When individuals graduate from primary school to high school, they generally leave as big fishes in a little pond. They enter a totally new environment where they are no longer the hunters but are now the hunted – relegated to being the smallest plankton in a very large ocean filled with sharks and all sorts of other predators. The process gets repeated when one leaves high school and goes to university, and then again when one completes university and enters the working world.
It’s the circle of life – constantly proving oneself over and over again at various stages of life.
Knowledge Musona knows all about this. The Zimbabwean striker, known as the Smiling Assassin, was signed by Kaizer Chiefs in 2009 and was mainly used as as substitute in that season. Despite this, Musona managed to contribute 5 goals in 22 appearances. The 2010/11 season was even better and Musona scored 15 goals in 27 appearances for the Soweto giants, as he won the top goal scorer award for the South African Premier Soccer League.
This led to the attentions of several European clubs including German club 1899 Hoffenheim, Serbian side FK Partizan and Scottish team Glasgow Celtic. Hoffenheim stumped up the cash and Musona headed off to the Bundesliga. A dramatic and impressive transition for the 21 year old.
There are a lot of success stories for African footballers who have made it in the top European leagues including the likes of Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, Michael Essien, George Weah and many others. However, for every success story there are probably countless others who struggle in an unfamiliar new environment, not to mention a foreign language. So, you’re not only moving to a new high school and attempting to make new friends but you have to do so in a new language and with big expectations about your abilities.
Unfortunately, Musona struggled during his two years playing in Germany. He managed to score two goals (both in Cup competition) in 35 appearances for Hoffenheim and FC Augsburg. News has been sketchy about the reasons for his dip in form, but indications are that he was played on the wing instead of his preferred striking role and also some allegations that he wasn’t psychologically ready for the intense pressure of playing abroad. This is not hard to believe – former South African starlets Jabu Mahlangu and Mbulelo “OJ” Mabizela were both cautionary tales of the difficulties that young African players face when playing in Europe.
Musona has been released on a year long loan by Hoffenheim, and has opted to return to familiar ground by signing with Kaizer Chiefs for the 2013/14 season. His choice of club has been met with mixed reviews as some observers are optimistic that the “old” Musona will be back to his imperious self, but others are of the opinion that it is a step backwards in his career to move from “overseas” back to South Africa.
Musona is still only 23 years old and, I believe, still has time on his hands to make another move to Europe. Football has changed so much over the past 20 years that players aged 25 and over are now considered “over the hill” because of the impact of the wunderkinds like Messi, Rooney and Fabregas. However, all is not lost for Musona – he can look to Didier Drogba for inspiration as someone who blossomed late in life. It would do him a world of good to be back in a familiar environment and to get his confidence back. Once he gets back into the habit of scoring again, it might be a good idea to move into an environment that has some fellow African players to help his introduction into a new environment.
Best of luck to the Smiling Assassin. Let’s hope he will be back to his lethal best.