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I COULD HAVE BEEN A STAR…but parents never allowed me to play football – Minister

VINCENT Mwale holds that had he been given chance, he would have turned out to be a world class footballer in the mould of Juventus and Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I play like [Cristiano] Ronaldo when I am in front, when I am in the middle like [Paul] Pogba,” he says.

But the housing and infrastructure development minister tells of how his prospective football career was frustrated by his parents’ insistence that soccer would never take him anywhere.

Mwale was never allowed to play football even when his passion, talent and skill was evident.

If news ever reached home that the young Mwale was playing football, in defiance of his parents, he would find himself in hot soup.

“My parents never allowed me to play football when I was in school. They were like, ‘football will take you nowhere’. The time I was at Burma Primary School, I even enrolled in the school football team and I was in Team C. But I never played because I was never allowed to play,” Mwale recalls.

“I trained, I did everything but there was no way I was going to play and when I moved to Chipata in Grade 6, it was the same story, I was never allowed to play. In fact, in Chipata I was even the captain for the team but then I was never allowed to play football.”

Mwale, 42 recalls how his peers such as Power Dynamos assistant coach Masauso Tembo and former Zamsure striker Shy Kumwenda from his playing days in Lusaka’s Kabwata township went on to become professional footballers while he was forced to take a different route.

“I really loved football, I had passion for it. I think given a chance, I would have played fulltime professional football, but it was just never meant to be,” he says.

In 2006, Mwale was elected Chipangali Constituency MMD member of parliament, becoming one of the youngest legislators at the time.

His election, however, permanently put to rest his dreams of a professional career in football.

Mwale now hopes that his sons Khondwani, 13 and five-year-old Vincent Junior become professional footballers.

According to Mwale, the boys are already impressive to watch.

A witty and eloquent speaker during parliament debates, Mwale has emerged as an embodiment of decent and issue-based politics as well as a role model for many young politicians from the ruling and opposition parties alike.

Mwale defected from the MMD where he had cut his teeth in politics and joined the PF after it took office.

President Edgar Lungu appointed Mwale minister of sports and youth development in 2015 and then made him local government minister in 2016 before appointing him to his latest portfolio last July.

But Mwale’s love for football has not quite gone away.

A staunch supporter of English Premier League giants Manchester United and twelve-time Zambian league champions Nkana FC, Mwale believes he is still a lethal striker and skillful midfielder.

Every evening on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and occasionally on Sunday afternoons, Mwale takes to the pitch at the Barcelona Football Academy in Lusaka’s Long acres area for some social soccer.

Watching him showcase his dribbling skills and then execute slick passes which often result into goals or scoring spectacular goals himself shows that maybe Mwale is right – he may have turned out as a football star.

“I play like [Cristiano] Ronaldo when I am in front, when I am in the middle like [Paul] Pogba,” he says after a game in which he scored a scorcher and provided an assist in his side’s 4-0 win.

In fact, owing to the flashes of skill and talent Mwale has shown on the pitch, his playmates have nicknamed him ‘Ronaldo’. But for him, football is now just for fun as well as an avenue to exercise, interact with and inspire young footballers.

Mwale says he wants to make a difference to upcoming players who have challenges realising their dreams.

On arrival at the Barca Academy, Mwale is usually met by many young players to whom he renders assistance, ranging from paying subscription fees, buying boots to paying for their school fees.

“I was never given a chance [but] maybe I can contribute by helping those that are growing up like me. As I have already mentioned, I was never allowed to play football but some of these kids it’s just lack of simple boots or enrollment fees so I try as much as possible to help,” he says.

“I had never had a chance myself to excel but I want to give these boys who come from these humble families to be able to move forward.”

In some cases, Mwale has had to buy air tickets for young players to fly to Spain on football related matters.

His own constituency is host to several football tournaments throughout the year but he hopes that the country will have more facilities like the Barca Academy where young people can horn and sharpen their talents and skills.

To help raise funds for such infrastructure, he has formed the Vincent Mwale Foundation.

His biggest football dream is to see Zambia qualify to the World Cup.

“I am looking forward to Zambia qualifying to the World Cup…at that point I will do everything possible raise an air ticket to just go and watch Zambia at the World Cup,” reveals Mwale.

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