By Duncan Mlanjira
Former Malawi national football team maestro, Young ‘Ayugo’ Chimodzi retired from the international scene in 1996 having served for 19 years (1977-1996) and the teammate he says he admired most and was his mentor was another genius on the field — late Jack Africa Chamangwana.
His generation of international players included the likes of Jack, Kinnah Phiri, Barnet Gondwe, Clifton Msiya, Jonathan Billie, Holman Malunga, Donnex Gondwe, Clement Mkwalula, Gilbert Chirwa, Dennis Saidi, Harry Waya, Thom Kazembe and Stock Dandize.
Others were Patson Nyengo, Collins Thewe, Reuben Malola, Patrick Chikafa, John Dzimbiri, Dickson Mbetewa, Peter Amos, Moses Majiga, Henry Chikunje, Sito Mfarinya, Augustine Munthali, Henry Tewesa, Mosted Sichinga, just to mention a few.
“There are many players who were part of this great generation, who came with different characters but I would say Jack Chamangwana was my mentor in many aspect,” he said.
Chimodzi took over the Flames captaincy from Chamangwana in mid 80s and went on to lead the squad that won the 1988 East and Central Africa Senior Challenge Cup that Malawi hosted after beating Zambia in the final.
The maestro says one the highlights he cherishes is this tournament in 1988 more so that he scored in that final game.
“Another of my memorable moments was winning the bronze medal at the All Africa Games where — on our way to semifinals — we beat big teams such as Egypt, Senegal and Cameroon. I also scored a goal against Egypt.
He finally called it quits from the national team in 1996 but continued to captain Silvers Strikers till 1999 when he gave the mantle and jersey number 7 to Charles Malungo.
Chimodzi’s football career started in 1977 when he was at Lilongwe CCAP Primary School when his talent was spotted by coach Henry Moyo, who drafted him into the Central Region School’s Select to play against the other regions — South and North.
His excellent performance saw him being selected into the Malawi school’s national squad and the same year was picked for the senior national team at the age of 16.
He was the youngest player in the squad and in 1979, he played his first match for the Flames when they went to Lesotho for friendlies in preparation for their defence of the East and Central Africa Senior Challenge Cup title.
He was also part of the squad that flew to the UK at the auspices of coach Ted Powell, also for friendlies to prepare the same title defence but when they came back he was unable to join the travelling squad to Kenya for the tournament because he had to sit for the Junior Certificate (JC) examinations.
He says the players he cherishes sharing his proud moments under coach Ted Powell include Kinnah Phiri, late Jack Chamangwana, Collins Thewe, Harry Waya, Boniface Maganga, Ernest Mtawali and several others.
“These were great players that I enjoyed playing with in the national team. That generation which we were at our best.
“The dedication which was there amongst the players in their burning desire to fly the flag higher, as well as their intense passion to impress the fans for their clubs, made football then very enjoyable, not the little perks that went with it.
“I am proud to be part of that generation of players that were successful and being the most capped player excites me and I am looking forward to seeing the one who shall break that record.
“I thank all the fans who have followed our generation of players up to now and I glow with pride when the public shouts out a greeting through my nickname ‘Ayugo’.”
Celebrated football commentator with Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), Steve Liwewe Banda described Young as a perfect gentleman, very disciplined and dedicated to duty.
“Young Chimodzi standing at about 6 foot 8 inches tall was one of the best defenders Malawi ever produced alongside Jack Africa Chamangwana.
“At the time that Jack was retiring there was no question as who would replace Jack — Young Chimodzi ably filled those boots.
“He admirably represented Malawi at both club and national team levels. He defended very well and scored vital goals for the national team.
“Young Chimodzi is a legend and Malawi’s great football icon indeed,” said Liwewe Banda.
Many may wonder why a player of Chimodzi’s caliber never played outside the country but he says he had many chances to play abroad. He went for trials in Belgium and passed “but I did not take up the offer because I had a steady job [at the Reserve Bank of Malawi]”.
“I felt I could not leave my good job and I also rejected offers from South Africa because of the same.
“At the moment I am concentrating on my personal businesses in Lilongwe which I founded during my playing career and also working at the Reserve Bank.”
He has also been called to coach the national team on several occasions and he says he never had good highlights with the Flames apart from winning the Plate at the Confederation of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) tournament.
“Anything done under pressure is not enjoyable,” he said.
The great African stars that he admired sharing the international stage with include Kalusha Bwalya from Zambia, Kunje from Cameroon, Roger Milla from Cameroon, among others.
Ernest ‘Wire’ Mtawali, the Malawian football star who is revered in South Africa for his excellent style of play, says he had an opportunity to play against Chimodzi at club level and at high school as well as at the national team.
“I remember when I was at Central High School in 1981 we reached the final of the Malawi Book Service (MBS) Trophy and we played against Bwaila Secondary School at the Lilongwe Community Centre.
“Central High used to have the cream of Malawi soccer players. We had players like Frank Sinalo, Holman Malunga, Lovemore Chafunya, Jimmy Mphamba — the list is endless — but we ended up losing 1-4 against Bwaila Secondary led by Young Chimodzi.
“In 1982, when I was selected for the national team under Ted Powell, Young Chimodzi was already a regular in the team.
“Young was one of the best defenders in Malawi and Africa; he could read the game very well; he knew when to dash forward and he could score crucial goals for both the Malawi national team and his club, Silver Strikers.
“Young was very quiet, not vocal at all but he could let the feet do the talking for him. I have no doubt in my mind that Young could have played for any team in the world.
“It was an honor for me to play alongside Young as he was committed and disciplined, no wonder he is one of the most capped player.
“Not many people come closer to his knowledge of the game. I will always salute Young Chimodzi,” Ernest said.
Former Big Bullets midfielder, Acton Munthali also says he is honoured to have played against Young and also once trained with him during his first senior national football team call up in 1994 preparing to play against Cameroon.
“I learnt a lot from him as a cool, calm and collected player full of anticipation on the field of play.
“At club level, we could indeed give him tough time but he was always above us in terms of reading the game.
“He once approached me to join Silver Strikers as he always admired young and upcoming players. I felt great to be approached by this great legend Malawi has ever produced.
“I remember to have scored a goal against Silver Strikers through a header — I out jumped two pillars Young and Francis Songo during a corner kick.
“It was a beauty of a goal that beat late Ganizani ‘Cool Cat’ Masiye in goals. I couldn’t believe that I out-jumped these great pillars. Maybe luck was on my side.
“I respect him as one of the greatest defenders/midfielders who could overlap at will with the flow of the game. Yes, he was the best of the best.”
Kennedy ‘Senator’ Malunga also believes Young was one of the best players Malawi ever had.
“Playing alongside Young was always a blessing and great,” he said. “He respected everyone and treated each one of us with the same positive attitude.
“I was very young when I was called for the national team and I remember him telling me that I should play like the way I was playing for Wanderers — and most of all to enjoy my game!
“Young Chimodzi was simply great. He was always cracking jokes during national team training camps.”
Former Malawi National Council of Sports Executive Secretary, George Jana said Young always had a quiet and yet very approachable character with a serious spirit to do well in whatever he did.
“His approach to football was that of a professional even in his younger days.
“On the field of play he exuded discipline and control — always seeming focused and dedicated. He had command of his forces regardless of whether he was the captain or not.
“He always appeared deceptively slow but always achieving his end. He was and I think remains an envy and a legend — a brilliant defender who could overlap to the front at any time. He knew his football.”
High Court Judge, Justice Jabbar Alide, who is also the vice-president of Football Association of Malawi (FAM), marveled watching Young play, saying his composure, calmness and attitude on the pitch was simply admirable.
“He was good in the air as well as on the ground. Excellent on the ball, and his positioning always enabled him to intercept dangerous balls at the back.
“He made football, and defending in particular, look so simple. A player of top measure — made of pure class.”
One of the country’s award winning sports journalist, Garry Chirwa also acknowledged Young as a highly disciplined who was so talented that he could overlap with ease.
“He scored fabulous goals too. To me, he is one if the best centre backs to have emerged on the domestic scene apart from Jack ‘Africa’ Chamangwana and Peter ‘Mjojo’ Mponda,” he said.
Another journalist, Kelvin Moyo described Young as a “leader on and off field. A world class defender who could have played in any top league in the world.”
Chiza Nyirongo, former teammate with FAM president Walter Nyamilandu at University FC who later played for MDC United, described Young as “a defender who was never rough; knew how to delegate his fellow players; was confident and very composed”.