FIRST the bad news. Kennedy Mweene, the goalkeeping hero of Zambia’s African Cup of Nations triumph over the Ivory Coast in Libreville last Sunday will NOT be playing for South Africa’s Free State Stars against SuperSport United on Wednesday night.
The Lucas “Masterpieces” Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville will be a sadder place for it. While the Ivorian brothers Yaya and Kolo Toure had a private jet waiting to zoom them back to Manchester City after the final, Mweene relies on scheduled flights and community cabs to get him back to Bethlehem, the remote Free State town 350km from Johannesburg which is home to the Free State Stars.
Mweene, picked as the goalkeeper of the tournament, admits: “I don’t think I will make it back on Wednesday. There is still a lot to be done after our win, the country is celebrating. However, I will be available on Saturday against Amazulu.”
Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I did predict modest Mweena would emerge as President Kennedy after his clash with Didier Drogba http://scoopnews.co.za/didier-or-die-for-zambia/.
Now the good news. He’s ready to return to the South African Premier League and strut his stuff despite his new-found fame after denying Drogba and Co in an 8-7 penalty shoot-out win for the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets). Mweene says: “I will really have to work hard now. After Sunday, everyone in South Africa will want to score against the champion! It won’t be easy for me anymore!”
Not that it has ever been easy for the 27-year-old stopper, who played all six games in Zambia’s emotional success in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon before, vitally, saving Kolo Toure’s kick in the final shoot-out. With a string of psychological antics and plenty of chat, he also encouraged Chelsea’s fearsome Didier Drogba to put one penalty over the bar in the 70th minute of the goalless final and saw Arsenal’s Gervinho put the final spot kick wide.
And all that after a superb save during the perfect first ten penalties – and then being flagged for being marginally off his line.
The man who also saved Asamoah Gyan’s spot-kick in the semi-final against highly-fancied Ghana says: Our coach Herve Renard (who once coached England’s Cambridge United in the Football League’s lowest level) helped us to keep cool, whether it’s a big or small game. He’s done a lot with us mentally. That’s why I wasn’t shaking about Drogba. There was no panic.”
Voted goal.com’s 143rd world player of the week for his performance during the final, Mweene is now a wanted man. And Free State Stars say they won’t stand in his way if a European club makes an offer for a man who has scored three goals – as many as Orlando Pirates former West Ham striker – in the Premier League this season.
Mweene, who scored during the penalty shoot-out on Sunday, has already attracted attention from local rivals Mamelodi Sundowns but Stars manager Rantsi Mokoena told kickoff.com this week: “We signed Kennedy as an unknown 21-year-old and he is very loyal to Free State Stars.
“In the last three seasons he has been receiving offers, but he has turned all of them down in order to remain with us. So far we haven’t received any offers, but if he gets offers to go overseas then I’m sure we won’t stand in his way.”
Born in the Zambian capital Lusaka, Mweene was voted the South African Premier League’s top keeper in 2009/10 but his contract expires on June 30, 2014. His business manager Ryan Hartslief of Bigtime Sports will no doubt be interested to hear Mokoena’s comments.
Mweene started his career with Lusaka Dynamos, playing 27 games for them in 2004 as a teenager, before moving to Kitwe United in 2005 and played 30 games for them before Free State Stars swooped. Mweena is currently listed as having played 14 times for the Bethlehem side known by their Basotho motto “Ea Lla Kotto” or ”fight to the end”. He made his Zambia debut in the same year, and has been Chipolopolo’s first choice ever since, playing 67 times for his country so far.
Unlike most football writers, I’d actually earmarked President Kennedy as a star before this tournament. Have a squint at http://neal-collins.blogspot.com/2011/12/o-little-town-of-bethlehem-all-you-ever.html
And keep a very close eye on President Kennedy. He may just be on his way to stardom beyond the Free State Stars.