Nyama and together they ruled the roost against other school sides as they tormented the opposition defences and scored at will.

His mercurial ingenuity would not take long to be noticed by many clubs who fought for his services and he featured for various amateur sides before he made his “big time” debut at lower  side Nimfa Rovers.

In those early years, his sublime dribbling skills had already earned him the nickname “Matanyera”. 

What would follow would be a flowing and famous journey of absolute brilliance for the skilful “mighty midget” who would shine for sides like St Paul’s Musami, Mashonaland United (later renamed Zimbabwe Saints) and of course, Dynamos.

The Mastermind was always destined to make history wherever he played.

His most famous achievement in local football was winning the Soccer Star of the Year award a record five times (1969, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1977).

In the first year that he grabbed the prestigious award, he was drafted into the national side who were scheduled to play against Australia for a 1970 World Cup play-off qualifier in Lourenco Marques (now known as Maputo).

And he was the only player from Dynamos called up by Scottish coach Danny McLennan in the strong 30-man contingent.

A total of three matches, including two replays, the Australian Socceroos triumphed. 

George Shaya

Although they didn’t make it, Shaya was one of the stars at three-match play-off and even received offers from the Australians to come and play professionally in their land.

Shaya’s room mate during that World Cup adventure, former Rufaro Rovers defender. Shepherd “Shepidho” Murape, still stunned by Shaya’s death, revealed that The Mastermind feared that he would become “home sick” if he journeyed that far from his country and felt it would affect his game.

“You see, George or Kademo as we used to call on the pitch because of the No. 7 figure on hos jersey, loved his country so much that he was scared to leave. I tried to persuade him to consider those offers but he was adamant that he didn’t want to face the agony of being away from his family,” said the former Warriors coach who is now based in South Africa.

This apparent “home sickness” caused Shaya to turn down more offers from Portuguese giants Benfica (where he broke off a three-week trial stint after only a week and returned home), Greek side FC Appolon and South African top campaigners Moroka Swallows during his heyday in the 70s.

Murape added: “It was him who persuaded me to join him at Dynamos a few years later. For me, this was the finest  player I ever saw and played alongside. He would see an opening where none of our entire side would and rush there screaming for someone to pass the ball to him. When we were trailing during a match, everyone, including our ‘keeper, would just want to pass the ball to Shaya because we knew that his ‘sixth sense’ would produce goals for us. I’m really stunned and saddened,” lamented Murape.

The Mastermind’s moments of brilliance on the pitch are just too many to recount.

He was a dazzling menace down the right flank and would cut inside to waltz his way past a cluster of defenders and would always lay the ball for someone else to score even if he had only the ‘keeper to beat.

His favourite finishes were from penalty spot kicks where he would just stand over the ball  before nonchalantly picking his spot past the ‘keeper. Most players  – if not all – like to step back a few paces and then run up to the ball before directing their effort, hopefully, past the ‘keeper. Not this little genius . . . taking a penalty kick for him was like having a drink of water.

In a career spanning one-and-a-half decades, Shaya scored a total of 30 goals from the spot; missing only once. 

But for me, his most “outrageous” stunt was accomplished during a league match back in 1979 (at the end of that season he also hung up his boots) when Dynamos were playing Kadoma gold miners Rio Tinto.

Midway in the second half and with the scores still at  nil-all, the Glamour Boys were awarded a penalty after their speedy forward Oliver “Flying Saucer”  Kateya was upended in the penalty box.Before the spot kick was taken, Shaya summoned all the Dynamos players to form a circle and he slipped into the centre and said something to all of them.

Everyone in the stadium was wondering what The Mastermind was up to.

Then he stepped up to take the kick and to everyone’s utter bewilderment, he slightly pushed ball forward to midfielder Kuda Muchemeyi, who had rushed from outside the penalty box where he had stood with some of his team mates and took over possession of that ball and strode towards the Rio Tinto goal.

Out rushed the Kadoma gold miners’ ‘keeper Raphael Phiri but Muchemeyi dribbled past him and passed the ball into the back of the empty net.
Everyone was puzzled. Was this allowed? Would the referee allow the goal to stand?

As a youngster then, I wasn’t too familiar with the rules of the game so I was equally bewildered. The referee also seemed also have been “hoodwinked” by Shaya’s stunt as he first looked at his two assistant referees who also looked stunned. After what seemed an eternity, he allowed the goal to stand.

Dynamos scored a second, after The Mastermind was again involved but this time in a “normal way” after he waltzed past the entire Rio Tinto defence to set up centre striker David “Broom Boy” George for the second goal and the match ended 2-0.

After the final whistle, the talking point from everyone at the stadium as they remained rooted to their seats was about that penalty kick.

Many years later, I was still troubled by that incident until I asked former referee Wilfred Mukuna about that incident.

The seasoned official explained to me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with The Mastermind’s “devious” act on that day.

And just a couple of years ago, in 2016, I laughed my lungs out after many European media outlets claimed that Lionel Messi had performed a “miraculous first ever” after he had passed the ball to his Barcelona team mate, Luis Suarez from the penalty spot and the latter scored in a La Liga match against Celta Vigo.

I couldn’t stop laughing. A miraculous first? I had seen that in my teenage years at Gwanzura!Although The Mastermind was a devastating performer on the pitch, he was so publicity shy and never claimed credit for his team’s victories.

He would clam into a shell and seldom gave interviews before or after matches.

Hlatywayo wrote the following “pen-pic” about Shaya in a preview a day before Dynamos were due to clash with Zimbabwe Saints in the Chibuku Trophy final at Rufaro in 1976:

“Shaya is Dynamos and Dynamos is Shaya. One man does not make a team, so the sporting world knows. But there are many in this country who believe that Shaya is a close exception to that rule. He is to Rhodesian soccer what Pele was to the Brazilian game.

“When Shaya is not in the team, Dynamos are reduced to an ordinary outfit. When he’s back, all the team’s magic is webbed around him. The little Mastermind shuns publicity and is only content with dishing out the menus that satisfy the hunger of his millions of fans. If ZimbabweSaints are to fall, it will be Shaya who will ‘chaya’ them.”

And true to Hlatywayo’s prediction Dynamos clobbered Saints 8-0 with Shaya creating five and scoring one of the goals.

The Mastermind also grabbed the man-of-the-match award in an historic Rhodesia vs South Africa friendly international at Rufaro in 1977 which ended 1-1. He was also the team’s captain, a position he held until his retirement two years later. 

After he hung up his boots and until his death, Shaya rarely spoke and refused to criticize the seemingly downward trend in our current game.

In his usual soft tone, and in-between cigarette puffs, he would only say: “You’ve got to give them more time and support.”

One of his many successes was when he masterminded DeMbare’s 7-6 aggregate victory over South African giants Orlando Pirates in the 1976 Southern African Clubs Champions Cup’s two-legged final..

That side which contained the likes of Murape, Ngwenya, David “broom Boy” George, Kateya, Simon “Tangwena” Sachiti, Muchemeyi, Shaw “Kojak” Handriade, Isaac Nhema, Cremio Mapfumo and ‘keeper Matthew Mwale, is regarded by many as the finest line-up in the team’s history.

Former Warriors coach, Sunday “Mhofu” Chidzambwa, was influenced by Shaya and the late Sachiti to join that elite squad a year later. 

And Shaya had been the man-of-the-match in the 3-5 first leg’s away loss after the Bucs defence took turns to fell him and before was eventually substituted by player-coach Shadreck “Margarine” Ngwenya to avoid a more serious injury.. This was after he had steered his team’s ship from a 0-4 deficit and created all three goals to make it 3-4. After he went off, Pirates scored a late fifth goal to make it 5-3.

And the return leg was the same story as a quickly recovered Mastermind engineered a 4-1 victory after he created three goals and scored the fourth.

Broom Boy, who scored once in  that final and remained a close colleague of Shaya until his death, will never forget that match.

“For me, this was the most unforgettable day for me, Shaya was a pure genius. I hear people talking about various players as the best ever produced in the country. To me that’s child’s play. The Mastermind was the Real Deal and surely by now, something should have been done to honour him whilst he was still alive. Some time back I had heard that there were plans to rename Rufaro Stadium after him . . . and that talk just later fizzled out. I am deeply hurt at his passing away because he was like a big brother to me both on and off the pitch,” he said.

The chairperson of the Zimbabwe Football Legends Association, Charlie Jones, whose group were the chief instrumentalists at sourcing medical and material resources for Shaya since his illness, blasted local clubs for not looking after their legends when they fall on hard times.

“The Mastermind shouldn’t have had to go through these worrying times like he did. It is so sad that unlike in South Africa or Europe where clubs continue to assist their former players, none of this happens here.”

If any team up there finds itself trailing by two or three goals, they ned not panic because The Mastermind is now at hand to rescue their situation with his “sixth sense”.

He is survived by his wife Agnes and a son Stanley.

Mourner are gathere at No. 4538 Mucheke Crescent, Glen Norah “A”.

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