Mbabane: It is not every day that a footballer turns down an overseas move for things like being homesick or bad weather but Mfanzile ‘Fash’ Dlamini was an exception.
Considered one of the best forwards of his generation, ‘Fash’ was always destined for great things when he burst to the scene with boyhood club Mhlambanyatsi Rovers. He was every coach’s dream upfront, with a deft touch, holding of the ball, a team player with a sharp eye for goal and there was never a question when clubs from outside the borders came knocking for his signature.
Between 2001 and 2003 when he was with former South Africa’s Premier Soccer League (PSL) outfit Tembisa Classics, ‘Fash’ was sent to Louisiana Outlaws in the United States of America following their relegation but returned home after what he termed ‘homesickness’. “After Tembisa Classics were relegated, I got an offer in the United States. I was there for about four months playing for Louisiana Outlaws but a felt homesick and took the next flight back home. I feel I should have been patient because great things were coming and to this day I regret that move.”
He returned home and rejoined Rovers only to find that a trial in Qatar has been organized for him. “Qatar was to hot and we did our training sessions at 10pm. After one lap you had a bucket of water and sponge to cool you,” he says.
After consideration, he told his agent, celebrated Malawian legend Ernest Mtawali who played for the likes of Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns in neighbouring South Africa that he was heading back home as he could not bare the heat. That is ‘Fash’ for you. Born in Bhunya, his neighbourhood and appearing for Bhunya Police in his early stages of his career, it is no wonder that ‘Fash’ will go on to sign for elite league side Mhlambanyatsi Rovers in 1995.
In that Rovers team, under the stewardship of Gcina ‘Magiyane Dlamini he linked-up with some of the finest players to be produced by the country in recent years. It is no wonder that at least two former teammates in that Rovers team Lwazi ‘Zidane’ Maziya and Tony ‘TT’ Tsabedze make his ultimate eleven- in just a simple 4-4-2 formation.
“It is difficult to say but at both my local clubs, Rovers and Leopard in different ways,” he says when asked where he enjoyed his football the most. “At Rovers it was the perfect environment to groom talent and played with the best players emerging. The likes of Lwazi (Maziya), Tony (Tsabedze) and Aghahowa (Mduduzi Mdluli) always presented that competitive environment. At Leopard too, I had a great time even though the environment there was different. It was a competitive environment with experienced guys like Absa (Absalom Dlamini), ‘Flying Ghost’ (Menzi Sibiya) and ‘Maponyane’ (Bheki Mazibuko) and the ultimate goal was always to win trophies.”
On the current crop of players in the premier league, he says Phinda ‘Phindrix’ Dlamini of Green Mamba is his favourite player. “He is one of the few players still playing that can do some of the things I used to do”. Even though he names Norman ‘Meje’ Nkambule as his best strike partner at Rovers, he insists he had a great understanding with Sibusiso ‘Spoko’ Dlamini in the national team.
“Spoko just understood me and how football should be played. We complemented each other very well,” he recalls. With a stellar career, playing in countless football matches including over 20 in the national team Sihlangu kit, he describes his brace in a COSAFA Castle Cup match in 2001 against Namibia’s Desert Warriors as his best moment in football. Sihlangu won that match 3-0 at Somhlolo National Stadium.
Having helped Rovers to BP Challenge triumph in 1997 and the MTN League in 2002/03, ‘Fash’ joined Royal Leopard in the middle of the 2005/06 season. He made headlines at some point during that switch as Leopard could not use him in the EswatiniBank Cup because he was cup-tied having appeared early in the tournament for Rovers.
It was the perfect move for him as he went on to win four MTN League titles and two Eswatini Bank Cup gold medals with Leopard before he hung up his boots in 2015. Naming the best players he has played, he insists, “At Leopard it has to be ‘Mlilo’ (Zweli Nxumalo). He is a brilliant player with all the capabilities to change a game. ‘Mlilo’ is one decisive player. At Rovers it was ‘Zidane’ (Maziya). Despite his deft touches and skill, ‘Zidane’ was a clever player capable of drawing the attention of three opponents and making the team play better. In the national team, I will say ‘Stopper’ (Mthethwa) because of his work ethic and discipline.
Just like Gcina ‘Kwere’ Mazibuko in a different interview, ‘Fash’ says ‘Mangweni’ (Sifiso Zwane) is that one teammate he feels never reached his full potential. “That boy was brilliant and destined for great heights but life will always be like that. Also, I feel Aghahowa (Mdluli) also deserved a professional contract in South Africa maybe.
In his ultimate XI from former teammates he names himself upfront alongside Sibusiso ‘Spoko’ Dlamini with Mzwandile ‘Toyota’ Mamba and Tony ‘TT’ Tsabedze on the wings. In central midfield, he goes for Lwazi ‘Zidane’ Maziya and Mxolisi ‘Stopper’ Mthethwa. In a flat back four, he names Bongani ‘Ndezi’ Masangane, Mlungisi ‘Madzala’ Ngubane, Jerry ‘Mbazo’ Gamedze and Sipho Gumbi with Sipho ‘Shilton’ Dube manning the poles.