HARARE – Mark Duvillard is still to come to terms with how Lincoln Zvasiya’s career took a sudden turn for the worst despite being one of the finest defenders to emerge from the famed Aces Youth Soccer Academy (AYSA).
Since arriving at AYSA 15 years ago, the hugely-talented Zvasiya quickly established himself as a ball-playing centre back in the mould of England’s Rio Ferdinand and had the world at his feet.
Duvillard and everyone at the Waterfalls-based academy had every reason to believe the defender, who was also comfortable in midfield, was destined to walk into any top team in Europe.
“He was a player with everything any coach would expect. He was a player with great mentality, he was just superb,” Duvillard revealed to the Daily News on Sunday.
“He had the quality to play in some top leagues in the world. For me he had great physical quality, intelligent, technically very sound and tactically astute which is a formula for any great player.
“You know the quality of a defender like him is very rare and he was primed to become a national team player. But somehow I don’t know what happened when he went to join Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa as well as when he moved to Greece.
The AYSA co-director added: “A lot of stories emerged but up to now I’m yet to establish what really transpired for him because he too didn’t come back when he left the academy.
“We are always ready to assist these youngsters but for Lincoln it was unfortunate. Maybe he lacked that guidance or it could be that Kaizer Chiefs failed to handle him well.”
It’s quite understandable why Duvillard is a concerned man.
Born in a sporting family in Mabvuku 26 years ago, it became clear from an early age that football was Zvasiya’s passion, and with that, he made it his dream to become a professional footballer.
He launched his playing career when he joined AYSA while in Grade 6 at Support Unit Primary School and his rise was meteoric as it was sensational.
At AYSA, Zvasiya showcased his immense ability as a distinguished midfielder.
Gift “Blah Ribhe” Kagogoda, one of the coaches who worked intensively with Zvasiya when he arrived at AYSA says the former Lord Malvern High School student’s talent was “exceptional and by this time I expected him to be playing in Europe”.
“The boy disappointed everyone including me. I feel betrayed because he had so much to offer. But one thing I like is that he has reformed and is willing to work again,” Kagogoda told the Daily News on Sunday.
“It happens with these youngsters. I think it’s a national problem; they need proper guidance. They sometimes get fame at an early age and they fail to handle that fame.
“I remember during the days when he came to the academy as a small boy, he was an intelligent and very committed player. I rate him as one of the best defenders in this country.”
Zvasiya’s talent would first help him break into the all-conquering Young Warriors squad which comprised Knowledge Musona, Abbas Amidu and Archford Gutu among others.
It wouldn’t be long before the now-defunct Premiership club Monomotapa came knocking for the then 19-year-old defender in 2010.
The move to Chinomakwanani seemed a good fit as it presented an ideal platform for the young defender to further develop in the top flight.
That year, Zvasiya did everything imaginable to put himself in a position to succeed and it was not a surprise when FC Platinum priced the teenager away from Monomotapa the following season.
At FC Platinum, Zvasiya only lasted six months as South African giants Kaizer Chiefs immediately signed the highly-rated midfielder-cum-defender.
Life in South Africa started buoyantly for Zvasiya as he quickly became an integral part of the Amakhosi team that season.
His commanding play at the back was evident for all to see and was put to devastating effect when the Glamour Boys went on to clinch the 2012/13 Absa Premiership title.
But somewhere along the way, Zvasiya’s career took a nose dive. Reports of indiscipline and substance abuse surfaced and as a result his form with time vanished.
Having risen to fame at such a blistering pace, young Zvasiya appeared overwhelmed as he allowed the pressures of life get the better of him.
It became difficult for Zvasiya, who by then had already received his first Warriors cap, as he was relegated to just a bench warmer.
He was loaned to Greece side OFI Crete in June 2014 where he failed to make any kind of impact, staying for six months before returning to Naturena.
This time around, there was no place for him in the team at Chiefs and what followed was to be a dark period by his own admission.
“I couldn’t easily come to terms losing my place in the team after coming back from Europe,” Zvasiya opened up to the Daily News on Sunday.
“It was difficult for me to accept when I thought I would move to the next level in my career.”
Zvasiya concurred with Duvillard that he lacked proper guidance at the crucial stage of his career while also explaining reasons behind his downfall at Phefeni Glamour Boys.
“I was still very young. I had not fully matured then maybe I lacked good advice. I also succumbed to peer pressure from friends. I was getting advice from wrong people,” Zvasiya reckons.
“These things do happen, it’s part of growing up but sadly for me it took everything away that I had worked for.
“The thing is when I was loaned to Greece it was for six months with an option to extend the contract or buy me permanently. While it was a good club the environment was difficult because racism was rife and it made it difficult for me to express myself freely.
“When my loan spell expired I returned back to Chiefs but on arrival I was told that the club had already signed players and their foreign quota was full.
“So I was left with no option but to return home. I have heard a lot of stories behind my return home but not everything is true about that.”
Upon his return to Zimbabwe, Zvasiya joined Harare City in 2015 but it was clear that the once assured centre back had lost most of the mobility and intelligence that had made Chiefs sign him.
He rarely made an impact at the Sunshine Boys as he failed to even make it into the match-day squad and was offloaded at the end of the season.
With his reputation in tatters and low on confidence, Zvasiya tried his luck at ZPC Kariba.
It proved to be a masterstroke as he went on to revive his career under Sunday Chidzambwa.
“I owe it to him (Chidzambwa); he has made me believe in myself again. He has played a big role in re-shaping my career,” Zvasiya said.
After spending just one season in Kariba, Zvasiya moved to the capital to join Harare giants Dynamos at the start of the season.
Since then, he has been one of the key standout performers for the Glamour Boys despite a difficult start to the season.
Zvasiya’s impressive form has not gone unnoticed as Warriors interim coach Norman Mapeza included the now reformed defender in his squad for today’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Liberia.
In explaining the defender’s inclusion in the squad, Mapeza said: “One thing about Zvasiya is that he is a great player with a lot of potential ahead of him. He has been doing well and surely, he deserves to be in the national team.
“I really don’t know what happened to him but to me I have always believed in his talent. I think I was the first coach to give him his first team debut against South Africa.
“You know these youngsters need help at times. They are role models and should lead by example, I’m sure he has learnt his lessons. To be back in the national team is a true sign of how hard he has worked. I hope he will continue working hard.”
As for Duvillard, he is pleased that Zvasiya is playing top level football again but doubts if he can still make it to Europe.
“I’m happy he is back but he has lost one or two years and I am sure he will be able to compensate that time,” the Swiss national said.
“For me, he was always a national team material and I’m happy he made the grade. It could be tough for him to go and play abroad now but it’s all down to him. European leagues could be difficult but I am sure in South Africa, it’s very possible but he needs to work really hard.”
Zvasiya is convinced he has got the second chance than many in his situation do not normally receive and is not going to let the opportunity slip away.
“I’m now more focused with my career than before,” Zvasiya said.
“I still have hope of playing outside the country. I know if I keep focused who knows I might be lucky.
“Also being called to the national team gives me a lot of hope. It means a lot to me, it shows there is something good I am doing.”