Kalusha Bwalya turns 55 on 16th August 2018

…leaving a trail of inspiration for many soccer lovers

When the history of Zambia is written, it will be quite incomplete if the name Kalusha Bwalya is not mentioned.

This is because Kalusha has given Zambia immense joy and pride with a spectacular football career on and off the football field as factually documented in both local and international media.

As he turns a spry 55 on 16th August 2018, this son of Zambia’s day of birth will be received with mixed feelings. Some people are wishing him well and some will be wishing to diminish his illustrious legacy.

That is the phenomenon of Kalusha or the Great Kalu, as he is fondly known by those that dot on him and treat him, almost like a deity, given his unmatched record and achievements as the country’s biggest ever sports icon and diplomat.

The man is a complicated collection of paradoxes who still stands tall and imposing in Zambia’s sports history and diplomacy.

As a writer, I always take a keen interest in following and chronicling ordinary people that have done extra-ordinary things in their chosen life paths, individually, for the country and in the process, inspired others.

This is because in a country that has people that want to bury others alive, inspirational people are hard to come by when we need it the most as a cornerstone for personal, and even national development.

It is for this reason that my first stroke of inspiration as a start-up writer was to pen a book on Zambia’s President Edgar Chagwa Lungu—because he defied odds to become the sixth President of the Republic of Zambia when others wrote him off as a tyro in my humble view.

But this is not about President Edgar Lungu, a man whose beginnings are perhaps as humble as Kalusha’s.

This missive is about Kalusha as he turns 55 amidst a controversy with the world football governing body FIFA that has thrown the book at the Icon for alleged impropriety. He has denied any wrong doing and appealed.

Who is Kalusha Bwalya aka Great Kalu

Kalusha Bwalya aka The Great Kalu, born in the mining town of Mufulira in the Copperbelt Province, northern Zambia, is a former international footballer of high pedigree. The kind many in his field can only dream of ever reaching.

In the soccer or football Hall of Fame of Zambia, he is known as the most capped or decorated Zambian footballer in size, age and shape, comparable only to others before his generation such as Godfrey UCAR Chitalu and Alex Chola. Kalusha is a Leo.

Bag of honours

Kalusha is the original ‘bulging briefcase man’ with titles such as African Footballer of the Year in 1988 as well as nominee for the 1996 FIFA World Player of the Year and was voted 12th Best player in the world.

In a sport followed by millions, being voted the world’s 12th-best player does not come easily.

But Kalusha has not been all about winning as he has suffered some hits and misses too, like all normal human beings such as the 20 May 2016 loss of his long-standing office as the President of the Zambian FA shortened as FAZ.

Africa Cup Champions Glory

The 12th of February 2012 is unforgettable for the football community in Zambia because it is on this day that Kalusha’s boys, the Chipolopolo or Copper Bullets delivered a convincing win via penalty shoot outs against tournament favourites Côte d’Ivoire.

Traffic on this day came to a complete stand-still in the capital Lusaka (and entire Zambia) while political, religious and all other personal affiliations were cast aside as the nation united to celebrate the victory hard-won by Kalusha and his boys.

The first and only Africa championship Zambia has recorded in 53 years and it had Kalusha written all over it along with his choice coach pick Herve Renard an eccentric Frenchman known for wearing a white shirt as a lucky charm.

To this day, Kalusha, a modest man, still finds it hard to explain the euphoria he felt to lift and kiss that cup in a nation where football is like a religion, only next to Christianity.

Everybody loved and adored Kalusha then and his name as the Great Kalu was spoken in hills and mountains high and valleys and rivers low, within and without Zambia in awe.

Proverbial Seas would part when he gave the word it was said.

The warm and fuzzy memories that Kalusha and Chipolopolo victory brought onto Zambia remains crystal clear in the minds of many Zambians that care to remember.

The kudos and love Kalusha was showered with, including a well-deserved lunch at State House with President Michael Sata are still ingrained fondly in the minds of many Zambians.

Routes and roots of the Great Kalu

Bwalya was a member of the national squad that participated in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.

It is in fact here where he secured himself a berth in the global Hall of Fame of the game that makes him a star worth reckoning with due to his celebrated hat-trick in a 4–0 victory against the formidable and unfathomable Italy.

Kalusha has, according to official stats and personal recollection played 117 national games and many more. In his own words Kalusha says, “my first International match at Dag Hamajoeld was vs Sudan. We won 3-0 and I scored in last minute in 1993 to seal the victory. I have played officially 117 games for the KK eleven and scored 50 goals. My 2nd term as Chairman ended in March 2016.”

He remains nostalgic of the crowd’s reaction when the ball hit the net in the last 89th minute of the 90-minute game sealing the fate of Sudan.

“People had started streaming out of the stadium, even the Presidential motorcades (of Kenneth Kaunda then President of Zambia) was rolling out when I found my feet…people were ecstatic,” Kalusha recalls with a smile on his face.

He has appeared in multiple tournaments, including six editions of the African Cup of Nations.

 Twist of ‘Faith’

The Great Kalu was the skipper of the Chipolopolo team that perished off the coast of Gabon in 1993 but as fate or faith has it, he was not on the Buffalo Plane that crashed and killed all on board on 27th April 1993.

This is because he was playing for PSV Eindhoven in Holland, his schedule had him flying from the Netherlands to Senegal to join the team instead of being on the plane that carried the Zambian team.

Kalusha Bwalya, if he wanted could patent the soccer jersey with number 11 because it’s presently Africa’s most famous “Number 11”, perhaps not as famous as Nelson Mandela’s Robben Island first prison number 46664 but retains significant fame nevertheless.

Instead of sitting down and mourning with the nation torn apart by the bloody and messy deaths of the Gabon Disaster, Kalusha took on the load of reviving the ‘new’ national side the following year.

He captained the side to the runners-up spot at the CAF African Nations Cup 1994 in Tunisia but got stopped only by a superior and forceful Super Eagles of Nigeria.

No one expected Kalu’s boys to fly as high as they did, anyhow in the backdrop of the Gabon disaster and deep emotional bargain weighing them down, but they did.

With this one act in the writer’s view Kalusha showed one thing rare in many Zambians, tenacity, courage, resilience and selflessness. No doubt, Kalusha also booked himself a permanent seat in the history of Zambia.

It is in fact because of the above that the Writer found space in the book Against All Odds, President Edgar Lungu’s Rough Journey to State House to give Kalusha a special mention.

People like Kalusha are a rare occurrence and happen once in a life time but even when they do, they come with all human flaws that everyone carries though the burden for them compared to ordinary people is often heavier because of their achievements in the past. The harsh public scrutiny does not lighten the burden.

The time he captained the Chipolopolo after the Gabon disaster was also perhaps the peak of his own career and that of Zambian football for a long time to come.

Zambia completed 3rd place at the next edition of the Africa Cup in South Africa in 1996, with Kalusha winning the Golden Boot Award as the top scorer at the tournament.

Player Coach experience show stopper

Even after hanging his boots and starting to run soccer on the sidelines as coach, the Great Kalu still could not resist the itch to kick the leather ball that had seen him work around the globe in recent past.

The Great Kalu was a player-coach during the African 2006 World Cup qualification matches and one day on 5th September 2004, Zambia played Liberia in a nail biting encounter.

Zambia and Liberia closed the march tied at 0–0 minutes before the end so Kalusha, aged 41, cast aside his coaching clock left the bench in a rare move and kicked him one of his famous free kicks sending the ball hitting the back of the net, giving Zambia a 1.0 victory, and lead Group 1.

Still overcoming the ghosts of Gabon, Zambia finished third and did not qualify for the 2006 World Cup.

Eye of the Tiger

Many would have given up trying after the 2006 World Cup draw back but not Kalusha and his Zambian Chipolopolo.

The bestselling rock song by Survivor, Eye of the Tiger comes to mind when one recalls Kalusha holding onto to the Chipolopolo dream, never giving up even after many challenges.

Below the partial lyrics:

“It’s the eye of the Tiger it’s the thrill of the fight, risin up to the challenge of our rival, and the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night…don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past. You must fight just to keep them alive…”

Albeit Zambia failed to qualify, Kalusha did briefly resign from his post after Chipolopolo were stopped in 2006.

A win for the Great Kalu came in February 2012, not so long ago when he led the Chipolopolo to get the coveted AFCON trophy.

The Zambia National Football Team were the under dogs in a march with star-studded Côte d’Ivoire.

“Eighteam”, an emotional doco story directed by Juan Rodriguez-Briso captures the moment more than anyone else thus far and is a must-watch.

The 2012 emphatic win against Côte d’Ivoire did not slow down Kalusha who has continued to be active in soccer as well as running his personal business with his beautiful wife Emmy Cassalleti.

He has nevertheless remained actively involved in soccer too having been one of the Ambassadors of the 2010 World Cup, a selection of celebrities that campaigned for the tournament to be hosted in Africa for the first time ever. The global tourney was subsequently and successfully held in South Africa.

Literature shows that Bwalya’s career in Europe began at Cercle Brugge in Belgium.

In his first season, he was the club’s top scorer and was twice voted supporters’ player of the year.

Such was his impact that Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven took him to the Eredivisie, and he describes winning the championship twice in 1990/91 and 1991/92, under Bobby Robson, as a career highlight.

He is quoted jokingly saying to a football magazine about his European soccer career: “Most of the time we played in the opponent’s half, because the team was so good.”

Kalu is further cited saying, “you know, we had Romario, Gerald Vanenburg, Eric Gerets, Wim Kieft and Hans van Breukelen and just to be with that group, to train with them day in, day out, was an experience.”

Kalusha also played for Club America in 1994. The Mexican club’s home ground is the legendary Azteca, an arena of which the Zambian icon has very fond memories.

He told FIFA.com: “I am privileged to have played in the best stadium in the world – and to have been able to call it my home ground.” The Mexico experience in general was cherished by Bwalya, who devoted almost eight years of his career to the country and recalls his time there as “probably the best of my life”.

On the international front, his earliest achievement was arguably one of the most remarkable hat-tricks in modern football history, with three-times World Cup champions Italy on the receiving end in a 4–0 win for the Zambians at the 1988 Olympics.

Kalusha, the myth, the person and the present

A saying goes that there is little we can do to change our past but nevertheless there is a lot we can do to shape our present and our future.

This article was inspired by a guy out of Mufulira who went beyond the national and personal call of duty to achieve what many only dream of.

Despite everything questionable that has been written about Kalusha, on my shelf his book remains as one of the most inspiring unwritten stories of a Zambian son.

As a writer, it’s a story I will be but honoured to write as many try to forget all the joy and unity Kalusha brought to Zambia.

He also joins the long list of many a great in sports and politics that have come short of the glory of God but does not necessarily take away all his achievements.

In the end people have a choice on what they want to recall a person as. You can choose to amplify the flaws over the inspiration or you can strike a balance on both and take the bitter with the sweet.I prefer the model of the Glass being Half Full and if there is a second book for me to write, Kalusha would be it.

There is enough ‘feel good’ material to generate a tantalizing diplomatic or culture study or discourse around Kalusha whether you like him or loath him.

The writer Anthony Mukwita (Mr) is the author of the best-selling book based on the rise of President Edgar Lungu to office as the sixth President of Zambia. His first book has sold more copies than any other Zambian book sold and verified BookWorld Zambia. Mr. Mukwita, also a diplomat likes to write in his own time. His first book is entitled Against all Odds, President Edgar Lungu’s Rough Journey to State House.