Many people who play soccer are known for being well-built, possessing strong legs, and being masters of stamina. This is largely so because soccer is a physical sport. But a young man from Zimbabwe’s Budiriro high-density suburb, 16, says the above description is apt, but passion is the utmost determiner of success.
Tinashe Mutopoli is not your usual soccer player – he was born with one leg shorter than the other but does wonders when he gets onto the pitch playing against able-bodied peers. He is a marvel to watch!
His condition will discourage anyone from attempting to get into a street football pitch but at the age of 8, he was already a hit in his community. His parents, fearing that he might expose himself to injury, strongly discouraged him.
“I used to forbid him from playing the game,” his father Lovemore Mutopoli says. “I feared that he would get hurt and his crutches were not lasting because of the football.”
Tinashe would watch from the sidelines as his age mates enjoyed the game until he decided to defy his parents’ orders.
Even repeated threats from his father, who argued that he was not strong enough to play, did not stop the youngster from following his passion.
“One day when I caught him playing, I ordered him to get into the house but barely 30 minutes later, was he back on the street playing,” his father recalls.
At times the difference between genius and knack, among children, is the support they get from their parents at a tender age. After realizing that his son had a passion for football, his father eventually gave in.
“I realized I should let him be, perhaps that was his destiny,” says the father.
Tinashe’s father was not the only one who had reservations about his adventures. His friends too.
“My mates were under the impression that I was not strong enough and they feared I would get hurt. But I proved them wrong in one of the matches, and that is how I was accepted,” he says.
Tinashe vividly remembers how his passion for football started.
“When I was eight years old, I just realized that I had a football talent. I can’t remember any trigger to that belief but I just felt I was good at it,” he recalls.
Growing up, Tinashe’s talent was not only a street football fanatic, he was selected in the school team and named captain.
“I was selected in the New Adventist Institute Primary School team when I was in grade 5 and selected captain a year later. I was captaining able-bodied teammates in that team,” narrated Tinashe. His exception display on the pitch always made him a favorite for coaches.
He says, “When I proceeded to high school, I didn’t struggle to get selected because the coaches were from my area and knew my ability on the pitch.”
Tinashe still enjoys football. His exquisite ball control and deft touches, balance as well as off-the- ball movement with the aid of a crutch, are unparalleled.
All that comes naturally, with no pain or discomfort whatsoever.
“I play football just like others, I pass, I shield the ball and I also dribble.”
The soft-spoken youngster idolizes Warriors stars Knowledge Musona, Marvelous Nakamba, Tino Kadewere, and Kuda Mahachi. He even argues that the national team is less competitive without the quartet.
Like his heroes, Tinashe wants to play professional football but the only stumbling block is an artificial leg.
He says he used to have one, donated to him but when it broke, his parents couldn’t afford a replacement.
His mother is a pillar of strength. He is proud of her.
“Not every woman is kind, when some mothers give birth to a child with a disability, some are irritated while some even throw away the child. But my mother accepted me for who I am and loved me, it is my wish that if ever I turn professional, I buy her something,” said Tinashe.
“My mother struggled to bring me up, she is still vending to put bread on the table for us, so I just hope that I will one day take care of her, through football.”
Many at times, the dreams of young footballers do not come true due to lack of exposure and impatience.
Tinashe just needs an artificial leg to get closer to his dream.